May: nicest month of the year in the garden

hanging baskets

hanging baskets

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I always get a lift when I turn the page on the calendar marking the start of the nicest month of the year: May! At last we are entering the true growing months. Everything seems determined to prosper and grow, and as yet everything is blemish-free.

It also marks the start of the bedding plant and hanging basket season. The vast majority of all summer flowers are planted during this month so they are established in good time to enjoy when true summer arrives.

For the next few weeks, the choice available is at its peak. Greenhouses nationwide are bursting at the seams with all the stars of the summer display: geraniums, fuchsias, petunias, marigolds, lobelias, pansies, allysum, begonias and loads more.

In recent years the list has been added to by the arrival of a host of fast-growing trailing plants which quickly fill out to provide lots of colour all summer long, and give an established mature look. Perhaps the best known are the trailing petunias, or surfinias. Planted in a basket on their own, they rapidly fill out to produce huge cascades of large trumpet-shaped flowers in shades of blue, pink, purple and red, and surprisingly in black and black and yellow.

There are many others. The tiny flowers of bacopa look lovely on their own. Forming ivy-like trails dotted with an abundance of little flowers in blue, white or pink they look smashing in a basket on their own, but I like them in mixed flower tubs and baskets, especially contrasting with the ballerina-like flowers of fuchsias or the diascias. Frankly, however, the choice is vast and there is no real right or wrong.

For the centre of containers I like the arching stems of cordyline palms rising out of a sea of petunias and lobelia, or the lollipop styled, standard marguerite daisies or again fuchsias. All three just give that bit of height that gives a more three dimensional feel to a display, but upright fuchsias or bedding geraniums are just as good. It is hard to know what to choose because I usually want them all and end up squeezing yet another pot onto the patio. Happy days.

There is just one tiny niggle. Late spring frosts are the bane of gardeners. I remember we had one year with no frost from March to early June then just one cold night.

The secret is to do what gardeners have been doing for years. Nurture your plants with water and food and if it looks like being chilly overnight just give them a bit of protection by covering tender plants with a bit of horticultural fleece or even just a bit of newspaper and a bin bag. So get set for hanging basket time but keep your eye on the weather!