May 2021 began, locked into the weather pattern of April (which was the sunniest, driest and consistently coldest at night, on record, in Wales) with some glorious sunshine, a sharp frost on May 1st, and the garden looking spectacular in spite of these challenges. At last a few light showers in the last 3 days of April have reduced the need for morning and night watering, which had become necessary for most of last month.
Early, still, May mornings, even if frosty, are some of the most wonderful times to be outside, as the short You Tube below illustrates, with wonderful light and bird song. (Worth changing the settings on You Tube to HD to appreciate this).
Enviromesh sheets, water filled bottles, and my makeshift cold frames were all pressed into use to attempt to start some vegetables growing in such challenging conditions, and good progress was made with the newish Malus and Sorbus copse. As well as planting out many more seedling trees, we’ve also now moved many of our daffodil, Narcissus, cultivars, which have been bulked up initially in the veg beds over several years, over in the the last 2 autumns, with some final ones shifted ‘in-the-green’, this spring.
In addition, after heroic efforts from William removing much Alchemilla mollis from the bank below the Amelanchiers over the winter, planting has begun here with favourite Hydrangeas from cuttings, Persicaria, Devil’s-bit scabious grown from seed, and a few Skimmias and Buddlejas. A longer term project, designed to add more insect friendly flowers, and visual interest to an extremely difficult location on the steep shale bank.
The weather changed dramatically, early on in the month, (May 4th) with a low pressure system which brought 41 mm of rain in 24hours, with 60 mph winds. Many daffodils were flattened. More than twice the rainfall had fallen in a single day than we received in the whole of April, which relived water concerns, but the temperatures stayed low.
Temperatures were still really low for this time of the year, with several more sharp night frosts, before another extremely heavy rainfall event hit us on May 8th, with 43 mm falling in 24 hours.
The hay meadows have little grass growth, in spite of being stock free for months now, and the remaining fields are very short of grass. We’re still feeding hay to our sheep in mid-May, as a consequence. Which is unheard of territory for us.
It’s also meant a visual hiatus in several areas of the garden by the middle of the month, with the last Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus, and Alliums only beginning to open mid month.
Many Rhododendron flowers have been wind and frost affected, and with this weather backdrop, the Met. Office issued a preliminary report highlighting that mid-month, the daily average temperature for the month was 2.9 degrees C below the long term 1981- 2010 figure, at just 7.7 degrees C. As well as less sunshine than expected. Given that the decade since 2010 has featured many of the warmest years on record, the change from recent years is even more striking.
With all of this challenging weather and many reports of honeybees struggling, it’s a real delight to report that the 3 hives here – 2 completely non-intervention, home made spaces; the third a modified, cork-insulated National hive, have continued to thrive with bees managing to forage in these challenging conditions, our coppiced, late blossoming willow being a current favourite plant. Moreover, on May 14th I added a fifth ‘super’ box, just above a queen excluder, to this hive just in time for the Malus and sycamore blossom to open, in the hope that the bees might manage to fill some pristine comb, for cutting later in the year. The first drones were visible leaving this hive on May 12th, weeks later than in the last 2 years.
A special sighting was a female Ichneumon stramentor wasp, visiting Euphorbia dulcis ‘Chameleon’ flowers in the long croquet lawn, and some of the best photos I’ve ever managed too take, of a Dark-edged bee-fly, Bombylius major, on Lady’s smock, Cardamine pratensis.
The month ended with a whopping total for rainfall of 291.5 mm, removing any water or grass growth issues for us for the summer, and making it the wettest May in Wales since records began, in 1862. Topping the previous record for May, in 1967, by nearly 20%, and the rainfall here exceeded the Welsh average monthly total, of 214 mm, by a lot! Although the PV inverter output shows that in between the wet days of heavy deluges, we enjoyed a reasonable amount of sunshine.