The City Gardener - By Tim Barton

May 10 2016

The City Gardener - By Tim Barton

Spring has sprung, the grass is riz
I wonder where the birdies is
The bird is on the wing
Ain’t that absurd
I thought the wing was on the bird

SO goes the poem and so spring has most definitely sprung. Every year this is recited in our house, something we always attributed to Spike Milligan. It turns out to be far from the quintessentially English verse we thought and in fact a poem called Spring in the Bronx from New York. But as long as you’re the right distance from the equator the seasons will change in much the same way.
The May Tree (Crataegus Monogyna) or Hawthorn aptly named after the month that it dramatically bursts into life will now be a cream coloured giant ball of candyfloss. We have a mature tree outside our kitchen window and it is a sight to behold, albeit ephemeral as in a few weeks the flowers will be gone. They will be replaced with the fresh green leaves that are synonymous with spring trees and in the case of the May Tree, delicious when added to salads.
For several decades, the Woodland Trust has been recording steadily rising temperatures and as a consequence spring is creeping slowly towards the beginning of the year. The swifts are returning earlier, birds are laying eggs and many trees are unfurling their leaves but most dramatic are the changes to the May tree. Traditionally seen as the start of summer, is the early blossom that we’ve had for the past years an indication of a more permanent change?
Wild garlic
May is usually the month that we first dust off the tent and venture out into the wild as the temperatures have risen to what feels like summer compared to the dreary chill of winter. A month where we walk in the woods for the pleasure of seeing the spring flowers, smelling the fresh young nettles and justifying a pub lunch alfresco. Looking now not for a roaring log fire but instead for the best view. In the west country, we are blessed with a smell that where I originated from in the east was much less common in local woodland. That is the smell of the wild garlic. A herb so prolific in these parts it’s hard to imagine that elsewhere in the country it’s a sought after and prized delicacy. A member of the Allium family (Allium ursinum), all parts of the plant are edible although the bulbs are usually too small to be of great use. The leaves, however, are abundant and if eaten raw have a fiery kick that may suit some but can be subdued by blanching. These can be used as a garlicky spinach alternative or cooked with young new potatoes, just search the internet for a host of recipes.
Tender plants
Now that the frosts are now almost certainly not returning until the latter part of the year it’s a good time to get all of the tender plants in the ground. Canna Lilies and Dahlias that have been residing in the greenhouse will all be moved to their summer positions and I’ll be planting out runner beans and sweetcorn. It never ceases to amaze me where the time goes when I’m working outside but if you are a little tight on time each week here are a few tips on how to fill it.

One hour
•Plant some runner beans, I start them off indoors in toilet rolls that just go straight into the ground but if the frost if over just plant them directly. If you’ve not put up any canes do this now but make sure they are at least 8” as runners will just keep going when the weather really warms up.
•Keep mowing the lawn, you can bring the blades down now as the grass should be growing quite happily.
•Do a little weeding for a short while regularly to keep on top of them.
•Prune spring flowering shrubs after the flowers have faded.
•Open vents in greenhouses during warm spells.
•Leave the foliage on spring bulbs to die back naturally.
•Pinch out the tips of broad beans to reduce the risk of black fly.

Two hours

•Put up hanging baskets with summer bedding and trailing plants. Visit a local nursery as the price is astronomically cheaper than at a garden centre.
•Take softwood cuttings from plants that have a decent amount of new growth.
•Take cuttings from tubers and rhizomes such as dahlias and bamboo.
•Write a garden or allotment journal, it will become useful in future to remember what worked and what didn’t.