May has arrived and the gardener starts to relax as the warmer days and, of course, nights make those winter months a mere memory. Those winter cares are behind us and the summer clothes can be brought out and my thick bodywarmer consigned to the wardrobe. There will be sunshine to enjoy and those young fledglings will liven up the garden. To me the summer is about to begin but I am always readily aware of my mother’s words of 'never cast a clout until May is out!'
The most startling thing is, however, how the mention of a drought and the need to plant drought-resistant plants has brought forward torrents of heavy rain. Those water butts that were depleting rapidly in the dry March were bursting at the seams as gallons of rain water ran to waste and out to sea. I know that for some areas of the country water has been an issue but as soon as it falls in great 'buckets full' much of it goes to waste. Where is the wit of man to conserve what we've got?
The plot has, however, been refreshed by all this precipitation and the sowings and plantings that were speeded up by the onset of an early summer have flourished in its soakings. The onion sets that were hidden below the surface of a grey soil are sending up little grass-like spirals of shoots to break up the barren soil. The rhubarb has made big umbrella-sized leaves to shelter its pink-tinged stalks and there are almost daily feasts of tart and crumble. I daily scan the surface of the ground where I know my potatoes are making underground progress in their quest to burst through to the surface. Soon these big eruptions of green growth will break the surface and more of my dull plot will look like a green oasis. It brings great joy to a gardener when new life brings forth its appearance on the plot.
Space in the greenhouse is at a premium as all those tender plants vie for room on the crowded shelves, but soon many of the tender inhabitants can make their way to the shelter of a cold frame to acclimatise themselves to the final move to the plot. This will then allow the staging to be removed and the borders prepared finally for those hothouse residents of tomatoes, peppers and aubergines. Yes, the summer is moving along nicely.
All is not sweetness and light on the plot, however, as it is not only the seeds I have sown that are making an appearance. Those weed seeds that were carried from far-off places waited patiently in a state of dormancy for the same good conditions for them to spring forth in every piece of fertile soil. These need to be attacked before they get a stranglehold on the patch and out-compete all your precious crops for food and water. When there is a lull in the downpours, a swift use of the hoe will sever those weeds from their spreading roots and seriously dent their intentions to colonise your patch. The war on weeds has begun and it is one you must win for the sake of a good harvest.
It is not only the weeds that will bring grief to the non-attentive gardener during warmer periods. Those pests have been hibernating or lurking in the shadows ready for you to provide a tasty meal and young tender growth makes good munching material. So take a few minutes every day to patrol your charges and see if they are under attack. Nip these attacks in the bud and little damage will be done to these plants but a sustained attack will weaken these plants and a poor harvest will be your reward.
Gardening is a pleasant hobby but does require time to look and prepare, or a headlong rush forward will result in little return for your labours!
The true test that summer is dawning on our allotments comes from the wire on the telegraph poles as that distinctive call of the cuckoo is heard and all those nesting birds had better be on the lookout or their nests will become home for this 'lazy' bird's offspring to be reared.
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My Life on a Hillside Allotment by Terry Walton
Terry Walton is a regular contributor to The Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 and has written a book called My Life on a Hillside Allotment, published by Bantam Press. Buy this book at a discount from the Saga Bookshop.