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16 October 2014
Gardener's Corner

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John Cushnie On...
 

Casting Clouts in May
1st May 2009

“Never 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 conifers.

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!

Wall Planting
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 surface.

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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