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May Day all about spring flowers

A sheaf of yellow roses makes a beautiful decoration for May Day. This is The Poet's Wife, a David Austin rose. (Photo:
Kathy Morrison)
Ancient tradition celebrates halfway point to summer

May Day was made for merriment.

Maypoles, May baskets and “bringing in the May” -- all are part of flower-filled May Day traditions that date back to the ancient Celtics.

With our gardens coming into full bloom, this first day in May may be as good a time as any to explore some real old-fashioned garden fun.

May Day represents the midpoint of spring, halfway between the vernal equinox and the first day of summer. For hundreds of years, this holiday has been celebrated in the British Isles as an important point on the agricultural calendar.

This is a garden lover’s kind of holiday: Everything gets decorated with flowers (especially yellow or wildflowers). Houses are adorned with floral wreaths; so are livestock and pets. People wear garlands on their heads and around their necks.

All that decorating takes many May blooms. That’s the origin of the phrase, “bringing in the May”; it means picking a lot of flowers – often by the armload.

May baskets are little gifts left (anonymously) on doorsteps. The basket – often just a colored paper cone or decorated pasteboard box – contains a small bouquet of flowers and something sweet to eat (such as cookies or candy). The giver leaves the treats, rings the doorbell, shouts “May basket!” and runs. If the recipient catches the giver in the act, they get a kiss. (Maybe not this particular May Day, but that’s the tradition.)

In the U.S., maypoles may be the best known May Day tradition. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the ancient Celtics danced around a living tree strung with ribbons while praying for good crops.

By the Middle Ages, the maypole had become a wooden pole – usually in the center of the village. The taller the pole, the more dancers could wrap ribbons around it. (That’s another tradition that’s probably being skipped this May Day.)

Instead of dancing with ribbons, bring in the May from your garden and celebrate a beautiful spring.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 19:

Spring will start a bit soggy, but there’s still plenty to do between showers:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Watch out for aphids. Wash off plants with strong blast from the hose.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to fight blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees as they start to blossom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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