Clouts in May
1st May 2009
cast a clout until May is out” is a far
from satisfactory piece of wisdom. The first
bit is easy to understand as it means removing
clothes. It is the last four words that cause
confusion. It could be saying not until the
end of the month of May. It could also refer
to the May tree coming into blossom, which is
the hawthorn, Crataegus.
This year the hawthorns in my garden started
flowering the third week of April.
What gardening clothes to wear is no great problem.
It is easy to put more on or take some off.
The problem is when to sow seeds or plant out
annuals and over-wintered plants.
As a rule of thumb I feel there is always the
risk of frost until mid-May but some years I
am prepared to take a chance from about the
seventh of the month.
Even in the unheated greenhouse the odd cold
night during May can set back tomato plants.
Seeds sown outside may refuse to germinate in
cold, wet soil or wither and die as young seedlings.
Unfolding new shoots and leaves will suffer
from even a light frost.
Biting cold winds are particularly severe on
the foliage of newly planted shrubs, trees and
The solution is to be prepared. If you are unsure
of the weather ahead then it is best to wait.
Delaying sowing or planting for a few days won’t,
over the summer months, make a lot of difference.
A sheet of newspaper draped over each tomato
plant at night will reduce the risk of damage.
Harden off seedlings and transplants by setting
them out during the day and bringing them indoors
before the evenings turn cold.
Wait until the soil had warmed up before sowing
small seeds outdoors.
It would be a good idea to have a clout hanging
up in the shed ready to wear when you go to
see if your hawthorn is flowering!
It seems a shame not to grow something against
a wall. Not only will it provide additional
space for plants but also growing vertically
they will add height to the smallest garden.
Then there may be the additional benefit of
disguising a wall that is unsightly.
Not all climbers are suitable for growing against
a wall. Those that twine such as honeysuckle
need something such as timber or wire trellis
to cling to. Those that are ideal such as Virginia
creeper and climbing hydrangea have little suckers
or tendrils that attach themselves to the wall
Some free standing shrubs lend themselves to
planting in front of a wall. Forsythia suspense
has a pendulous, lax habit of growth allowing
the branches to grow up and bend over almost
as if they were weeping.
For a cold, sunless North facing wall Garrya
elliptica performs well. Its long, trailing,
silvery green, male catkins appear in winter.
The Old Glory rose (Rosa ‘Gloire de Dijon’)
is a sturdy climbing rose that is tolerant of
a shady north wall.
Camellias are evergreen with glossy, dark green
leaves and make excellent wall shrubs. Avoid
planting them at the base of an east facing
wall. In spring after a frost the morning sun
causes the flowers to turn brown.
Trained fruit trees such as apple, pear, cherry
and peach produce excellent crops on sunny,
warm south or west facing walls where their
early blossom is less likely to be damaged by
frost. The cooking variety of fruiting cherry
‘Morello’ will succeed on a north
facing wall. Pruning of trained trees such as
espalier, cordon or fan is slow work so don’t
plant more than you can manage.
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