May 2020: In the garden

I wasn’t entirely happy with May. 

I’m sure May couldn’t care less what I thought of her, but I felt let down. 

I’ve always thought of May as the most perfect month in the UK garden. Lush, fresh growth expanding at an inordinate rate, everything abundant and perfect ahead of any heat exhaustion, senescence or much nibbling kicking in.

But as I glanced around the garden in mid-May, that wasn’t what I saw. Everything seemed so bland. Lots of green, yes, but virtually no colour, no interest. All just a bit blah. This wasn’t how May’s supposed to be.

Was I just in some strange, grumpy, Covid-19 mood? Or was I having withdrawal symptoms from the Chelsea Flower Show this year? Perhaps the (often forced) early interest there had clouded my perception and left me craving a false reality.

But no. It turns out I just have the memory of a goldfish and intelligence of…well, I won’t insult any other species here. 

It was the pond that finally came to my rescue. I visit the pond a few times each day and I’d been getting impatient for the plants to burst into flower and the tadpoles to grow legs. 

But on 21st May, my first visit lasted most of the day. A bit naughty really, but I just couldn’t pull myself away. The dragonfly nymphs, by the dozen, were climbing the bush rushes for the final shed of their exoskeletons, ready to dry out in the sun and enjoy their inaugural flight.

Watching this for the very first time, it’s impossible to feel anything but elation. It’s like magic and happiness and wonder and awe, all wrapped into one. And as I sat, watching this spectacle unfurl in front of me, of course I noticed all the other little creatures and plants and flowers that were all there under my nose. 

It wasn’t just the emerging dragonflies, but the damselflies creating red love hearts as they mate and the sparkle of delicate gold-framed wings, gleaming in the sunlight. 

When I looked closely, the raged robin seeds I’d sown last spring had finally germinated and were starting to spread a haze of pink about the margins; the bird’s foot trefoil was lighting up every little nook and cranny and even the Potamogeton pondweed had pushed up little baby flowers across the water’s surface.

Why on earth had I been so dismissive of my ‘dull’ garden? All I needed to do was stop and look. How can I possibly forget this, over and over again?

Suddenly, so many non-dull things jumped out at me. The pink Cercis flowers emerging directly from the woody trunk; the hairy, vivid green unfurling fronds of a male fern; the burgeoning bunches of plums in the orchard; the easily passed by exquisite drapes of Robinia pea flowers with their surprisingly beautiful brown sepals.

It had all been there all along, if only I’d looked.

Of course, the animals have been here too. They love the wildflower meadow – it’s a great hiding place for so many creatures. It tickles me so much to see a head poking up to survey the world, before retreating back down to lunch again. And watching mammals and birds strut along the curving mown paths as though parading along a catwalk makes them seem so conforming, thoughtful and human.

Harry’s even been extra specially compliant on the hand washing mantra this month: not just hands but feet too, morning, noon and night, it seems.

All with little fear once some cover emerges, wandering so close to me as I garden. 

We’ve had not a single drop of rain this month; it’s been wonderfully sunny and warm and summery. It’s drawn me to the dappled shade by the woodland stream: such a peaceful, calming, reassuring place to be. Natural springs ensure the water never stops flowing; such a delightful sight in dry times.

Sitting by the stream I noticed a strange phenomenon: the water curving up high, creating a permanent wave-like feature, despite no apparent obstacle in its way. I’ve become quite fascinating by the life of water, not just the creatures in it but the power and personality it has to find and shape its route along the land. Over lunch I described it to Paul, who informed me it was a ‘hydraulic ramp’. Who’d have thought chemical engineering and gardening would ever overlap so happily?

This very dry weather has probably held growth back a little, but the contrast between the start and the end of the month is stark, proving my theory that May really is the month of abundant growth. You can almost see the ox-eye daisies now reaching their limbs, stretching to get as close as close they can to the sun.

