This really is the birds’ month. Bird activity is intense in May, and they seem to sing all day and most of the night. There are more insects flying in the warmth too, with bees and butterflies on my herbs.
There is blossom on my apple and pear trees, and the vegetable garden needs more time now, and is producing a greater choice of fresh foods with spring cabbage, rhubarb, early lettuce, spring onions, radishes and even early new potatoes. We can still get frosts in May, and the weather is still changeable; it can be warm and sunny or cold and wet. I won’t be putting any tender plants until June, but I’m sowing more lettuce, radish, parsley, basil and peas directly into the ground, so that I can crop throughout the summer. In the greenhouse I’m sowing annual flowers and herbaceous perennials, marrows, courgettes (zucchini), autumn cauliflower, calabrese and kohl rabi.
The herb garden is keeping me busy too. I collect the early fresh green growth of comfrey (Symphytum officinale), to make salves to heal cuts and small wounds, sprains and arthritic joints. I also collect the leaves of the common mallow (Malva sylvestris), a soothing plant with a high mucilage content, which is useful for stomach ulcers and dry coughs, in the form of a tea, or to use as a poultice to reduce inflammations such as insect bites and boils. The fresh young leaves even make a lovely addition to a salad. The woodruff (Galium odoratum /Asperula odorata) is coming up everywhere, and I pick the flowers to make a May-time drink called May Bowl. The sweetly scented leaves can be dried, or pressed between the pages of a book, to scent drawers and linen cupboards.
12 sprigs young sweet woodruff, chopped
5 oz. (1 ¼ cups/ 140 g) powdered sugar (icing sugar)
2 bottles dry white wine
2 pints sparkling wine
Place in all the ingredients except the sparkling wine and strawberries in a bowl. Cover for 30 minutes. Remove the herbs. Add the sparkling wine and strawberries. NB: Avoid woodruff if pregnant or breastfeeding.