Bluebells, apple and pear blossom, tulips, rhododendrons and azaleas are coming into flower, and all the new leaves are unfurling in every possible shade of green.

The garden looks fresh and vibrant, and every day you notice something new as plants start their summer journey. April was very dry, with cold frosty nights, so May will be a busy month catching up with planting, sowing, mowing and weeding.

May is a month of many plant highlights, including Clematis Montana, a popular climbing plant with single pink flowers that look so striking against its bronze-tinged new leaf growth. Some varieties have scented flowers and they’re easy to grow and looking beautiful now.

Rhododendrons are evergreen plants with flowers in many colours, which grow best in dappled shade in a well-drained, hummus-rich acidic soil. They look particularly good planted amongst Japanese Acers, whose new leaves at this time of year are unfurling in green, orangey-yellow or purple, and also underplanted with ferns. If your soil isn’t suitable, rhododendrons can be planted in large containers using ericaceous compost, and for this you could try one of the more compact varieties such as Rhododendron Yakushimanum, whose flowers range from apricot through to pink and purple shades.


Another good reliable, easy to grow plant for borders or under shrubs, which flowers through Spring into Summer is Geum, for example a variety like ‘Mrs J Bradshaw’ with its brick-red, double flowers or one of the varieties with tangerine or apricot-coloured flowers such as ‘Mai Tai’. Other May highlights include Cytisus Praecox, commonly called ‘broom’, also Ceanothus, starting to flower now in many shades of blue. 

Cottage Gardens – back in vogue!
Over what has been a very difficult year, one style of gardening that has become very popular is the ‘cottage garden’ an informal style of natural planting in a random way using a mixture of climbers, climbing or rambling roses, clematis and honeysuckle using soft coloured flowering perennials, some with scented flowers, in a mix of heights and different colours and leaf textures, as well as different flowering trees. Many of the popular plants include Roses, Lavenders, and the tall spires of foxgloves, delphiniums, lupins and hollyhocks. Modern cottage gardens use different grasses, along with plants like scented dianthus spilling over pathways and annuals like sweetpeas and marigolds, all packed with colour. You can plant some edibles too amongst the flowers, like runner beans on a wigwam support, or brightly coloured ruby chard or red-leaved lollo rosso lettuce.

Today’s cottage garden is so very different to the 1340’s when this style originated, at a time when the bubonic plague or ‘Black Death’ had ravaged the country, decimating the population and causing massive hardship and near starvation for many. People grew their own fruit and vegetables, kept beehives and chickens, perhaps a pig or two if they were lucky, to keep themselves alive and their families fed. ‘Pottage’, a sort of thick soup or stew made from vegetables such as peas, leeks and cabbage, was the staple diet and home-grown herbs added some much-needed extra flavour to the bland food.

The garden would be used like a pharmacy, with many herbs and plants grown for medicinal purposes to help relieve pain and symptoms of disease. Scented flowers were used, both fresh and dried, to cover up unpleasant smells and for other household uses, too: the cottage garden had to multi-task! Over the years, this changed and flowering plants became the main feature- something very much to be admired and enjoyed, which is how we think of the cottage garden today.

The range and biodiversity of plants grown is excellent for attracting wildlife and beneficial insects into the garden such as bees and butterflies, leading to better pollination of fruits, beans and other edibles.

We love our summer bedding and summer pots!
As bulbs start to fade and the weather is warming up, now is the time to plant out summer bedding to give brilliant colourful displays right through until the first frosts of Autumn. Plants to try include Nemesia with white, creamy and pink flowers, the yellow-flowered Bidens, the many coloured Petunias, the daisy shaped flowers of Argyrantyhemum, and bright blue Campanula which are a great addition to cascade over the edge of planters and tubs. As your plants will be growing for the next 5 months or so, always use fresh compost when planting. The old compost from last year’s tubs can be used on flower beds as a mulch so it won’t go to waste.

Pots and containers look better in groups of 3 and using one colour or style of container provides maximum impact. Formal styles of containers can look stunning filled with the same kind of flowers in a massed display -all pelargoniums or all fuchsias, for example. Another option is to go for a variety of different flowers, choosing various shapes, sizes and colours all mixed up together in a riot of colour. Or you could choose the more traditional approach of co-ordinated pastels pinks, blues and mauves with some silvery foliage for contrast.

No garden? No problem!

With the huge amount of colourful bedding plants now readily available, the world’s your oyster when it comes to creating summer displays even without a garden, and hanging baskets, planted tubs, pots and containers will look stunning on balconies, patios and paths and porches and will provide pleasure right through to autumn. As with all summer bedding just remember to remove faded blooms regularly to encourage new buds to come through, water well and use a liquid Tomato Feed which is high in Potash to feed the flower buds, every couple of weeks.

When creating a hanging basket, start in the  middle with a taller upright plant, known as the ‘thriller’ and surround this with shorter upright plants (the fillers) and finally around the edge use cascading plants (spillers). A style our horticulturist Chris likes in his garden containers is to mix herbaceous perennials like Salvias for height, with summer bedding like Petunias for colour and finally some herbs such as golden thyme or golden oregano to provide foliage interest and different scents cascading over the edge of the container.

Your own herbs and vegetables can be grown in tubs, pots or containers, even a trough on an outside windowsill is ideal to grow salad crops, if you don’t have much space.

Make a shallow drill with your finger, sow the seed thinly, cover up and your seeds will germinate in 2 weeks. Thin them out, (you can use the thinnings in a salad so nothing is wasted) and the remainder of seeds in your trough will go on to grow into good sized lettuce. With lettuce the secret is to keep sowing little and often, for good crop succession right through to August.

Growing your own is good for you!
Now’s the time to sow beetroot, carrots, peas, chard, radish and spring onions outside in your vegetable patch, if you have the space, and once the weather is a little warmer you can plant out the ones you’ve grown from seed.

Here at Van Hage we sell a wide range of small vegetable plants at £2.49 a strip, ready to plant out, they look attractive with all the many different leaf colours and shapes and will give great flavours too. Water vegetables regularly if the weather is dry.

Time to enjoy
With the warmer months ahead of us to look forward to, May is a wonderful time to be in the garden, a time to savour and enjoy the Spring.
We wish you all the best with your gardening as we head on into the summer and look forward to seeing you in one of our Garden Centres very soon.

From the Van Hage Team