The Sunday Gardener's Blog

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  1. Nasturtium ness botanical colourful veg garden


    May is such a busy time, it is hard to know what to plant first. Given that May is still Spring, and we can still have cold spells and frosts, it is best to keep the more tender plants, courgettes, squash, cucumber, annuals such as Ipomoea  (Morning Glory) in the greenhouse. 

    This is a good time to plant out Broad beans and Peas which are more hardy but for now I have left the runner beans and french beans in root trainers in the greenhouse.

    Both Beans and Peas need some support and there are lots of commercially available supports and nets. One of the plus points of visiting great gardens, such as RHS Harlow Carr which I dropped into last week, is for ideas and inspiration. I have been moving away from commercial metal supports for some time and the veg plot in Harlow Carr is full of twigs and pruning from various trees and shrubs to make plant supports. 

    Taking a leaf out of an RHS garden is always a good guide, and so I constructed a pea teepee and a tunnel for the broad beans with twigs to stop them from flopping. Using prunings from the garden is a great way to get plant supports for free. (More information about making free plant supports.)

    Cutting back the Cornus produces some lightweight supports for small plants. Removing an Elaeagnus has made some fabulous sturdy supports with great shapes currently supporting several Peonies.

    Conifers, with their feathery branches, make good supports for all types of plants and are used here as supports around the sweet peas.

    I love the  trend for planting annuals in with vegetables for colour and pollination, and it makes the veg plot look very pretty. Over the years at many of our leading gardens I have seen some great displays of veg and annuals, the image below is Harlow Carr again and another from Ness Botanical.

    Not to be outdone, (although I most certainly will be,) I have planted Calendula, the English Pot Marigold around the edge of the broad beans, and a run of trailing Nasturtium along the raised bed edging the Onions and Garlic.  RHS are the professionals, and their beds look immaculate, neat and regular and in fact I spotted a gardener with a tape measure in the vegetable plot when planting out which is just a tad beyond my patience. But then I don't have thousands of people visiting as RHS Harlow Carr will for the flower show on the 23rd-25th June which is definitely worth a visit. 

    May is also an ideal time for planting out Sweet Peas which again need support. Sweet peas grow tall, up to and over 2m (around 6ft) so need a good run. Grown up a traditional, albeit rustic, arch they can look very effective. 

    Peas with support broad-beans-with-support


    Sweet pea support rustic arch




    Visiting London is great, but tiring and it's such a push and shove with all the crowds. Which makes Kew such an enticing place to visit,  just 30 mins away by train and you could be in the country.  

    Or ditch the train and get the Thames barge, the aptly named "Cockney Sparrow", and enjoy a gentle cruise down the river to Kew so relaxing.

    This time of year Kew is full of azalea, rhododendron and Magnolia in full flower making a dazzling display.

    The woodland areas are magnificent, it is as if all of Kew is turning green. In spring Kew is more akin to a large woodland park than a garden. The images below show just one of the more unusual trees, the unusual Fraxinus ornus common name flowering ash also known as manna ash which has lovely fluffy flowers, along with images of rhododendron and Azalea.  


    Cockney sparrow Thames bargeBeautiful rhododendron at Kew



    The Woodland area is large,  some 300acres and the bottom images can only be a thumbnail impression of the lovely tranquil woodland walks and there are more images on Pinterest.

    Kew is just a great day out and I hope to visit later in the year and see the  Great Broad Walk in full flower.

     Fraxinus ornus  Kew Azalea bed


    kew woodland scene with Camassia





    Fuchsia summer bedding






    The weather has been glorious and we think summer is almost here, and with it the temptation to buy and plant bedding plants. April is too early anywhere in the country because the risk of frost is present. Most bedding plants are not frost hardy which means they will be damaged, possibly killed by a frost and certainly the cold will shock the plant, which will often result in arresting growth for a while.  Understanding what is mean by frost hardy is really helpful to gardeners, especially as plant labels seem to contain less and less information.

    Illustrated left is Fuchsia, a lovely popular bedding plant which originates from Central and South America. Also from South America are Petunias,  Begonia, Pelargoniums (Geraniums) are from South Africa, Marigolds are originally from Africa. These origins give us a clear hint why we need to wait until we have warmer weather before planting out our most popular bedding plants.

    Given that the arrival of spring varies by several weeks across the country, the risk of frost passes in southern England a good time before in Central and Northern England. As a rule of thumb the country is generally frost free by the end of May, although there maybe some risk still on high ground because the higher the altitude the colder the area.


     Equally, if you garden in a sheltered spot in southern England experience of your area maybe that you are safe to plant out in Mid May. To avoid the risk of frost damaging your plants, or trying to protect them if we have a sudden cold spell, plant out in the last May bank holiday.

    You can, of course, buy bedding plants earlier and grow them on in a greenhouse or lean to. This is a good way to buy the more economical smaller plants and bring them on in the greenhouse. Plant up containers and hanging baskets and keep them in the comfortable climate of the greenhouse before putting out for the summer.

  4. Pulmonaria 'sissinghurst white' with solitary bee

    Bees emerge from the winter hibernation literally starving and have a very short time in which to find food or die. Early flowering plants are vital for the solitary bees and some of the best bee friendly plants for this time of year are Pulmonaria illustrated first left, a low growing Woodland plant which is shade tolerant and easy to grow.  Many  Hellebores flower for weeks from winter through to spring and provide both a lovely garden display and food for the bees.

    The  Forget me not is liked by bees, as is Rosemary (in common with many herbs) which although it has small flowers,  is very attractive to bees.

    Viburnum × carlcephalum is a shrub well worth growing for it's  fantastically sweet scented flowers, which are also like by bees as are Bluebells and Blossom flowers.

    Just yesterday I chanced to look at the outside wall of the house adjacent to garden. Very still, glistening, warming up in the sun was a solitary bee which look like it was on its first outing. I kept my eye on it for a few minutes and later it was gone. I hope in the direction of the Pulmonarias. 

     About now the humble Aubretia is coming into flower. It's a fairly common place plant, very easy to grow and it looks especially effective trailing down walls. Aubretia forms a dense mat of blue and with it come the bees. It is a good source of food and as we know, bees love blue. Just to remind us of what is to come later in the year here is a short, less than 2 minute video clip of the bees drawn to blue flowers, in this case hardy Geraniums and Chives, on a sunny day, with plenty of birdsong.

    I love the sound of the early bees, low flying hovering over the ground foraging for food. The sound of the beginning of spring. 

    blossom emerging
    Aubretia with bee