May 2020 | Ne’er cast a clout . . .

May 2020 | Ne’er cast a clout . . .

The red and blue early morning sky of a spring dawn
Spring dawn


Hi Everyone!

I always thought that the folk saying of this month’s title referred to there being a danger from frost until the month of May had passed.  Not so, the word “clout” that has been in use since the 15th century, apparently not only means a blow to the head but also used to mean clothing.  This bit of folk wisdom then is telling us not to discard our winter clothes until May has passed.  Wisdom indeed – after a week of glorious sunshine we had an unbroken day of rain and it turned very, very cold.  Welcome back again to the blog – hope all are staying well and still coping with the new life arrangements.  This month the “big picture” is Spring Dawn – I am not usually up and about in the house at 4.00 am but I couldn’t miss this – it probably won’t be repeated too often.

My garden and At the Allotment

1. For a short time each year my Bramley's Seedling looks fabulous
1. For a short time each year my Bramley’s Seedling looks fabulous

When I was working and caring for other peoples’ gardens I didn’t always have enough energy to do my own with the result that my garden lawn was horribly neglected and greeted this new season with over-long, tangled grass full of dense, tough tussocks.  I laid the lawn myself, from seed, some fifteen or so years ago and I deliberately chose a “rugged” type grass as I was not wanting a bowling green but something hard-wearing.  Now, section by section I am cutting and raking it clear – long job and not the most interesting – will be great when finished and I have an easily mowed lawn again.  I try to alternate allotment work and work in the garden but then sometimes I just refuse to do anything!

2. The blossom buds are coloured a deep pink. The open flowers are white
2. The blossom buds are coloured a deep pink. The open flowers are white

I have also planted a couple of new Acanthus mollis plants; I raise several from seed each year – and you may remember I featured this plant in my blog article last month.  Acanthus are easy to raise from seed and I plan to add a few more under the large tree as they are great plants for difficult situations.  I also have some new roses to add.

On the subject of seeds I was reminded that some of them need special treatment to germinate.  A particular variety of Lavender I sent away for last season included in the sowing instructions “pre-chill seeds in compost for 3 weeks”.  I remember covering these kinds of special seed treatments when doing RHS studies but couldn’t remember this one specifically.  Found a useful article which gives answers to this and similar queries at –

I was dimly aware that the fitness regime of the professional dancer was exacting but learned even more listening to one on the Radio 4’s Today programme talking about her regime in detail i.e. hours of daily training with only one day off a week for recovery.  Apparently, even after years of doing this the peak of fitness attained disappears very quickly if you stop the training.  This got me to thinking about fitness.  I know older people must exercise.  Many people as they get older suffer with rheumatism or arthritis and for us it is doubly important.  I well remember being taken aback hearing on the radio a man in his eighties relating that he had to exercise for an hour and a half a day just to keep going.  I am completely convinced of the necessity – but I don’t always enjoy doing it even if I do feel great afterwards.


3. The bi-coloured blossom is a lovely if fleeting sight
3. The bi-coloured blossom is a lovely if fleeting sight

I’ve heard many times that the best strategy for managing confinement in the house was to create a number of regular routines so I put exercise at the top of the list and started the major quest to get on top of my garden and allotment plot both of which had been neglected when I was working.  As soon as I started self-isolating allotment work was postponed because I really wasn’t clear about the allotment visiting position under the Corona virus restrictions until just recently.  As I said I am currently working on both garden and plot in turn but have not done my floor exercises!

Better late than never, I hope, and on the plot have so far have started to prepare two of my four beds for planting.  I am sticking to the no-dig method and have laid cardboard on two beds and covered them with own compost plus some leafy compost on site for common use.  One of the completed beds I have covered with a large polythene sheet – the idea is that this sheet will enhance the temperature and bring up the weeds in the compost which can then be quickly hoed off.

Believe me, home-made compost doesn’t go far.  Have been piling up dried weeds, the occasional small bag of kitchen compost and drying grassy turves upside down for two years and although the pile looked huge and is of fabulous quality – lovely, crumbly, damp and dark, beautiful stuff – it has stretched only to two of the four beds.  Cardboard too has run out but that is much less of a problem to come by.

So what to do with the other two beds?  Mmmmm.

A close up of the intricate pattern in a dandelion clock

 Lockdown coping

I hadn’t realised but during the first weeks of self isolation the new life was a novelty and therefore fairly interesting.  The plethora of Zoom meeting requests meant I had more contacts than usual, not less.  Now, however, the honeymoon period is well and truly over and the time has arrived to play mind tricks on oneself to maintain a helpful attitude – as opposed to being bored and feeling cooped-up.  One that I heard on the radio that I really liked was to take a few minutes at the end of each day and number three positive things that happened during the day.  I am following this advice and so far so good, it seems to have a very positive effect on my mood on waking the following day.

 Urban Wildlife

Pied wagtail
Pied wagtail

Being confined to the house means having the time to do the stuff you “didn’t get around to” and I looked up the Pied Wagtail as I always intended I would.  About two years ago I had my first sight of this pretty bird that then used to frequent my path to my local mini supermarket for a year or so and then disappeared.  Next sighting was at the major supermarket in the local high street.  Quite likely a different bird altogether, but how would I know?

Although I have only ever seen lone birds apparently flocks of Pied Wagtails take up urban residence over the winter as, like sparrows, they accommodate well to living alongside humans.  The Pied Wagtail is a member of one of the largest bird groups the Passerines, which includes sparrows, grouped by their toe structure of three toes pointing forward and one back – ideal for perching.

