7 Jun 2020

Crisp and Dry - End of month review for May

What can I say about this year's marvellous month of May? It's been a throwback to that glorious summer of 2018, with blue skies most days, hot sun and the occasional crispy plant if I didn't water every day. I'm wondering whether this is a seasonal blip or a transition reflecting climate change. All I know is that it has been rather lovely to have some wonderful bright weather to coincide with the coronavirus lockdown, and gardens full of colour.

At the beginning of the month, most of my food growing efforts for this year were still being hardened off on the often windy cliff face of my balcony, in training for the rigours of the great outdoors.  But the veg garden wasn't quite ready for them - rotting wooden raised beds had to be removed, seedlings cleared, plants relocated.  But it really wasn't as bad as I make it sound.

To be honest, this warm weather has caught me slightly off guard.  I usually sow mid spring and plant out when safe rather than having to see my beans munched by slugs and my corn flattened by strong winds funnelling between the buildings.  Playing it safe will result in later harvests than expected, but the plants will soon catch up. And the hot, dry weather has meant slugs are less adventurous.

The Veg Patch In May

Wild garlic leaves and elderflowers in a wooden tray

Outside in the veg patch, over the course of the month, broad bean flowers turned into fat pods, black aphids moved in, chamomile bloomed, wild garlic was made into delicious pesto and elderflowers were made into cordial and ice cream. (Yes! Elderflower ice cream - who knew? Thanks Instagram!)

A couple of purple sprouting broccoli plants, sown in June last year, should have sprouted in March and April. The plants are as confused as I am by the changing weather. One is huge (as expected) but budless, the other barely a foot high and had just started to sprout in the month's final week.  The harvest will be minimal but appreciated.  That's if the caterpillars don't get there first; there have been sightings, it's time to be vigilant.

But the really exciting news is that I've seen not just one but two fat little plums on the plum trees. Truly, a thrilling moment as it looks like these may actually ripen as the tree enters its second decade. And (please, please) might there be more if I look hard enough?  Could this be the year that the tree realises its purpose?

Failing that, there's always apples.  Both Braeburns and the Core Blimey apple trees are laden with tiny fruitlets. I must remember to thin them this year. (After the June drop.)

The quince, on the other hand, is confused. I last mentioned the swirls of blossom at the end of March; at the end of May, there appears to be very little fruit forming ... and, bizarrely, the tree has blossom on it once again.  Ten out of ten for trying.

The Salad Garden

Reflected evening sunlight on elderflower

My work in this garden has been scented by the flowers of a very mature elder tree all month.  These flowers are particularly sweet smelling and many evenings there have been accompanied by the song of a wren sitting in the branches high above me. I recorded the song one sunny evening and played it back, leading to a duet between the bird and my phone - and several others in the trees across the railway tracks. Such a rare treat in an urban setting. (And if, like me, you're unsure of which birds you're listening to, I have found the Chirp-o-matic app very helpful in identifying the song!)

The Veg Trugs in the salad garden have proved to be an excellent addition and so useful in providing slug free, easily picked ‘rabbit food’. I've been eating a selection of richly vibrant lettuce and other leaves throughout the month; it's my lunchtime treat.

The rocket is now starting to bolt (I may leave a few plants for their peppery flowers) but I failed to scale up realistically from my balcony salad trays and definitely sowed seeds too thickly here. I’m thinning the plants out now that they’re well past the micro leaf stage and leaving a few lettuces to get to full size.

I sowed with a lighter hand in Veg Trug #2 so leaves there are more manageable.  I've had to remove the fleece covers (too hot) and ordered mesh covers to keep bugs off. Too late it seems. Frustratingly, the mesh still hasn't arrived but will be in place for successional sowings.  And it's surprising how many bugs come out in the wash.

The third Veg Trug has been set up and now houses a few of my very many tomato plants. I'm using the spaces in between the plants for basil and borage, both of which are helpful companion plants for tomatoes. And I might add another row of carrots because, really, is there such a thing as too many carrots? (And, again, the height of the Veg Trugs is handy for this because the carrot root fly can't zoom up high enough to invade my crop when thinning.)

The few potatoes I'm growing this year are really just to test the Root Pouch planter which I was given at the Garden Press Event pre-lockdown. All seems to be growing well but the proof will be in the unearthing.  The spuds aren't ready yet but the pouch is alleged to produce better roots - and therefore more spuds? We shall see.

The Lime Tree Garden

My aim with this garden was to create another haven for pollinators.  I'm not quite there yet but I'm beginning to see a greater variety of bees visiting the garden, especially on the yellow flowers of the bolted broccoli. This plant, in the seasonal way of things, has now been pulled out. It’s done its work.

I've left the Geranium phaeum to flower as long as possible as a food source for bees but, by the end of the month, I'd chopped it right down - more buzz cut than Chelsea chop - necessary for relocating it to a shadier spot.  Hollyhocks will replace it, growing next to white foxgloves and Verbena bonariensis.

Further down this same bed, the flowers of Iris Susan Bliss came and went.

My lovely ranunculus flowers were over in what seemed like days.  I certainly didn't have the weeks of display of last year; I blame the weather. Anyhow, their day is done and I'm going to start over next year so have pulled up all the corms. 

Dahlia pots have come out of storage - i.e. dragged out from under the hedge.  I must admit that I'm being lazy and not planting them into the soil this year. I'll probably get less flowers but I'm taking my cue from The Pottery Gardener who grows everything in tubs or pots. Watering and feeding will be key.

Although this garden was set up as a space for flowers, herbs and relaxing, inevitably some food growing has crept in with blueberries, gooseberries, strawberries and even Chilean Guava all doing well.  They’re making the most of the extra light  while the pollarded lime trees remain as leafless pillars.

And while there’s light, I've planted a squash, a butternut and a courgette into a large corner that in a couple of years will be, once again, in deep shade under the lime trees.  For now though, I just want to see how the plants perform.  And, as a precaution, those plants have been temporarily caged - this garden is a favourite haunt of night time fox cubs!

And, finally, there was tea ...

An Australian permaculture channel posted a video for what they call 'Immune-i-Tea' ... a delicious immune boosting drink made from garden herbs.  To my delight, I found that I had all of the necessaries in my herb garden.

Just five herbs needed in roughly equal quantities, a small handful of each of yarrow (achillea), calendula flowers, mint, thyme and lemon balm.  Put into a large teapot, cover with boiling water and put the lid on.  Leave for at least 10 minutes and then pour.  It was surprisingly thirst quenching, tasty and uplifting and, I imagine, would also be lovely chilled. I think I may never buy another herbal tea bag.


  1. It's an inspiring post. Love the elderflower pictures too. My purple sprouting brocolli is at a different stage in its life. The plants are still small and in pots. I am expecting them to produce food next January (I think!). It's a specially favourite meal - very tasty.

  2. I've definitely come around to the wisdom of planting some things a bit later (in a more easy-going manner) than I have in the past in an effort to embrace the calm and minimize the frantic. That tea sounds delicious!

  3. Yes May was a fabulous month Caro although I think that some plants found it stressful. Here the elderflowers are only just getting into full flower. We have an elderflower just by the table where we have our morning coffee when it's dry and the scent is delicious. It was nice to virtually share some time with you last week - I saw your name pop up on My Real Garden when Arthur Parkinson was on. Thanks for introducing me - I have enjoyed a few sessions now and have come away with lots of information to mull over and sometimes a wish list 😄

  4. Just lovely catching up with your veg, that tea sounds wonderful, shame I have no yarrow. I must try and find that bird song app, it sounds wonderful, how lovely being able to play the bird song back to the birds, I really must try that.xxx


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