Tales from the Walled Garden: May 2018

Tales from the Walled Garden: May 2018

By Stella Weir, Gardener at Houghton Lodge Gardens

Is May my favourite month of the year?


All the new green foliage as the trees leaf out against the backdrop of a brilliant blue sky, nothing can beat that.

The rate of perennial growth is truly incredible, turn your back for a second and it will have put on another inch. This is the time to make sure you put in your plant supports if you haven’t already done so. Leave it any longer and it will be too late! All our peonies and delphiniums are now wearing their ‘foundation garments’ and they are barely visible with the rapid growth these plants are putting on.

Another moment of May joy is spotting the first asparagus spear above the ground. Like hearing the first cuckoo of the year, it makes your heart sing.  And once they have started they come thick and fast. We have a large asparagus bed in the Walled Garden, enough to feast on daily for those short few weeks before the season is over. Later in the season we use the fully-grown plants in flower arrangements for the house and café.

Our rhubarb bed, next to the asparagus, is in full production too. We have numerous rhubarb crowns so when it comes to harvesting we take 2-3 stems from each plant. When harvesting, don’t be tempted to cut it but rather take hold of the stem at its base and pull upwards. The leaves are poisonous, so put them on the compost heap, and enjoy the stems poached in orange juice and a little sugar.

We have recently created a new Hosta bed in the Walled Garden just opposite the Raspberry Cage. Our biggest concern for these new plants is, as their beautiful leaves unfurl, they will become a delicious salad bar for all the neighborhood slugs. To combat this we are using the biological control of nematodes. Nematodes are microorganisms that destroy pests. They target only the pest and therefore are harmless to other wildlife, pets and children included.

As our bulb ‘lasagna’ pots go over we can turn our attention to summer containers. Be sure to use new compost in your containers.  These mini gardens will be working their socks off over the next few months and need plenty of good nutrients. Plant up the containers generously so that you get plenty of bang for your buck right from the get go. They will need checking regularly so they don’t dry out but with new compost they won’t require feeding for at least 4 weeks. Take care with tender annuals and remember the Scottish saying ‘Neigh cast a clout ‘til May is out!’ Keep some fleece handy so that on a cloudless night you can cover them over and protect them from any late frosts.

It goes without saying that as everything else takes off in the garden so do the lawns and weeds. No slacking here. Regular weekly mowing is the order of the day, and regularly edging the borders keeps them looking crisp and sharp. As the herbaceous plants bulk out they do cover the earth and shade out smaller weeds but the pernicious weeds such as bindweed and ground elder require constant attention.

Yes there is so much happening in May!

Oh and the apple blossom, who can forget the apple blossom!  The Walled Garden is looking spectacular with all the apple blossom.  And our Bramley Apple Tunnel is stunning, leading down to the Well, a perfect backdrop for our May brides.

May is definitely my favourite month.

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