Head Gardener’s Notes: May

Welcome back to the garden in May.

I apologise for the late posting of these notes, it’s been a very busy gardening month. In the beginning of the month we had lots of sun and enough rain, everything was growing well. Then the rain stopped and we have been enjoying one of the sunniest May’s ever. This has meant watering has been very important to keep the plants alive, especially the seedlings. We have emptied the water butt and had to rely on the mains water.

One great thing about the no dig method of gardening is that the need for watering is significantly reduced. While gardening in different gardens I have observed the difference between dug and non dug soil, the non dug soil is holding on to the the moisture better and plants are therefore resisting the drought better. I am sure that having a layer of compost over the surface also really helps with this. When watering, you can see the water quickly runs in to the compost and then I think the compost provides a protective layer against evaporation. The top of the compost get dry, but bury your fingers deeper in to the soil and there is moisture.

The team of Ditchling Museum garden volunteers have been marvellous, and together have set up a garden rota, so that the garden is regularly checked and, where needed, watered.

Here are two photos showing the deep bed. This first one was taken on the 15th of May.

From left to right you can see the St John’s wort just beginning to grow. The next section has cosmos sulfurous seeds sown and nasturtium seeds sown along both edges. Next is the rudbeckia, which I have fed early this year to help give it a boost, as last year I was disappointed in the blooms. The final section has the hedge bedstraw, this is being encouraged to grow up inside a simple structure and also fall down the edges of the bed. In the beds beside the porch you can see the woad in flower. Woad looks wonderful with its froth of yellow blooms, accompanied by a beautiful (in my opinion) honey scent.

This is a photo of the woad in the other bed. It looks striking beside the rose.

The flowers are already turning to seed. The seeds are a wonderful bright green when they first form but will turn a dramatic black as they ripen.

This is the deep bed on the 29th of May.

You can see the St John’s wort has grown and is filling out. To help develop its structure I pinch out the tips during May to encourage more side shoots, and so, more flowers. You can also see the first nasturtiums have germinated.

We have sown nasturtium seed at different times with the aim of extending the flowering period. The seed is of two varieties, Indian Chief and Mahogany Velvet. I am excited to see the colours of the flowers when the come.
To the LHS of the St John’s wort you can see the sunflowers are also growing well. I start these in the greenhouse, and plant out when quite well grown, to help defend them from any slugs and snails, which love them.

I have had a real problem getting the cosmos to germinate this year. I have sown more seeds and so, fingers crossed, we will have success over the next couple of weeks.

The rudbeckia is growing very well and I am so glad I fed it, as the one or two early blooms, that have opened, look much better developed than they did last year.

Another success this year is the weld. This is the first year we have grown such good weld.

It’s such a glorious lime green colour. My first year I thought I was growing Weld but it turned out to be dandelions. I felt very silly! The last couple of years we have not managed to grow very good examples. This year, Yippie!

One of the dye plants in the garden is a water plant, yellow flag iris. When I started in the garden I thought I would try making a container in the garden in to a mini pond.

It has worked so well. The yellow flag iris is in flower now and looks beautiful.

We regularly have to add water to stop it drying out as the plants use a lot of water up through transpiration.
In the late summer/ Autumn, we will take it all out and divide the roots to make two pot ponds for next year.

The madder is growing well and flowing down the sides of the deep bed.

It is the madder roots that you harvest to get the beautiful red to pink colours. The roots have to be at least three years old to develop enough of the dye chemical in them, to make them worth harvesting.

The meadowsweet is developing flowers. It is such a beautiful plant with its sharply toothed bright green leaves and red stems. When the flowers arrive, they form a creamy, honey scented froth at the top. I want to put them everywhere they will grow.

This is sawwort. It will form small, purple, thistle like flowers. I am so pleased, as it has self seeded, and we now have four more baby sawworts coming on

I was struggling with knowing what to plant in the long bed, that faces north, but over May it has filled out, either with self sown woad, or with plants or seedlings we had spare. I moved the budlia in to this bed as it needs something tall, and budlia is quite robust. It will be interesting to see how the crysanthumums, coriopsis and dhalias that have been planted in to the bed do. At least the bed looks more interesting now.

My love of gardening grew at a very young age through being in the garden with my mother, Virginia Broadbent. She had a wonderful mind and memory and could name every plant by both their common and Latin names. She loved gardening. One of my earliest memories is visiting Richmond Park, which was just down the road from where we lived. Mum pushing my baby sister in her blue pram with a blue rain cover over the top. On the way back, under the blue top, along with my sister, were bags of leaf mould mum had sneaked for the garden. May be that explains why I am always searching for free resources that can be used in the gardens I look after.

Working in the museum garden is wonderfully peaceful. The birds are very friendly. I regularly see robins, blue tits and a wren. There is a small lawn under a large Ash tree, which at present looks well. To the right of the lawn as you are looking at it is the beginnings of a hedge of sea buckthorn.

The bark of the plant can be used to make dye and it produces a range of red colours depending on the methods used.

In amongst the buckthorne is a happy, self seeded mullein plant. Mullein flowers produce a yellow dye.

Jobs in the garden for the next month include keeping the weeds at bay, watering where and when needed, harvesting as various flowers go over and mowing. Hopefully this will give time to get on with developing other areas.

Wishing you a glorious June.