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Discover articles on garden design, seasonal planting tips for your garden and other news and views from Gillian Goodson Designs.

Looking at the May garden

 The spectacular white flowers of  Malus  ‘John Downie’  (Gillian Goodson Designs)

The spectacular white flowers of Malus ‘John Downie’ (Gillian Goodson Designs)

There is romance in the air in May and not just of when boy meets girl. It is the English countryside: the beauty of our hedgerows, the soft light through young leaves, the frothiness of cow parsley, the gusto of birds, that wonderful smell of freshly mown lawn. It is a great time to explore our woods awash with bluebells. Dust your bike, go for that walk, shed your winter-self and enjoy the wonder and beauty around you. 

In the garden as well as in nature, there is a feast for the senses. April brought the magic and majesty of early-flowering trees and this continues in May. A delightful crab apple and a fantastic tree for the small garden is Malus ‘John Downie’ with a profusion of pink buds and spectacular white flowers. It also has orange-scarlet fruit so if you know a good jelly maker...

Wonderful for the cottage garden and embodying romance is the herbaceous perennial Paeonia officinalis ‘Rubra Plena’. I remember the first time I discovered this peony. Do you have similar memories? It has astonishingly big crimson-red blooms that sit beautifully in the cup of your hands and is just as striking as a cut flower with a delicate scent. 

I adore roses with scent. An absolute front runner is the divinely scented Rosa rugosa ‘Alba’. Take a moment to breathe in the bouquet of its silky white flowers. Put your olfactory to the test—what notes do you discern? It flowers continuously from late May through to November and is just as attractive to wildlife as to the wild at heart. 

A young child uttering the word ‘soft’ comes to mind when thinking of the furry leaves of Stachys byzantine. Its tactile silver-grey foliage contrasts and complements a variety of colours adding textural interest. It is resistant to deer and rabbits, great for suppressing weeds and a good edging plant. 

While enjoying the longer days and once the risk of frost is over, plant out sweet peas and French beans. Tie back new growth on climbers, and prune lavender but do avoid cutting into old wood. You could also divide overcrowded spring-flowering bulbs and pond plants. 

For gaps in your borders, take advantage of potted bulbs on sale in garden centres. Resist the temptation of hanging your baskets outside too soon. Cover your soft fruits with netting and your carrots to prevent carrot fly attack. Good luck with the weeding and do stretch your back—perhaps reward yourself with a nice cold drink.

There are also two Bank holidays to celebrate—rejoice!