May 6th, 2011

Staying on Top of the Garden in May, Janet's Way

by Janet Woody, Librarian, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

I usually use this column to give a list of garden chores, or “opportunities” for the month.  However, in my humble opinion, May is the month for reclining in a comfy chair while sipping lemonade and viewing the results of all the hard work we did in March and April.

One of the cardinal rules of gardening is that one must keep it up with regularity, or the garden will rudely return to its natural state in about half-a-day.

The Lora M. Robins Library has an ample assortment of books whose authors are determined to keep us on track as we nurture the wanted plants and fend off the unwanted ones. I will mention 3  of these books for  your consideration.

365 Days of Gardening: A Day-by-Day Book of More than 1,000 Terrific Facts, Tips, and Reminders by Christine Allison seems very ambitious to me. Surely we can have a day off every now and then. Ms. Allison mercifully keeps each passage brief. For May 1, she points out that while many of us learned to add a layer of gravel, bits of broken clay pots or marbles in the bottom of containers to aid drainage, this really isn’t necessary as long as the pot has a hole. Good potting soil is all that is needed. I admit that as a frugal gardener, I add broken bits and rocks and even gumballs (from the trees, not the chewing kind) to the bottom of containers (I have so many of the darned things.  Gumballs, not containers), to stretch the good potting soil over as many pots as possible. Her second passage for May 1 tells us that in ancient Rome, April 28 to May 2 was a feast period devoted to Flora, the goddess of flowers. I like this idea. Maybe we can celebrate while sitting in comfy chairs in the yard admiring our handiwork. And the last tip for May tells us how to attract hummingbirds and includes a list of plants known to attract them. OK, that wasn’t so bad and I now believe I will enjoy reading this book.

The second book I want to share with you is Gardening through the Year: a Monthly Guide to Looking after Your Garden by Hazel Evans.  Ms. Evans begins by reminding us that in May “night temperatures can still dip to freezing, so be wary of planting out half-hardy bedding plants too soon.” Hmm, let’s see where Ms. Evans lives: north of New York City! I mention this only to point out that garden authors often describe conditions where they garden, so pay attention to that important detail when taking their advice. At the beginning of each chapter, Ms. Evans gives a list of things to do for the month, and then goes into detail for each item on the list. She uses illustrations well to support the text. I now see that I will enjoy this book without feeling chastised for the things I’ve neglected to do.

100 Garden Tips and Timesavers by Walter Chandoha is a Brooklyn Botanic Garden All-Region Guide so you know it will be good. All of the publications from Brooklyn are very well-done. This is a short book (120 pages) and gets right down to business with instructions for Deadheading Annuals for Repeat Blooms (Be vigilant!), moves to Pinching for Compact Plants, then to Saving Seeds of Annual Flowers.  Mr. Chandoha writes clearly and economically, so you can spend more time actually doing the tasks and following tips he recommends. As with all Brooklyn BG publications, the illustrations are helpful and attractive.

Whether you are a beginning gardener or an old-timer, books like these offer both guidance for the basics and inspiration for trying something new.  Mr. Chandoha includes a photograph of a beat-up old ladder covered with potted plants. What a simple way to make more space in a small garden. I am now inspired to do something like this with an old wooden high chair I have in my attic.  My goodness, gardening books are clever, aren’t they?
I hope you will enjoy the lovely May weather in your garden and in ours.

About Janet Woody

I am the librarian at Lewis Ginter and like to talk and read about plants. I also enjoying researching Lewis Ginter and our founder Grace Arents. Visit me in the library and we'll talk about plants, or history, or some other fun topic.

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