Anna Taylor, owner of Anna’s Flower Farm in Audley End, shares what’s going on in the garden this month
Long days, predictably warmer weather and the sun rising still in the sky – it could almost be summer! May is my busiest gardening month. On dry days, the hoe gets a turn around all the beds; late morning so the weeds shrivel up in the midday sun. On wet days, I might despair at their growth while sheltering undercover, sowing more seeds (for late-summer annuals of zinnia, coreopsis and herbs), transplanting tender seedlings and generally jostling for space. All those dahlias, salvias, chrysanthemums and annuals with lush growth – almost bursting from their pots, ready to be planted out – stretch into the soil, bursting into flower.
But hang on for a couple of weeks, as this month is a game of two halves. There should really be a May Fool’s Day rather than an April one. Remember that time we got duped by the crazily warm, bright spring of lockdown 2020 – only for many plants to succumb to frost in May, fooled that summer had begun and we were all safe from a shock drop of the mercury?
I like to think Frankie was talking about early May and cautioning over surprise frosts when he warned us to ‘relax, don’t do it’. Literally, chill out. You see, he knew about the Ice Saints. These are three saints (which ones depend on the European country you are in), whose feast days fall between 11 and 15 May. They were said to play a trick by bringing surprise frosts right back from the fifth century; Galileo studied the weather patterns in the 17th century, and we are still experiencing them today. It’s so predictable, I wonder why we are caught out by it!
With climate change, who knows how this phenomenon will be affected? But right now, know that you will still need to close up the cold frame and greenhouse until mid-May in our area, hardening off your plants. The efforts and attention are worth it to me. The first seeds I ever sowed were nicotiana, or tobacco flowers. Their sticky scent on a summer’s evening is just wonderful. These are forgiving plants, too, and flower for months. I still adore them and always sow them. Half-hardy annuals, they won’t survive the cold, but you can sow these directly outside now – and they will germinate just as the Ice Saints leave the party. Almost any annual or biennial seed will germinate this month, with the warming soil and moisture in the air.
My favourite task is germinating plants from seed, and all that entails. But it is time-, attention- and resource-heavy to sow seeds as I do. For less effort, look to perennials. There’s still time to buy small plants now, to flower this year and return thereafter. Stalwarts of the garden and vase, you know you can rely on these. But who gardens for safety? That’s not the point. To suspend time a little, feel the soil on your hands, insects buzzing, sun on your back – that’s why we do it. Give your plants fair warning of the big, wide world outside by hardening off with good time. I hope we all get to grow flowers and spread the love this summer, so throw the seeds around with wild abandon. Just promise me you’ll wait until the 15th!
Find out what’s going on at Anna’s Flower Farm this month at annasflowerfarm.com