BRING flowers of the fairest, bring flowers of the rarest,

From garden and woodland and hillside and vale;

Our full hearts are swelling, Our glad voices telling

The praise of the loveliest, Rose of the vale.

O Mary! We crown thee with blossoms today,

Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May,

O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today,

Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May.

May is a short name but it started in the 1050s, coming from the Old English Maius, from the Latin Maius ménsis - ‘Maia’s month’. Of course it comes from the Romans, who made our first calendar. Maia Majesta Roman goddess of fertility and spring, which is fitting for the growth and increase in the life of everything in our gardens we now see in May.

The folklore saying ‘April showers brings back May flowers’ dates back to 1500. And what a lot of April showers we have had in 2024! There we times when we could be forgiven for thinking ‘Will they ever end?’

Spring - can you feel it? Well you can right now, by going to a beech hedge; stroke your fingers through its leaves and you will feel the softness of spring in the new growth.

The weather forecast from the Met Office since December has been like heavy rain with showers in between. But every dark cloud they say has a silver lining, as spring flowering bulbs, trees and shrubs have been exceptional. Daffodils in their magnificence had a long life. Likewise Magnolias and Camellias, which are often damaged by frost, seem to have enjoyed the wet but mild conditions. This has proved that flowering trees and shrubs, which have been somewhat looked down on in recent years, are worth planting and are indeed the jewels in the crown.

Our Gardener of the Month of May is Andrew Mortimer of Mortimer’s Nurseries, Spen Lane, Gomersal. Andrew is the fourth generation of gardeners at Spen Lane. He tells me his great grandfather, Harry, began growing for the wholesale market in Bradford many years ago. Harry was followed by his son John, Andrews’s granddad, whom he helped in the nursery from age seven.

I myself have an association with the Mortimers, which began in the 1960s, when as a schoolboy Andrew’s grandfather John used to take me with a car load to Headingley to the cricket matches. I have fond memories of going to the Ashes tests there. They were thrilling times for a small boy, and have never been forgotten.

And when I became a gardener I did, as now, use Mortimer’s for many of my gardening needs. But I digress. The third generation was continued forward by Andrews’s father Alan who used to select the best canes for my exhibition chrysanthemums. Alan expanded doing business with Interflora. Another interest pursued by Andrew was motor trials, starting trials at four-years-old, competing from the age of six. Later he switched to Motor Cross, rising to become Yorkshire champion.

What’s bred in the bone comes out in the flesh, they say. Andrew’s sister, who is a sales assistant at the nursery, is always there to give customers a friendly welcome. Andrea was not to be out done and was a champion figure skater, competing in both British and World championships, a wonderful achievement. The nurseries are Yorkshire though and though with all plants being Yorkshire hardy grown, that includes the selection of bird tables sold.

The pruning of spring flowering trees and shrubs should be done after flowering, if they require it, thus creating next year’s flowering growth. Sweet peas should be stopped (a small bit taken off the top) when a few inches in length, this encourages the plants to bush out. Potatoes can still be planted. Sowing of vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower and spinach can be made in the greenhouse. Also climbing French beans such as ‘Crimson Lake’ can be sown in small pots of compost, 2in (5cm) deep in late April. French beans should have the same soil preparation as above for leeks.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Peter Fawcett looks back on his long career as a professional gardener in his bookPeter Fawcett looks back on his long career as a professional gardener in his book (Image: Peter Fawcett)

I pot using John Innis potting compost rather than a multi-purpose, so I can be sure of its contents I mix my own.

It’s a rewarding task that anyone can accomplish. The main ingredient is loam - clean fertile soil. Taken from a turf stack made of turves placed upside down and left for 12 months. Moles are industrious creatures that help in this. They somehow riddle the soil perfectly and leave it for us gardeners to collect. This is excellent for making John Innes potting compost Number One. So we get seven parts loam; two parts of river sand, obtained from a nursery and three parts of Horticultural peat, or three parts of leaf mould can be used instead. The mould from under the leaf litter that’s of the constituency of tea leaves. All part should be put through three eighths of an inch riddle (9.58mm).

The sowing of lettuces, salads and cauliflowers can be done now. In the north of our regional areas, like Gargrave and the appropriately named Coniston Cold, I would still err on the side of caution and sow in the greenhouse or cold frame.

I wait until the spring bank holiday before being confident of casting caution to the wind that all threat of frost will be over and anything can be planted out with confidence.

* For Peter Fawcett’s book, Gardeners’ Delight, email or call (01274) 873026.