And the veggie garden has come to life. It’s 100% Paul’s baby – I can’t take any credit for it whatsoever – but I love the contrasting neatness of the uniform lines against the backdrop of a naturalistic garden.

We’ve been cropping beans and lettuce and have been jumping up and down with joy seeing our compost reach 50 degrees C. Little things!

But perhaps the absolute highlight of the month was meeting Sammy for the first time. The farmers had told us the area was full of grass snakes and we were certain with the pond we’d see them slithering about all over the place. 

But no, 18 months after the pond was recommissioned and still no Sammy. Until last week. I only saw his head – he didn’t think much to seeing mine – and I almost thought I’d imagined it, but no, Sammy it definitely was. Just by the warming compost pile. Oh, he was beautiful. I am a little scared, but in a happy, excited way. My real fear around the compost is directed at rats and whilst I’m not sure grass snakes really eat rats, it’s a convincing story to reassure myself with. I’ve just got to be faster with my camera next time.

At the end of the month, most flowers are just starting to show that first fleck of colour. I love that tantalising first glimmer of fresh pigment in the buds. Full of hope and promise and another reminder of the awe plants instil in us.

I’m sorry, May, for ever doubting you. I promise to do better in 2021! 

17 thoughts on “May 2020: In the garden

      • thetinypotager says:

        I might join you in that rain dance too! I only have a tiny garden and I can’t imagine how difficult it must be with a bigger garden to keep plants watered and thriving in this heatwave 🌿

        • jannaschreier says:

          Luckily I lived in Australia for six years so I know how much plants can cope with, drought-wise. Still instinctively want to nurture them, but know most will be just fine without water. Nevertheless, I think we should still do the dancing!

        • thetinypotager says:

          It must have been odd at first with the seasons being the opposite way around 🌿 🙂 I hope you get some of today’s rain – it’s been wonderful

        • jannaschreier says:

          It was very confusing. Although it gets even more so when you start to think in Australian seasons but still consciously add 6 months to it and then end up back where you started! The best thing was that my birthday is February and that’s such a treat to have warm birthdays! Anyway, I’ll sit here and just be jealous of your rain – a few spots but not even joined up spots here. I live in hope!

  1. Adriana says:

    I now prefer the gentle unfurling of spring in the garden to a sudden, enormous burst of colour — knowing that once that ‘burst’ occurs it usually triggers a quick end. Things start off slowly here too in our cool spot within a coolish climate – I have to wait longer to see everything burst to life but I also noticed things just go on flowering, one here, one there, throughout spring, summer and even into winter. Your garden must be such a joy to you in these very trying times Janna. Your posts are certainly a joy to me!

    • jannaschreier says:

      I’m so happy you still enjoy my ramblings!! After all this time, imagine! I do think cooler climates are nicer for gardeners – it’s been around 26 degrees for the last week and it’s too much for me. I have to find shade and avoid the hottest times of the day and I’m definitely slower. As you say, you can tell the flowers don’t think much to it either! And you do appreciate those odd flowers at odd times of the year so much more than the ‘obvious’ time for them, that’s for sure. They just look like they are making such an effort for you!

    • jannaschreier says:

      We got a thermometer for our wood burning stove and it helped us understand how to get the best out of it so much better. I’m hoping the same may happen for compost and all of a sudden we’ll be turning it around in a few days. May be wishful thinking!!

  2. Louise says:

    You truly have a stunningly beautiful place to work and live. Sitting by a stream is one of my favourite things to do, if only I had one! As you are aware, May is time of spectacular leaves where I live. You often hear me say as I drive around this city, oh my…..as I hold my breathe. I, like you Janna, like to just look for some time, it’s when you really see the beauty around you. Your photography is truly magical.

    • jannaschreier says:

      I remember so clearly the autumns in Canberra. Everything feels cool and fresh but still sunny and bright. Just gorgeous! And of course the autumn colours are so strong there. Those, “oh my,” moments are just so special. Amazing how strong they can feel. When I sit by the stream I still can’t quite believe it’s mine (well, and the animals) for the time being; in our guardianship at least. My feeling of being so lucky to be here never leaves me.

