Ruth clarifies her water butts and takes stock of her early May garden

Well here we are, the first weekend of May already and the garden is looking sumptuous. It still has that freshness of spring that gradually fades when summer’s heat grows, and the flowers, particularly the knapweeds, are looking glorious.

It was all helped, of course, by the much-needed rain of the past few days. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly soil dries out and I was wondering if I was being ungrateful praying for rain when we had such a wet and miserable winter and early spring!

So after two days confined to barracks by the weather, it was wonderful to get back out into the garden and do some work.

Say No to the Mow and let your grass grow this May

One thing that isn’t being done, however, is mowing the lawn. We are taking full advantage of No Mow May and letting the grass grow and the wild flowers (also known as weeds!) among it flourish.

This is nothing new to the back garden at Hayes Towers as we leave it to grow over the summer months and as a result have seen our plant and wildlife diversity increase immensely (only last night we had a pair of hedgehogs getting amorous in the rockery outside the back door).

Letting a patch of lawn grow (or even the whole thing if you want) invites in the insects, including moths and other nocturnal creatures, and they bring the birds, bats and hedgehogs. You will be amazed by the diversity of what grows too – we have several varieties of grass as well as buttercups, ground ivy, speedwell, self-heal, scabious, ox eye daisy and several other species.

It can look a little scruffy by summer’s end, but the delight it brings for weeks on end more than compensates for that.

Say No to the Mow is a campaign led by the charity Plant Life and yu can find further details at

Pouring water cleaner into a full water butt

The rain had filled pour water butts, so it seemed a good time to purify them. I used Envii Water Butt Klear tablets, which are a new organic product made from beneficial bacteria.

I prefer this to a chemical as it doesn’t introduce synthetic microbes to the garden but does, apparently, help feed the soil and plants when they are watered. The product is widely available online.

Envii Water Butt Clear tablets are organic and help feed plants and soil

The next job was cutting back last year’s remaining stems from the penstemons. I had left them in place to help protect the plants’ crowns if we had a bad winter, and now lots of new growth is coming through and the days and nights are warming, so it was time for the chop.

Removing last summer’s penstemon stems

We live close to the south coast so climate is pretty mild here, but if you are further north or have an exposed garden, it might be worth leaving your old penstemon growth alone for a few weeks more in case of a rogue hard late frost.

A couple of hollyhocks survived the mild winter but one of them has a few early signs of hollyhock rust, a very common fungal disease that presents as range pustules on the leaves and stem.

Remove any sign of hollyhock rust and treat with fungicide

It spreads quickly and isn’t easy to control but I have removed the affected leaves (they were older ones that came through winter) and sprayed the plants with fungicide. I’ll keep a keen eye on them and deal with any more outbreaks immediately.


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John Negus, questions, answers

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