The Gardener’s Enquire Within – Tasks and Interest for the month of May

IMG_2493IMG_2495The Gentlemen of Amateur Gardening and their Jubilee Souvenir

I am thinking of the month ahead – May – and what jobs we gardener’s can look forward to as the earth continues to tilt towards summer. I’m looking at a vaguely antiquarian book called The Gardener’s Enquire Within, which seems to have something to do with the annals of Amateur Gardening, since the frontispiece gives us photographs of the past and present Editors of that tome, Mr Shirley Hibberd 1884-1886, Mr T W Sanders 1886-1926 and the ‘present’ editor Mr A J Macself. The book is undated but must be sometime after 1926…. a Jubilee edition, I’m sure I can google some more information.

But first to Mr A J Macself …..

From the Gardener’s Enquire Within



It can never be wise to endeavour to maintain a garden by working strictly to a calendar or programme. SO much is absolutely dependent on weather and conditions of the soil, as well as the peculiarities of situation and environment, that the most thoughtfully compiled programme of operations can be no more than an approximate guide or reminder of what should normally be the course of procedure as week follows week and month follows month.

Not only do the variations of the seasons prevent strict adherence to a stereotyped programme, but local conditions with regard to altitude, exposure and character of soil will involve necessity for considerable modification of the best calendar that can be compiled. Still, notwithstanding defects and drawbacks, it cannot be disputed that a guide to the work of the seasons that is so compiled that it may be readily referred to will serve as a useful reminder of the tasks that should be done and must be attended to at the proper period of the year. It requires only the exercise of ordinary intelligence to adapt the general information to particular needs and peculiar times.


A month in which the gardener commences to reap the rewards for his labours earlier in the season. Already, beds, borders and rock gardens are ablaze with entrancing colours, and from now onwards till the frosts of the autumn, there will be something of interest and beauty to feed the fire of enthusiasm.

DSCF2126Work to be done –

Lift tulips and narcissus bulbs as soon as they have ceased flowering and replant them in a reserve bed to finish their growth. These remarks apply to beds and borders where the space is required for summer flowers: otherwise let them remain where they are. Dress weedy lawns with ‘lawn sand’. Stake sweet peas. See that the plants are well watered in dry weather.

Syringe wall fruit trees on the evenings of hot days to refresh the foliage and keep it clean. See that fruit trees planted in March are kept moist at the roots, and also syringe them in the evenings of warm days. Spread a clean layer of straw between strawberry plants to protect the fruit from injury. examine clay covering placed on grafted trees and, if it shows signs of cracking, moisten it with water and close up the fractures with fresh clay.

Earth up potatoes as soon as the haulm is 6 inches high. Hoe between the rows of those plants just showing through the soil. Stake culinary peas as soon as the plants are 3 inches high, and draw a little mound up on each side of the row. nip off the tops of the stems of early varieties to facilitate the development of the pods. Use the hoe freely between growing crops to aerate the soil and destroy weeds. Apply soot to onions, young turnips, carrots, and parsnips in showery weather; it will afford a little food to the plants and at the same time ward off insect attacks. Get the sites ready for marrow and ridge cucumber beds. Heaps of garden rubbish and tree leaves will make a good foundation. Celery trenches must be prepared for the main crop. Lettuce, French beans or cos lettuce may be grown on the ridges as a catch crop. These will be ready before the celery requires earthing up.

Early in the month plant violas, pansies, calceolarias, pensteoms and antirrhinums reared from seeds or cuttings. About the middle of the month plant out half-hardy annuals and bedding plants generally, also early flowering chrysanthemums. Late in the  month plant dahlias. Rock plants, purchased in pots, may be placed in their permanent quarters at any time in the month. So also may border and tree carnations, if not done earlier.


DSCF2107Tomatoes may be planted in unheated glasshouses this month. At the end of the month plant outdoors against south walls or fences.. Plant out early celery in trenches. Cauliflowers reared in heat may also be planted out in good, rich soil.

Sow hardy annuals for succession, also seeds of polyanthuses and primroses and all kinds of hardy perennials for next year’s flowering.

Sow broad beans for a late crop; French beans and runner beans early in the month; beet early in the month; cauliflowers for autumn use; leeks for a late crop; parsley for succession; marrow-fat late peas in the beginning and end of the month; chicory for winter salads; spinach for a successional crop; turnips for summer use; and swedes for winter use.

Strict attention should be paid during this month to the very important operation of spraying fruit trees for the prevention of insect attacks. As soon as the blossoms have fallen from apple trees, spray them to destroy the young larvae of the codling moth, winter moth, mottled umber moth etc., Late in the month spray again to destroy the larvae of the lackey moth, small ermine moth, and the apple saw-fly. Gooseberry and currant trees require spraying to prevent attacks by caterpillars. If aphis make their appearance on fruit trees or roses, spray with nicotine.

DSCF1949Apricot, peach and nectarine trees grown against walls will now require careful disbudding. The young fruits should also be gradually thinned out, commencing with the weakest.

Disbud the young shoots on outdoor vines to one at each spur. If a bunch of fruit is showing, prune the end of the shoot to the first leaf beyond it.

UNDER GLASS –  Arum lilies and bulbs which have ceased flowering should be placed in a cold frame. Forced shrubs, too, should be placed outdoors in a sheltered corner to harden off. Water freely morning and afternoon on fine days, and give weak liquid manure to plants that are in flower. Admit air freely by day and moderately by night, and use artifical heat only at night or on cold, damp days.

Seeds of star and large-flowered Chinese primulas should be sown now for winter flowering. Scatter the seeds thinly in well-drained pots or pans, filled with compost of fine loam, peat and sand. Sow cineraria seeds at the same time and in a similar manner.

Transfer to their flowering pots balsams, celosias, petunias, and other seedlings reared early in the spring for summer flowering, in the greenhouse. Tuberous begonias, gloxinias, and streptocarpus should also be placed in their flowering pots at the earliest moment. Chrysanthemums must be in their flowering pots by the middle of the month. They may then be stood outdoors in full sun on a bed of cinder ashes or on planks. Syringe the plants every evening.

Cyclamen should be removed to a cold frame; so, too, should freesias and vallotas. Apply water very sparingly. See that ample shade is now given to the roof on bright days, either by means of a moveable blind or by the application of some suitable preparation on the glass.

Cucumber and tomatoes may now be planted with safety in cool greenhouses.


Please forgive the colour photographs, which while topical in the sense of growing fruit and vegetables – and illustrate a rather gorgeous kitchen garden, at Great Dixter, but these were taken last year at the end of July. Something to look forward to perhaps in your own plot? I’ll have to look out some photographs from May in year’s past to give a more accurate vision of what we might actually see in the weeks to come….

So there you are!

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