We have accommodated for some time green parakeets, once only seen in the parks and now everywhere and very loud and squawky they are too.  Such exotic colouring is a bit out-of-place in the UK and as they stay up high and never come near the ground, don’t keep still for long and move really speedily I have never been able to photograph one.

Morning dew on moss
Morning dew on moss

Circular Economy

One of my friends – we’ve spoken quite often recently on the phone as we are both straining at the leash with being confined to barracks – keeps dropping “the circular economy” into the conversation.  I thought I’d better find out more about it.

The notion of the circular economy it is thought could produce excellent environmental sustainability.  It would mean radically rethinking the current linear model of Take>Make>Dispose which has been with us since the time of the Industrial Revolution plus it would mean a change in some aspects of the concept of ownership.    The idea is that the waste that causes societies major disposal problems could be designed out of products, such as washing machines and fridges, at their conception by making them with easily disassembled components.  Rather than own and buy them you would hold such products on licence; they could be returned to the manufacturer at the end of their useful lives where the basic raw materials could be reused and licensed out again.

Allotment plotholders are quite used to a circular concept.  The previous year’s contents of the compost heap are added to a bed being prepared for the growing season.  Seed sowing takes place and plants grow.  Harvest happens and the plants are eaten with a certain percentage of roots and stems, plus the year’s supply of weeds (dried first), plus any kitchen scraps such as vegetable peelings  returned to the compost heap as nutrients.  Nothing has been wasted and the circle recommences.  It is what nature does.

I found some interesting articles about the circular economy generally at –

Plight of the nurseries

There has been so much “bad” news that I wasn’t  surprised to hear that agriculture and horticulture have not escaped.  Garden centres nationwide have been closed for a while and this has a knock-on effect on nurseries and plant growers who may be forced to cut their losses and destroy enormous numbers of plants.   The friends I go with to the annual Kent County Show at Detling and I already agreed some time ago, as it isn’t very likely to be held this year, to cancel our visit there.  Sadly, these shows are important outlets for many people in the industry, probably the mainstay of their businesses.



 Trees and Neighbours

A stand of Betula pendula (Silver birch) will need space.
A stand of Betula pendula (Silver birch) will need space.

This month the plant of the month feature has been postponed so am taking this opportunity to look at a common issue in suburban gardens.  A friend of mine was telling me that neighbours had complained to them recently about the height of their Silver birch (Betula pendula) tree and the shadow it cast in their garden.  Her researches found that you must not cut off the top from a Silver birch (or indeed any tree) because the pyramidal shape would be ruined.   These friends I know would have been careful about siting the tree and though I thought that I might find some sort of compromise for them I’m afraid that if the neighbours decide to be really difficult about it I think they can only resort to professional help of some kind – a trusted tree surgeon or a lawyer.

I sent them some back-up information so if they were to attempt pruning the Silver birch they should do it at a particular time of year – slightly differently to most trees – and also the measurements of the height and spread after the tree gained its ultimate height at 20 years.

This is a good place to issue my plea to everyone to do the research on the tree of your choice before you plant.  It is easy to fall in love with the look of a particular plant/tree before finding out if it is suited to your garden and then very sad to find you could possibly have to remove a beloved specimen which grew beyond your expectations if the neighbours are cutting up rough.  This kind of info is readily available on the internet.  My friends had thought they had planned sufficiently by putting the tree at the very end of their garden which in most cases would have been OK.  She later confirmed that the tree is in fact 20 years old so at least she can be reasonably confident it probably won’t grow much taller.

If you really are called upon to desecrate the natural shape of a tree this seems to be a good solution - a Silver birch in a small front garden has been turned into a lollipop. The man who owns this garden was a professional gardener and he has done it well.
If you really are called upon to desecrate the natural shape of a tree this seems to be a good solution – a Silver birch in a small front garden has been turned into a lollipop. The man who owns this garden was a professional gardener and he has done it well

My friend and her Silver birch problem stayed in my mind for quite a while and on my rare visits outside the house I kept looking around me and I found two instances of a Silver birch in a small front garden in my local area that had been tackled – quite possibly due to complaints from the neighbours – as in the picture above.

Hello Zoom My New Friend

Via the medium of the Zoom meeting the tutor of my photography course has managed to keep us up-to-date with our learning; I have been kept in touch with all the people in my lunch club – we don’t eat but we do talk about eating on Zoom; I was invited to a camera club Zoom competition evening by a photography contact from a couple of years back and spent a very interesting couple of hours – they have a few events for non-members so am looking forward to another shortly.  I saw some great images and learned a lot from the judge’s commentary.  I do believe this period has been possibly more social than usual for me, certainly more varied.

Do get in touch in the comments box at the end of posts, if you’ve a mind, your gardening questions or comments will be welcome.   Until next time happy gardening – Cheerio  from Rosanna.





2 thoughts on “May 2020 | Ne’er cast a clout . . .

  1. I love silver birch and have several in the garden.In one case,thinking the ideal position had been found we later
    realised it was immediately under the phone wire.don’t forget to look up!

    1. This is something I hadn’t thought of – thanks for bringing it to everyone’s attention. Silver birch are beloved by most and I guess they seem very easily accommodated, apparently not too dense and not too large – but there’s more to think of!

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