The month of May has been treacherous where gardening is concerned. Fluctuating temperatures have caused erratic growth and everything from seed sowing to planting out has been gravely affected. I have continued to cover seedlings in the polytunnel with fleece on chilly nights. This is usually a task I discontinue in April but it pays to be cautious especially when temperatures drop below 10ºC. Some of my precious seedlings such as clary sage disappeared overnight; only the stark stems remained – I could not find any slug on the raised bench so I am assuming the menace is some form of leafhopper perhaps a runaway flea beetle! Covering with fleece is a barrier against these destructive pests. Thankfully attacks are a very occasional occurrence and damage can be minimised if detected on time. Tender vegetables such as cucumber, courgette and tomato have endured a testing time. It is wiser to delay planting these outside until early June when the winds have ceased and the temperature has stabilised- there will be a lot of catching up to do!
Young salad crops such as radish, beetroot and scallions should be thinned out to allow the crop to develop; these pickings can be tossed into salad to add another tasty dimension. Many of the oriental salad herbs like mizuna and mustard greens go to seed in dry, sunny weather. They prefer cooler temperatures so always plant them in a shady spot in rich, moist soil. Generous watering and feeding combined with regular cutting is important to prolong the yield!
Several years ago I left garlic cloves I had planted in the ground. They failed to develop into full size bulbs: no doubt due to another bad summer. Out of sheer annoyance I never dug them up: I just left them there expecting they would rot! Surprisingly, some survived to form two thick clumps which now provide me with ‘garlic scallions’ throughout most of the year. I shall enjoy the aroma of fresh garlic in my kitchen forever more! This story is a typical example of wild gardening! Sometimes a little neglect – or rather allowing nature to have its own way – can often produce unexpectedly good results. Many herbs such as oregano, salad burnet and fennel will re-seed: usually the spot they put down roots will suit them perfectly and they will thrive more so than the ones we plant meticulously in what we assume is the ideal location! My self-seeded Greek oregano is just splendid growing haphazardly among the pebbles it is so abundant I think it no longer dreams of Greece and I love handing out bunches of it to all my visiting friends!
Finally this year I managed to acquire a plant of wild garlic aka ramsons (Allium ursinum). On researching the meaning of the word ramsons. I came across ‘pungent old world weedy plant’. It sure is a mouthful but I think it is an accurate and somewhat intriguing description. I have planted it in a moist, shady spot under trees – its preferred position. I hope it spreads rapidly! It is high on the list of connoisseur culinary herbs these days and gets lots of mention from various foodies. Its leaves evidently make a delicious pesto which hopefully I will get to concoct in the near future – that is if it decides to naturalise in my garden. A word of warning: do not mistake the poisonous lily of the valley Convallaria majalis with wild garlic. They flower at the same time displaying identical leaves and white flowers: using a botanist’s eye the flower structure is completely different however the amateur forager will need to rely on the nose; the discerning difference will be that powerful smell which makes wild garlic so distinctive.