  3. Suzanne says:

    Hahaha…what a delightful post and oh, how I relate to it on so many levels. Perhaps you were in a COVID slump, its not like you to miss the little details. The amazing thing to me is that May here is also a time of renewal, rapid growth, lushness and flowers (all dependent on rain of course). Last year we didn’t have a spring, it went straight from winter to sprummer (as Prof. Tim Entwisle calls it) and not very much of the ‘spr’ bit either but autumn is fabulous!

    How wonderful that your beautiful pond was the eye-opener. Water is just so intrinsic to a garden and even without an expanse of water my bird baths, water bowls and tiny frog pond are a source of constant entertainment and pleasure. I do so love all ‘my’ birds and reptiles although unlike you, I don’t have any visiting mammals (we won’t count any of the rodent visitors!). I’m not at all surprised that you spent so long at your pond watching all your aquatic friends. Really, I don’t know how you manage to get anything done with so many distractions in your garden, it is truely stunning Janna.

    My latest source of garden magic has been a visiting Western Spinebill, only the third or fourth sighting at 149 in over 40 years. She’s been here for about 2 weeks. I have invited her to stay but I suspect she will leave for a quieter spot in the bush now that it has rained. We have also a new visitor to 149, a Common Bronzewing, an Australian native which may be our most common dove but it is very shy and likes suburban development about as much as I do!

    How wonderful that you have a Sammy! I find snakes fascinating and I can tell that you do too. It saddens me that people are so scared of them; such an unfounded fear (unless of course you throw stones at them or try to kill them!) I’m so glad I didn’t over-do the dugite introduction to your delightful friend. It was such a beautiful animal!

    Happy gardening Janna and love to all. X
    Suzanne

    • jannaschreier says:

      It’s funny, isn’t it, that we can be at ‘opposite’ ends of the year, opposite sides of the world, opposite hemispheres and in totally different climates and yet our gardens are currently in similar phases of growth?! Plants are just so good at seeking out opportunities to thrive, aren’t they? Whilst I can’t really explain how they do all that, I can, however, explain how I ‘manage to get anything done with so many distractions in my garden’. The biggest distractions are actually the nettles and sticky weed and ground elder that I photograph slightly less frequently – impossible to sit still for too long when you can see all those! Lovely, lovely, lovely to hear about your Western Spinebill and Common Bronzewing. They must both have felt extremely lucky to have found your little oasis! I do hope they settle in for a while, Suzanne.

  4. romigp says:

    Such a delight to listen (read) your lovely prose about your garden. I really feel I am there. We shared just a few hours in the former Peckerwood Garden in Texas, now known as the John Fairey Garden in Hempstead. I recently moved to a very dry environment in western Colorado. Still discovering and being challenged in learning new plants that survive here. Your posts help me to remember the lushness and vitality of other places. Thank you!

  5. romigp says:

    I so enjoy listening (reading) your lovely prose about your garden. We met years ago, for just a few hours at the former Peckerwood Garden in Texas, now known as the John Fairey garden. John passed away earlier this year, but your posts remind me of his spectacular garden. I have since moved to a much drier, arid environment in western Colorado, So hearing your descriptions of the lush, green, thriving environment your photos capture is very refreshing to me. Thank you! So lovely!

    • jannaschreier says:

      Pam, it’s super to hear from you! Paul and I chatted last night about our magical few hours at Peckerwood. We both remember it vividly. We are sorry to hear about John; what a wonderful legacy he has left. I do hope you are enjoying learning about gardening in a new environment. I think experiencing gardening in different soils and climates takes it to a whole new level. You start to understand ‘why’ a lot more, rather than just ‘what’. Observing the similarities and differences tells you so much about what is behind plants’ needs and behaviours, which I find fascinating. Good luck with it all and thanks so much for being in touch.

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