Tag Archives: may

Seasons. Summer begins on 21 June – or is it 1 May or 1 June?

First published by Rattan Direct on 5 June 2016.


Field Rose (Rosa arvensis), generally thought to be Shakespeare's sweet musk rose
Field Rose (Rosa arvensis), generally thought to be Shakespeare’s sweet musk rose. © Copyright Robin Stott and licensed for re-use under Creative Commons Licence Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic


Gardeners look forward to the warmth and productivity of the summer, and the time to sit and admire. As Henry James said to Edith Wharton, in the early years of the twentieth century:

Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.

We love to talk about the weather and the seasons. Living in Britain with our changeable weather makes that almost inevitable.

So when is summer? Here are three answers for you: astronomical, solar and meteorological summer seasons.

But before you read on, I must say to you that I don’t feel the need to be regimented about summer. It’s about light, warmth and growing. When it’s summer, really, you just know.

1. Astronomical summer season!

We have seasons because the Earth is at a tilt as it makes its year-long journey round the sun. It’s wonky to an angle of 23.5 degrees and the North Pole always points the same way. When the North Pole points towards the sun it’s summer in the northern hemisphere, and when it points away from the sun it’s winter in the northern hemisphere.

When the North Pole points more directly towards the sun than on any other day of the year, the sun appears at its highest in the sky at midday. This is the summer solstice and the longest day, on or near 21 June. It’s the first day of astronomical summer.

The date isn’t fixed because the Earth’s orbit around the sun isn’t a perfect circle but is elliptical. This year, astronomical summer begins on 21 June 2016 and ends on 21 September 2016.


The relative positions and timing of solstice, equinox and seasons in relation to the Earth's orbit around the sun
The relative positions and timing of solstice, equinox and seasons in relation to the Earth’s orbit around the sun. Colivine has made this file available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

2. Solar summertime!

Why are days hotter in the summer? Because the sun is at its highest in the sky!

The summer sun’s rays hit the Earth at a steep angle. This means they don’t spread out very much and the amount of energy hitting any given spot is increased. This, and summer’s long daylight hours, means the Earth has plenty of time to reach those warm temperatures that we and our plants like.

Some people around the world, including the mediaeval Celts, use the amount of sunlight to determine seasons. For them, summer is the period when there is the most warm sunlight. Solar summer starts on 1 May and ends on 31 July. Autumn begins on 1 August with harvest festivals.

Midsummer is the summer solstice, around 21 June, the day with the most warm sunlight. This is the day of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. Oberon, king of the fairies, describes where Titania, queen of the fairies, sometimes sleeps:

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.

Sweet Briar or Eglantine, Rosa rubiginosa, Vale of Rheidol
Sweet Briar or Eglantine, Rosa rubiginosa, Vale of Rheidol. © Copyright Robin Stott and licensed for re-use under Creative Commons Licence Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

3. Meteorological summer seasons!

Meteorologists want to crunch seasonal and monthly weather statistics to help with meteorological observing and forecasting. They’ve split the year in yet another way. For meteorologists, summer always begins on 1 June and ends on 31 August.

That’s how they manage to produce statistics like these summer averages:

Wettest summer: 384 mm rain in 1912

Driest summer: 103mm rain in 1995

Warmest summer: 15.8C in 2006

Coldest summer: 12.3C in 1922

Sunniest summer: 669 hours of bright sunshine in 1976

Make the most of the summer!

Whatever dates we put on summer, it will do what it does. And we’ll talk about it.

Summer is on its way! We’ve been saying that for a while.

Summer is here! An amazing 24C in Glasgow on 31 May.

Will we get any summer this year? A chilly 9C at Fylingdales in North Yorkshire on 31 May.

Isn’t it meant to be summer now? Someone is bound to say that, plaintively, at least once this year.


Shakespeare sums it up for us, in an excerpt from Sonnet 18:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d.

Take cuttings and be part of the spring/summer surge

First published by Rattan Direct on 1 June 2016.

