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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 Feb. 18:

It's wet to start the week. When you do get outside, between or after storms, concentrate on damage control:

* Keep storm drains and gutters clear of debris.

* Clean up tree debris knocked down by wind and rain.

* Where did the water flow in your garden? Make notes where revisions are necessary.

* Are any trees leaning? See disturbances in the ground or lawn around their base? Time to call an arborist before the tree topples.

* Dump excess water out of pots.

* Indoors, start peppers, tomatoes and eggplant from seed.

* Lettuce and other greens also can be started indoors from seed.

* Got bare-root plants? Put their roots in a bucket of water until outdoor soil dries out. Or pot them up in 1- or 5-gallon containers. In April, transplant the plant, rootball and all, into the garden.

* Browse garden websites and catalogs. It’s not too late to order for spring and summer.

* Show your indoor plants some love. Dust leaves and mist to refresh.

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