Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The Gardener's Calendar - May 1863

This is from Whitnash Parish Magazine, in 1863, and here is the section that begins May, and the gardening tasks. Given the sudden change in weather the last few days, it is certainly true, as the magazine says, that "the east winds have not altogether lost their wintery sharpness"!

Ruskin tells us that May is of Greek derivation, taken from "the eldest of those stars of spring, that Maia, from whom your own month of May has its name" .

Edwin Radford has this to say of May:

May Day celebrations, a feature of the English countryside, go back to the days of ancient Rome, when Roman youths went out into the fields and spent the Calends of May dancing and singing in honour of Flora, Goddess of fruits and flowers. Olaus Magnus wrote: "After their long Winter, from the beginning of October to the end of April, the northern nations have the custom to welcome the returning splendour of the sun with dancing, and mutually to feast each other, rejoicing that a better season for fishing and hunting hath approached."

The merry making aspect of May is also found in Spenser:

Is not thilke the merry month of May When love-lads masken in fresh array?

Radford also notes that the rhyme "Here we go gathering nuts in May."  is not, strictly speaking, accurate:

There are not, of course, any nuts in May to gather. August is the first month in which nuts could be picked. But there is May (hawthorn) in May and there are knots of May to be gathered. And that is what the nuts of the old rhyme really were.

A final oddity of May is that no other month begins or ends on the same day of the week as May.

Whitnash Parish Magazine - May 1863

May is a very pleasant month, but the weather is frequently changeable, and the east winds have not altogether lost their wintery sharpness. Flowers have now begun to deck the hedgerows, and to carpet the woodlands. The cowslip blooms in abundance, and towards the close of the month the white blossom of the hawthorn, to which the special name has been given of MAY, brightens and scents the air.

The days are lengthening, the sunshine is genial. the swallows are come, trees are bursting into leaf, the nightingale and the thrush are in full song, the lambs are sporting in the field, and all nature seems alive with
gladness and beauty.

THE GARDEN: Scarlet runners, dwarf French beans, and led beet should be sown not later than the second week of this month. Dung and dig the ground as it becomes vacant for winter crops. Examine crops of carrots, &c., and where they have failed, sow again.

Sow radishes, lettuces, and all herbs wanted for salads. Plant out vegetable-marrows and cucumbers towards the end of the month, taking care to protect them. Thin out leeks, onions. &c.

Clear gooseberry-bushes of grubs, and gather for kitchen use green fruit from the lowest branches. Remove stray shoots from stone-fruit trees, earth up potatoes, sow hardy annuals for a succession, examine your rose bushes and kill the grubs and caterpillars; stir up the soil among all growing crops; cultivation is almost equal to manuring. After planting out half hardy plants shade them from the sun.


Open your windows, that the sweet May breeze
May enter at its will,
Bearing fresh perfume from the blossoming trees,
The quiet air to fill

Quiet, but for the sound of that sweet singing
That floats up from the dell
But for the hum of bees, enamoured clinging
To honeyed coop and bell.

It is the time of Nature's regal dressing;
When, like an Eastern queen
In costliest gems arrayed, the earth caressing,
She decks it emerald green.

Here the laburnum hangs its golden chain,
The silvery hawthorn there
Like amethyst, the lilac studs her train,
And ruby blossoms rare.

The apple-trees have donned a robe of pink,
In homage for a while
How gay the grassplot looks! come, sit and think
Of Nature's younger smile.

Was she not fairer, when with childish glee
We hailed the first. of May-
Plucked the sweet promise from the hawthorn-tree,
And twined with tulips gay ?

Thus far I thought, when apple-bloom replied-
We are not changed, but you ;"
The rosy blush confounded me: I sighed,
Confessing it too true!

The Queen of the Air: Being a Study of the Greek Myths of Cloud and Storm by John Ruskin, 1869
Unusual Words and How They Came About by Edwin Radford, 1946

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