Benefit from the impetus of the ‘May flush’

The ‘May flush’ is that wonderful swelling of energy when everywhere begins to burst enthusiastically with fresh new growth. Over these past few weeks I’ve been travelling regularly across North Wales and North West England, a complete and utter delight as the hedgerows, verges and front gardens have rolled past in mile after mile of foamy abundance. The hawthorn (may), cow parsley and mountain ash (rowan) have all been glorious in cream. The forget-me-nots have passed by in a blur of indistinct blue. The lilacs have been variously cream, dusty mauve and deeper red. Cream is always my favourite but I’m coming round to the other colours. They are all wonderful in the right place.

May (hawthorn) blossom lining the hedgerows at Hodge Lane, Hartford Junction, Cheshire. Take softwood cuttings at this time of year.
May (hawthorn) blossom lining the hedgerows at Hodge Lane, Hartford Junction, Cheshire, between the bridges. © Copyright Jo Lxix and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

It’s had elements of the road movie. Travelling, travelling. Watching that amazing spring surge but somehow not being part of it.

But you and I can be part of it. The May flush has produced lots and lots of soft and sappy growth, ideal for softwood cuttings. It’s easy to take cuttings and grow your own plants. Doing this, somehow or another, you feel more part of what’s going on. No longer a watcher but a player.

Softwood cuttings

Softwood cuttings are taken from young, soft shoots early in the growing season before they ripen and harden. There is such energy in these cuttings that they will usually root very readily.

Taking a few small cuttings usually does no harm at all to a vigorous plant and the gentle pruning (which gives some shaping at the same time) may benefit it. When I was out and about last week I begged a few slips of the exotic French lavender from some acquaintances. This was my ‘recipe’.

French lavender. Propagate by softwood cuttings.
French lavender, Lavandula stoechas, looking good in Sardinia, Italy. Copyright Hans Hillewaert, licensed for re-use under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

Recipe for softwood cuttings such as lavender

You will need:

1 very sharp knife or nail scissors (or a sharp fingernail will do) so you don’t crush the stem

6 slips (small shoots) of very young growth

13cm / 5” pot (terracotta for preference as it allows cuttings and potting compost to breathe)

Some open, well-draining compost (something like half potting compost and half horticultural sand)

1 or 2 see-through plastic bags big enough to cover the pots, to prevent the cuttings from drying out.

What to do:

  1. Nip off six slips of very young soft growth about 10-13 cm / 4-5” long. Put them straight into the plastic bag and fold over the top.
  1. One at a time, take the slips from the bag and cut just below a leaf node (where the leaf is joined to the stem) where rooting hormones are most active, so they are about 5-10 cms /2-4” long. Cut at an angle as that will increase the area for rooting. Remove lower leaves, leaving an inch or so of stem bare; this prevents rot and encourages root formation at the node. Cut any large top leaves back by half, to prevent drying out.
  1. Using a pen or pencil, make six planting holes to accommodate two leaf nodes or about half the depth of your cutting, very close to the edge of pot. Drop in the cuttings and firm soil in place around them.
  1. Put the plastic bag over the top of the pot, possibly secured by an elastic band. Make sure the bag doesn’t touch the cuttings; you may need to support it with twigs, or a bit of metal coat hanger.
  1. Put in a warm place out of direct sunlight. A north or north-west facing window sill where the light and temperature is steady is ideal.
  1. Remove the plastic bag for 10 minutes or so every day to allow air to circulate and reduce risk of mould.
  1. Watch for new growth and, after a few weeks, test for roots by pulling gently on each slip. If the cutting has rooted (‘taken’), then pot it into its own 10cm / 4” pot. When the roots have filled that, either pot on again or harden off and transplant into the garden.

Watch Monty Don take rosemary softwood cuttings for Gardeners’ World.

My French lavender cuttings are looking fairly happy and I hope they’ll have rooted in three or four weeks. I’ve also taken some cuttings of other lavender to replace plants lost to winter frosts, and some rosemary for a small and fragrant hedge just where the front gate swings open. Later in the year I’ll take some pelargonium cuttings from a plant with a particularly lovely deep red flower.