Science and Art and Thoughts from a Head Gardener in May 

One of the things I love about horticulture as a career is the mixture of science, art and experience. I never had a particular favourite subject in school and took A levels in art, biology, maths and design, horticulture has allowed me to bring all of these interests together pretty well every day. With an understanding in science we are able to make judgements on how the weather and ground conditions may affect a plant and our plans in the short and long term and also to help us to come up with better and more effective ways of working. We are able to understand what happens when we prune, plant, water, feed and propagate our plants. Science helps us with management of our plant collections including controlling pest and diseases, naming and identifying plants and caring for them from the propagation bench through to maturity in the garden. Horticulture is a career choice that requires you to have a broad understanding of climate, soil, entomology, plant physiology and biology, identification and taxonomy as well as to have an eye for design and what looks right in your garden. Some of my fellow students have taken the science in horticulture to a whole other level and have gone on to specialise in and study for PHDs in plant genetics and ecology around the world. On a more local level in my job in the garden science helps me to understand how to give the best possible conditions to the plants in my care individually and as a community and to give good reason for the high standards we work to in the garden. A good pruning cut is about more than just looking right, it is key to the plant you leave behind going on to heal properly to avoid pest and diseases getting into the wound and also to the plant continuing to grow as you need it to.

Jess Evans
Head Gardener


National Trust Knightshayes

Tiverton | Devon | EX16 7RQ

Editors Note :We are so pleased to welcome Jess Evans important contribution especially this time of the year Hopefully if time permits she may provide another valuable Head gardeners experience on a regular basis .

NB Jess was winner of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture (prestigous )Young Horticulturist of the Year 2015 a great achievement.








May is a wonderful month with just about everything growing after the long dismal winter.


We all hate weeding but do it now as it’s easy with the ground so wet.  It’s also a good time to move perennials and shrubs.


Remove faded blooms from spring bulbs, retaining the leaves until they turn yellow to re-energise the bulbs – vital to feed the bulbs for next year.!


Prune spring flowering shrubs after flowering but before the next buds start re-growing.  Lightly trim pre-July flowering Clematis woody stems – post July Clematis soft stems need to be cut hard back, as the latter flower on new annual growth.


May Azaleas

Sow fast-maturing annuals and summer bulbs, plant out Dahlia tubers, and prepare hanging baskets.


Kitchen garden jobs to do:

Plant vegetables out, but check the ground is well prepared and rotate the vegetable position from last year to avoid generating pathogens.Use netting as pigeons are watching you planting with great glee.!


Cover ground under strawberries to prevent slugs and snails, collar cabbages, cauliflowers and sprouts to prevent very damaging root fly and earth up potatoes.


Plant families worth exploring

If you have a selection of plants that are growing well in your garden environment it may be worth researching the plant family. Many plants have similar characteristics such as being woody or herbaceous, foliage, fragrance, flowering length, hardiness and soil preference such as acidic or limey and shade or sun position.


Pea family (Leguminaceae or Fabaceae)

Good mostly long flowering plants, many with very attractive ornamental foliage, some fragrant, most hardy.  Sweet peas, Coronilla, Lupins, Broom, Cytisis, Genista, Wysteria Laburnum, Robinia and of course vegetable peas all belong to this important family. (Beware though, some seeds in this family are poisonous!)


Foxglove Family (Scrophulariaceae or Plantagenaceae)

Many ornamental and hardy plants.  Good flowering with long tubular flowers, attractive to pollinators.  Foxgloves, Penstemon, Veronica, Verbascum, Antirrhinum and moisture loving Mimulus all belong to this family.


Rose family (Rosaceae)

Contains a wide range of hardy, ornamental plants many of which are fragrant.  Ornamental and fruiting Apple, Pear, Plum, Cherry.  Many berry shrubs, Cotoneaster (very good for pollinators), Chaenomeles, Pyracantha, Kerria, Spiraea, Sorbaria, Potentilla, Geum as well as, of course, and maybe the best of all, the huge variety of Roses.


Honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae)

Again, a wide range of tough, woody, many hardy, and very fragrant long flowering plants.  Viburnum, Abelia, Honeysuckle (shrubs and climbers), Sambucus, Weigela, Leycesteria,  Snowberry  and many more are all in this family.


Bell flower family  (Campanulaceae)

Many long flowering plants which are excellent for summer borders, containers and hanging baskets.  Lobelia, Campanula


Daisyfamily  (Asteraceae)


One of the must haves flowering from Spring through Summer into late Autumn.  Many long flowering plants, a mixture of perennials and annuals (some tender so treat as annuals.)   Helianthemums (rockery perennial), Heliopsis (border perennial), Helianthus (annual and perennial sunflower), Heleniums (sneezewort), Cosmos, Gaillardia, Rudbekia,  Aster,  Doronicum and some  tender annual south African cape daisies (Osteospermum) and not forgetting reliable hardy Erigeron.


Have a truly wonderful May and dare I say the weather is promising  but do we know what in the UK !!

Tony Arnold