Fabulous plants for May

This is a really exciting time of year as new plants start to emerge and gardens really come alive.  Every day seems to bring something new to admire.  These are just some of the plants I really recommend for flowers at this time of year.

Omphalodes cappadocica ‘Cherry Ingram’

It may be a bit of a mouthful but don’t let that put you off!  Omphalodes cappadocica ‘Cherry Ingram’ is a diminutive, easy, long-flowering plant with flowers an intense shade of blue which appear in April and May.  It’s only about 10cm high but will spread to about 45-50cm in time.  There’s a variety called ‘Starry Eyes’ with flowers which have a pale lilac edging, but I prefer the simplicity of ‘Cherry Ingram’.  I also particularly like the pointed leaves which are a lovely bright, fresh green.

Omphalodes 'Cherry Ingram'

Omphalodes (or ‘Navelwort’) is a perennial which enjoys partial shade, making it an ideal carpeting plant to position under shrubs or in a woodland setting (just make sure the soil doesn’t get too dry).

Dicentra spectabilis Alba AGM

Dicentra spectabilis Alba
This is definitely one of my all-time favourite plants as it’s just downright beautiful!  The attractive foliage is a lovely fresh green, and the pure white locket-shaped flowers on arching stems are so pretty!  It’s great for shade and partial shade (being naturally found on woodland edges), and although it will do better with reasonably moist soil, it will also cope in drier parts of the garden if enough shade is provided.  It will also grow well in sunnier areas if the soil is moist enough.

Dicentra spectabilis Alba

Dicentras (or ‘bleeding hearts’) normally start flowering in April (subject to some decent weather of course) but they do have quite a long flowering period so are usually still going strong in May.  Like Omphalodes, they look fantastic with ferns, bluebells, spring bulbs and emerging Hostas.  I have to admit I try to fit them into every garden where the soil conditions are suitable!

Euphorbia polychroma

Euphorbia polychroma

I’m a recent convert to Euphorbia polychroma, having been a fan of the shrubbier Euphorbias (E.characias and E. Mellifera) and the woodland spurge Euphorbia amygdaloides Robbiae for years. They are so valuable to bring a real splash of early colour to the garden.

Euphorbia polychroma

Euphorbia Polychroma though is quite a different plant as it’s a very neat dome-shaped perennial with bright (and I mean bright!) acid yellow-green flowers at this time of year. It’s a fairly small plant, about 50cm x 50cm, and is very easy to grow in most soils (as long as they drain well) in sun (preferably) or some shade.   Like all the best plants, this Euphorbia also dies back nicely turning a sort of coral colour in autumn and gently fading away.

Salvia x sylvestris ‘Mainacht’ AGM
One of those ‘must-have’ plants if you have a fairly sunny spot and good drainage. Salvia ‘Mainacht’ (or ‘May Night’) is a compact herbaceous perennial with branched spikes of deep purple flowers which last for a long period generally starting in late May.

Salvia May Night

Unlike some Salvias, this is a hardy variety (happy on sandy soil, loam or chalk). It’s not fussy about soil pH and it’s also attractive to bees & butterflies so it’s great to include in planting schemes to attract wildlife.

Salvia ‘Mainacht’ (also known as Salvia ‘May Night’) will grow to about 60cm high and has a spread of about 45cm. It looks great with cottage garden plants such as Geraniums, Nepeta and Alchemilla Mollis.

More great plants for this time of year which are featured in previous blogs :

Syringa microphylla ‘Superba’
Choisya ternata

Viburnum sargentii Onondaga
Pyrus salicifolia Pendula

Photo credits: Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic

Jobs for the productive garden in May

If you’re growing fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers for cutting, here’s a quick round-up of what you should be doing this month (subject to your local weather conditions of course!).

If you are growing flowers to cut for the house and want something for later in the year, now is the time to plant Dahlia tubers.


You can also start to think about planting out bedding plants such as Cosmos which are great to cut for the house throughout the summer.  Plant and start to train sweet peas.

Plant up summer containers and prepare borders for bedding plants.  But be patient with planting out summer bedding and only do so once the risk of frost has passed (which is notoriously difficult to predict at this time of year!).  Keep an eye on the weather forecast – if frost is forecast then protect your plants with horticultural fleece.

Gradually harden off tender vegetable plants such as courgettes and marrows which can be planted out at the end of the month.


When potatoes start to emerge, heap more soil on top of newly emerging leaves and continue to build up earth as growth progresses.

Direct sow runner beans, sweet corn, lettuce, beetroot, spinach, radishes, peas and French beans.  Transplant Brussels sprouts.  Sow pumpkins and squashes indoors or directly outside if the weather allows.

Keep young vegetable plants well-watered in dry weather, and keep on top of weeding and hoeing.

If you’re short on space, think about growing vegetables in large containers.

Start (or continue) a regular sowing of cut & come again salad leaves.  These are ideal to grow in containers (especially useful I find as I can keep them out of reach of slugs and snails).


You should be able to plant out herbs now, but again keep a beady eye on the weather forecast to be sure it’s safe to do so.

With warmer days on the horizon, apply shading to your greenhouse, and be sure to ventilate on warm days

Inspect plants regularly for the sign of pests and diseases.
Check gooseberries and red currants for gooseberry sawfly lavae.
Protect carrots from carrot fly with fleece.

apple trees

Hang pheromone traps in apple trees to reduce codling moth.  Prune out canker, bacterial canker and blossom wilt on fruit trees.

