Jill Severn's Gardening Column

The late-May gardener's to-do list


After such a slow-moving, chilly spring, it’s suddenly time to do everything. We can finally plant tomatoes and other warm-weather vegetables.  We need to replant seeds that didn’t come up because of the cold. We ought to be out weeding like crazy, because weeds didn’t wait for warmth to come up. Abundant rain has grass growing so fast we can’t keep up with mowing. And, possibly the least fun, it’s time to clear away the detritus from bloomed-out daffodils, tulips and little bluebells (aka scilla).

If you feel overwhelmed, you qualify as normal. Most gardeners will not feel caught up until sometime in early July. Those who aren’t overwhelmed right now either have very small gardens or are paragons of gardening virtue. The rest of us make them look good by comparison.

And really, even those of us with long to-do lists ought to take a breath and admire the ravishing beauty of late May, the lushness of leafed-out trees and shrubs, and the amazing explosion of growth that comes with ever-longer days. The world doesn’t always have to be tidy to be beautiful, and neither do our gardens.

So here’s some advice about how to cope with our late-May gardeners’ too-long to-do list:

  1. Make reservations to attend the Olympia Garden Club’s garden tour. It’s on June 11 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and costs $25. Directions are on the Club’s website. Why would you do this when you’re already so busy in the garden? Because by June 11 you will need a break, and some inspiration.
  2. Pace yourself. I’ve talked to more than one gardener who overdid it during last weekend’s glorious weather and woke up very sore the next day. When everything needs to be done at once, just breathe deeply and acknowledge that whatever doesn’t get done today can be done tomorrow . . . or the next day.
  3. Don’t hurry. Particularly when weeding, slow and thorough now will mean less work later. Get them out by the roots! There’s no point pulling the same weed more than once.
  4. Plant something you’ve never grown before, or rediscover something you haven’t grown for many years. Last year I rediscovered collard greens, mainly because a friend brought me a big bag full of them. They’re delicious! My friend simmers them with smoked turkey; I used a ham hock. Their huge leaves also make good wraps for any filling. Chickens love them too. And they grow right through the winter. How could I have forgotten them?
  5. Take care of your tools. Sharpen your pruning shears. Clean and oil your shovel. And maybe invest in a new tool or two. Last year I bought a Grampa’s Weeder – a device with prongs at the base of a long handle that you poke in the ground, lean on, and pull out to remove dandelions, cat’s ear, and other weeds with deep taproots. OMG, it’s so satisfying! And great for anyone with back issues because you don’t have to bend over. There are other brands of this device too, and every gardener is likely to develop a loyalty to their own. My neighbor swears his is better, but we agreed to disagree. Maybe I just like mine better because it makes me think of my Grandpa.
  6. Finally, take time to look up and listen. Yesterday several crows were overhead, loudly chasing a hawk away, probably from a nest. It was quite a drama. It’s also become common to see bald eagles soaring high in the sky in the middle of town, but unless you’re in the habit of looking up, you’ll miss them. A hammock is an excellent place for looking up.

The natural world is never more alive with growth and joy than in May and June, and if we let it, that joy will fill us too. May it be so for you.

Jill Severn writes from her home in Olympia, where she grows vegetables, flowers and a small flock of chickens. She loves conversation among gardeners. Start one by emailing her at  jill@theJOLTnews.com


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  • Drutty

    Certainly a happy month in the garden, which feeds our souls~!

    Friday, May 27 Report this