We have a village May Fair in Aldbury that has become quite a feature in the calendar. It's a fund-raiser for many village and local charities, attracting hundreds (if not a few thousand) visitors coming along for the afternoon, threading their way between the stalls, the May Pole, and many opportunities for eating and drinking. It's a big event for the village, with most of us having a job to do, one of which is to run the Garden Club stall. Here, keen gardeners can find an eclectic variety of seedlings, cuttings, and notably, immense bundles of rhubarb, harvested in an almost continuous human chain that runs from the allotments to the stall. A good May Fair can strip the allotments of rhubarb stems - but what a noble first harvest it is, and it gets the month off to a good start in a good cause.
In the garden, it is lilac time. There’s a fresh glow, the light still bright for a few last days, while the tree canopy closes up. It's still a novelty - and a joy - to be outside. If you’re up to date, hope promises that this year you will keep on top of the weeds, while experience tells you that by August you won’t care. Job wise, it's not too heavy a time. These days, it's trendy not to do so much lawn mowing, and I am lucky to have enough garden to have a section which suits the ‘wild’ approach. At this time of year, the month will see the ummowed grass develop into a very attractive tapestry where the various ‘weeds’ have the chance to show their character. It's even more fun if you mow a path or two through the longer grass; suddenly there is somewhere to go for a garden pilgrimage.
Over the past few years. I have added a variety of bulbs to these wilder patches which brings a sense of the garden planting out of the borders and into the centre of the picture. Nowadays the wild garden starts in February with the snowdrops, moves through the spring with daffodils and cammasia and, now that summer is coming, we have globes of alliums and even the odd lily (which reminds me - one of May’s garden pilgrimages is a regular lily beetle patrol. Those red devils can make a nasty mess in no time).
There are a few jobs if you want to stay on top of things: it’s now a good time to prune the spring flowering shrubs (such as forsythia and ribes), as this will give them the whole year to put on and mature new growth, while not letting things grow too large and gappy. If you don’t get round to the pruning, there’s always June - but by then you may well find the hedges beginning to bulge. It is also the month where now, alas, I have to begin to keep an eye out for the new fangled Box caterpillar, this green and black stripy pest first took a munch out of my Box hedge a couple of years ago, and I’m still not ready to surrender to them. It's perhaps a little weird, but I do like to do a bit for the garden birds by pulling the little grubs out of the hedge and chucking them onto the path, where they don’t seem to stay for long. I have found a spray treatment that seemed to fend them off for most of last summer, so my fingers are crossed.
The last week of May is suddenly summer, sunshine brings shade, the iris are now in flower, and in normal times the RHS Chelsea flower show will both inspire and depress, as yet another spring has suddenly slipped by.
For a full list of things to do in May you can visit these pages:
Gardeners’ World: https://www.gardenersworld.com/what-to-do-now-may/