Picture credits:  Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic

Jobs for the garden in May

It’s a busy time of year with all that spring growth coming along nicely, so do your best to keep on top of things. Here’s a simple guide to the major jobs you should be carrying out in May

Newly planted trees need taking care of for up to 3 years after planting until they are fully established, so make sure that you keep watering them in dry weather.

Remove one third of growth to a strong new shoot in early blooming Kerria, Ribes and Forsythia.

Cut back flowered Choisya to promote a second flush of flowers in the autumn and lightly trim new growth on Lavenders to keep plants tidy and compact.

Deadhead Azaleas and Rhododendrons.

If you notice any green shoots appearing on variegated trees and shrubs, simply pinch them out.

Regularly tie in new growth of climbers and wall shrubs to their supports as new growth extends.

Clip Beech and Hornbeam hedges, Thuja and Leyland Cypress later this month or early next month.  Cut privet and Lonciera nitida every 6 weeks or so throughout the summer.  Before clipping hedges, check thoroughly for nesting birds, and delay pruning if necessary.   Prune Ivy.

Towards the end of the month when all danger of frost has passed, lightly trim Buxus (box) hedging and topiary.

Keep on top of your weeding & if you haven’t already done it, put plant supports in place for large perennials which will get floppy later in the season.

Plant out Dahlias and other tender exotics when it’s warm enough.


Do the ‘Chelsea chop’!  This refers to the act of cutting back late-flowering perennials (like Aster, Phlox, Sedum, Rudbeckia, Helenium) by one third to keep growth compact & bushy.  It seems like a strange thing to do, but it works, and the practice gets its name as it is normally carried out around the time of the Chelsea Flower Show (the end of May).

Deadhead and divide crowded spring bulbs when they are finished flowering, and liquid feed those that are not being moved.

Mow existing lawns weekly and apply a high-nitrogen summer feed (if you didn’t do it last month), unless drought conditions set in.  Treat broad-leafed lawn weeds with selective herbicide.

Cut bulbs growing in grass (but only 5 or 6 weeks after they have flowered).

Remove blanket weed from ponds by twisting it round a cane, or use a net or rake.  There will be lots of pond-life living in whatever you remove, so just leave it on the side of your pond for a couple of days to make sure it can find its way back in to the water before you dispense with the weeds.

Water lilies Firgrove Photographic

If you have water lilies which haven’t been divided for a few years then now is the time to do that.  This is also a good time to add new floating plants to the pond.

Feed your container plants on a regular basis from now on.  The easiest way to do this is to use a diluted liquid feed, or take out the top layer of potting compost and a fresh new layer mixed with slow-release fertiliser.

Plant and train sweet peas

Prepare borders for bedding plants and plant hanging baskets and containers.  But be patient with planting out summer bedding and only do so once the risk of frost has passed towards the middle of the month.  Keep an eye on the weather forecast – if frost is forecast then protect with horticultural fleece.

Inspect plants regularly for the sign of pests and diseases.  Plants growing strongly are less susceptible to attacks so it’s worth being vigilant at this time of year.

Pick off larvae of Rosemary beetle, Viburnum beetle, and Lily beetles as soon as you see them.


Keep an eye out for slugs and snails especially as vulnerable plants such as Hostas and Delphiniums start to put out appetising new growth.

Vine weevils can become a serious problem which isn’t usually noticed until it’s too late. They can be dealt with at this time of year by watering on a biological treatment of nematodes (a beneficial insect which will destroy the vine weevil larvae).

NB this information applies to gardens in the UK, and of course you need to take account of your own local weather conditions when carrying out any work in the garden.

Picture credits:  Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic

Tactile & beautiful – unique works of art by Rachel Dein


I’m someone who loves to try new things and for some reason I seem to be strangely attracted to pastimes where I usually end up dirty – gardening, blacksmithing, woodwork…  Last September I was tempted by a friend to spend a day in north London on a workshop where I found myself pressing flowers, bashing clay with a rolling pin and messing about with gooey plaster.  And all in the name of art!

Salvia, Heather, Lavender and Welsh Poppy (2)

Plants pressed into clay

The workshop was run by former prop-maker Rachel Dein of Tactile Studio.  Rachel creates really beautiful works of art by casting flowers, foliage – and even vegetables – in plaster.

Session 094

Rachel’s workshop – the critical bit!

The effect is really stunning – at least it is when Rachel is in charge. My little tiles, produced after hours of patient tuition and words of encouragement, aren’t exactly stunning, but they are unique (!) and I have to say I’m very proud of them.  (Not surprisingly, the photos I’m showing here are not of my own work!)

clay peeling off tile

Peeling the clay back. Photo by Andrew Montgomery

It’s the detail the technique captures that I really love.  The veining in a Nasturtium leaf, the prickles in the stem of a Teasel, and the seeds of a fennel flower are all now immortalised in plaster and hanging on my wall.

My friend Eva ordered up sacks of plaster pretty much the minute we got home so we are planning to have another go ourselves now that our gardens are coming to life after winter.  I’d better dig out my rolling pin…


On Saturday 18th April, Rachel will be talking at the inaugural Gardens Illustrated Festival in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. She’ll be discussing her work, her inspiration from the Arts & Crafts movement and artists such as Karl Blossfeldt, and also her key moments in the history of botanical art.  To find out more, visit the festival website page.

As well as running workshops from her London studio and creating work for sale, Rachel takes private commissions and will cast any number of different things (whether it’s a bridal bouquet, or just valued personal objects). Most of Rachel’s pieces are for interior use only but she can also create work for the garden, and you can see the range of her work on the Tactile Studios website.

tiles 010

Photos courtesy of Rachel Dein & Andrew Montgomery