May Gardening

May is an eventful and exciting month in the garden, plants (and us) love the warmer weather and we can see daily changes as spring bulbs fade and herbaceous perennials unfurl from the ground and swiftly grow. Temperatures are rising but there can still be a last minute frost to catch us all out, so keep an eye on the local weather forecast and protect tender plants accordingly.
Last summer as part of the design I created for Brandon in Bloom’s ‘The Wedge’ I used a plant that’s grown purely for its foliage colours: ‘Coleus’ (also known as flame nettle). The variety I chose was ‘red head’ as the display was planted predominately using red flowers to represent ‘blood & bandages’ in remembrance of 100 years since the ending of WW1. Every day without fail someone came into the shop to ask me “what are the red plants in the wedge?”.
Coleus (Latin name: Solenostemon scutellarioides) is ridiculously cheerful and flamboyant, available in a multitude of clown-like colours in crazy reds, yellows, greens, purple-bronzes, dark pinks and browns. An ornamental member of the mint family, it originates in Indonesia and Malaysia and arrived in Europe in the mid-19th century.
Coleus grows best in bright, indirect light, as the foliage colour is often enhanced when they are grown in the shade. Pinch the center stems out when the plants are 4 to 6 inches tall to induce bushier growth, and be sure to pick off the flower spikes as they form. If the soil is allowed to dry out, the foliage will wilt, but normally will recover quickly when additional water is provided. Water your plants thoroughly at planting time, and then mulch the entire bed to conserve moisture. The mulch will also help to heat up, and retain the heat in the soil, thereby helping your plants to get established in their new home. Avoid using fertilisers that are high in nitrogen as this encourages soft growth and poorer quality foliage, instead choose a balanced fertiliser. Pests to look out for include mealy bugs, aphids and whitefly, as well as slugs and snails!
Whilst in the garden they are grown as annuals, but Coleus are actually tender perennials and kept at a minimum 15C (60F) over winter they make a pretty houseplant. Coleus can be propagated from seed, or from cuttings and there are 100’s of varieties to choose from. The choice for the wedge for 2019 planting is ‘Wizard Mix’.
Top Tips for May:
• When planting up hanging baskets use a good quality compost, and add slow release fertiliser and water retaining crystals
• Trim back spreading plants such as aubrieta, alyssum and candytuft after they have flowered to encourage fresh new growth and more flowers.
• Start to closely inspect your plants for pests and diseases – early prevention is easier than curing an infestation.
• Harden off and plant out young vegetable and bedding plants.
• Earth up potatoes, and promptly plant any still remaining
• Collect rainwater and investigate ways to recycle water for irrigation
• Open greenhouse vents and doors on warm days
Whatever May brings I hope you get a chance to step out into the sunshine and enjoy the season as you tackle this months gardening jobs.
Rachel Sobiechowski BSc (Hons) P&R Garden Supplies, Fengate Drove, Brandon 01842 814800



Last month, I extolled the virtues of my new razor, the Gillette Fusion Proglide Flexball Power Razor. When you turn it on, the head vibrates and it swings in a variety of directions, reminding me of some of my medical student friends after a good night out! To use the razor with maximum speed and comfort, shaving cream is necessary and I have been using Gillette Shave Gel which comes in a tall black pressurised container. When the top is pressed, a powerful get of green gel flies out, turning to white foam when it hits water on the face – Magic; I forgot to mention last time that the nozzle on the can is virtually invisible and, if extreme care is not used, the bathroom wall receives the foam instead of the face. As I am never at my best early in the morning, this is not unusual. However, all was going reasonably well until I bought some Right Guard underarm deodorant spray which carries a 48 hour guarantee, has a cool and invigorating fragrance (!) and comes in a tall black pressurised container. I can confirm that spraying the face with deodorant is no great problem but an armpit full of shaving foam is a different matter! PLAN – allow more time between waking up and abluting.
As we are heading off to our humble timeshare in a couple of days, I am writing this article on March 21st with Brexit chaos rampant. Heaven knows what the situation will be when this article is published. Those who are fed up with the behaviour of some MPs would have appreciated the joke I cannot use about the lorry drivers stuck in a massive traffic jam on the M4 who were told that the queue extended into Westminster where terrorists had taken control of the Houses of Parliament and taken all the MPs hostage, threatening to douse them with petrol and set fire to them. All the lorry drivers were asked to make a contribution to help find a solution to the problem and most offered a gallon or two. I am well aware that a great many MPs are honourable and as disgusted as we are with the behaviour of those dishonourable MPs who are messing about and, in deference to those who are behaving honourably, I have decided not to print the above suggested joke.

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Peat, sometimes known as turf, is an accumulation of decayed vegetation and is unique to natural areas known as peatlands, bogs, mires, mosses, moors or muskegs. It is acidic and forms in wetland conditions where water logging slows the rate of decomposition by obstructing the flow of oxygen from the atmosphere. Only specific plants can grow in these conditions and although many species of decayed plants can be found in peat, sphagnum moss is by far the most common. The development of peat is a very slow process taking a year to form one millimetre. Most modern peat bogs are thousands of years old and peat banks are often in excess of five feet deep and sometimes as much as twenty feet in parts of the Western Isles. There is evidence that peat was being used to make fire around 1,000BC. Bodies buried in peat bogs are well preserved by the tanning properties of the acidic water.
Us southerners are most familiar with peat either through using it in garden compost or when selecting a whisky of which there are scores of different brands, some tasting strongly of peat. On Islay there are nine distilleries, and another nearby on Jura. Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Lagavulin in the south of Islay all have heavily peated flavours. It is not the water used that purveys this taste but the length of time the grains of barley are exposed to peat smoke during the 30 hour drying process. Laphroaig is exposed for 18.
In parts of Ireland and Scotland, particularly on the Islands, peat is still used very much for its traditional purpose as fuel for cooking and heating. In Ireland peat is used to partially run three power stations. Rights to cut peats from an allocated peat bank on the moor are traditionally attached to crofts and some older houses. Access is part of a crofters’ tenancy agreement, and generations have exercised this right. Although the fuel is free harvesting it is intensively physical, back breaking work and it is customary for families to help eachother out. Cutting peats begins in late spring. The top covering of plant growth is peeled back to reveal the thick layer of peat. A special type of long handled spade or peat iron is used to cut rectangular slabs, known as fads, about a foot long, six inches wide and three inches thick. Local blacksmiths often made these spades, known also as tairsgeirs, which have been handed down through generations. It is usually a two person job with one cutting and the other throwing the heavy wet peats up on top of the ground to one side. There it is left to dry for a few weeks. To dry further the peats are often stood on end and built into piles resembling houses of cards, known as rudhan, allowing air to circulate. When thoroughly dried the peats are transported back home and stacked close to the house in a large pile, often in the shape of an upturned boat.