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The Grumpy Gardener - May

Hints & Tips With Mike Alexander
In his regular column for French News Online "Lifestyle" Section, professional gardener Mike Alexander, waxes lyrical as he contemplates his February garden.

- Fleur de Lys-

The Iris and Madame Guillotine

April was a difficult month in terms of the weather which offered a smattering of everything but mainly just too much rain.

It is a busy month for any gardener and rain in the amounts we've had really throws life into complete disarray. To add to my woes the neighbour's sheep jumped the wall into one of the gardens I look after, playing havoc with everything an ovine decides ought to be edible. Under the watchful eye of the farmer's border collie the sheep regularly pass us and usually without incident. But on this occasion the collie allowed them access to my precious plants. I think she was taking some sort of industrial action that day but whether this was in sympathy with one of the larger trades unions or a more specific grievance affecting the sheep dog union, I really can't say.

Ice Warning
So let us hope that May turns out to be kinder to us the long-suffering gardener brigade. The 11th, 12th and 13th of this month are the three days of the Saints de Glace which -- according to longstanding tradition -- is a period when we may well have a late frost and before which time, the locals will sagely insist, it is most foolhardy to plant out any tender seedlings and plants.

Saints de Glace
This tradition dates back to the Middle Ages and used to be the feast days of Saints Mamert, Pancrace and Servais but all three have for reasons we shan't go into here, been desanctified by the Vatican and by more recently-approved saints now fill their place. Saints de Glace is still a tradition the French take very seriously and I am regularly reprimanded for planting out earlier than this period. I have however been planting before Saints de Glace since I first came to France and have yet to have significant losses to bad weather as a result. To me the longer growing period makes it worth taking a risk although of course if you live in the north the chances of a late cold and destructive snap obviously increases.

Fleur de Lys
Fleur de Lys

One group of plants that will be coming into flower now and which cope with just about any weather is the bearded Iris. These are deeply embedded in French culture --the Fleur-de lis was of course a symbol of the French Monarchy for at least six hundred years. So closely were they associated with the monarchy that during the 1789 revolution they were chipped off stone buildings and obliterated from wall hangings etc. Indeed citizens were guillotined just for wearing them on clothes or jewellery. Luckily Fleur-de lis fervour has dampened somewhat since then.

Dead Head Your Irises
There are over 2000 varieties of Iris but the most common are the blues and purples made so famous by Monet. They need plenty of sun but are extremely tolerant of soil conditions and thrive quite happily in very poor and shallow soil which is why they are so often seen growing at the base of walls and buildings. They grow from a swollen underground stem known as a rhizome and when planting the top of this rhizome should be level with the soil surface. If planted too deeply they grow vigorously but fail to flower. Plant them about thirty centimetres apart and divide every three years. Water only sparingly in dry weather and dead head regularly and they will give wonderful displays at this time of year.

Previously - click an image below
To read February's gardening tips article - click this image
Is a world without bees possible? Read about this crisis that will affect us all - click here
Prune for Results
A World Without Bees?
What you should have done in January!
Prune your roses - click here
Fruit Tree Pruning
Wars of the Roses
Grumpy Gardener April - It's War Out There. Click to view
Click to read this article
Prune When Finished
Herald of Spring...
click to read Grumpy's july  tips
You've got to be quick!
Un-thirsty Lavender
To read this August 2011 article - click here
To read this August 2011 article - click here
Grasp the Nettle
Star Jasmine - Madrid
To read this August 2011 article - click here
To read this August 2011 article - click here
Jihad - on Bunnies Ears
Autumn Arrives
Designer chic or neccessity? - click here for full story
To read this article - click here
Designer Chic?
Gravity - not to be ignored!
If winter comes, can Spring be far behind? Grumpy contemplates the winter garden
If winter comes, can Spring be far behind? Grumpy contemplates the winter garden
If Winter Comes....
Hottest chilli in the world
Dogs and Daffodils... full story - click this image
To read an article
- click an image -
Dog Days...

Grumpy Gardener
Our Grumpy Gardener has been gardening professionally in France for more years than he cares to remember and before that in Africa and the UK. Today he happily shares his expertise with French News Online readers. Your gardening questions are welcome and while they may not be individually answered, they may form the basis of future monthly columns.

Article: Mike Alexander
May 2012

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