May is the month when spring suddenly seems to turn into summer.
Everywhere, the trees are bushy and green, the grass is festooned with daisies, dandelions and buttercups; blossom adorns the hedgerows and April’s wet and blustery showers become but a distant memory.
Although the weather is still changeable, the sun shines bright and suddenly world seems a much calmer place to be.
Finally, the lighter evenings are here to stay. The days become long and bright, with sunshine and birdsong to greet us when we wake.
There is a feeling of optimism as we look forward to the warmest season of the year.
It’s a time to get outside and explore. For making the most of not one, but two bank holidays and for celebrating all that is special about the summer months, from old English country rituals to the beauty of our own gardens.
The birthstone for May is the vivid green emerald. A favourite stone of the Ancient Egyptians, emeralds were worn by Cleopatra as a symbol of fertility. They are also thought to bring patience and wisdom to the wearer.
Flawless emeralds are extremely rare due to the stone’s brittle nature. The fewer flaws an emerald contains, the more valuable it is, with some worth huge amounts of money.
The flowers associated with May birthdays are the hawthorn and lily of the valley. The fresh green hawthorn plant with its trademark white blossoms is a symbol of hope and happiness, telling the recipient that you wish them the very best things in life.
The lily of the valley is known for its bright green leaves and delicate cascades of white, bell-shaped flowers. It symbolises humility and renewed happiness, and is given to the person who makes your life complete.
May 1st sees the celebration of May Day, traditionally known as Beltane which occurs roughly half way between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Soltice.
An ancient festival celebrated since Roman times, it marks the beginning of the summer season. It was once one of the most important celebrations of the year with a huge variety of superstitions and customs associated with it.
Homes were decorated with collected wild flowers and foliage, garlands were made from mostly yellow flowers. Feasts were prepared and bonfires were lit to protect people and farm animals from harm. Children danced around the Maypole and in towns and villages, they crowned a young woman as the Queen of May.
Today, in England, May Day is still marked with a public holiday on the first Monday of the month.
St Dunstan’s Day commemorates one of the most famous saints in England on the 19th. The patron saint of English goldsmiths and silversmiths, he was closely connected to several English kings and was said to be responsible for several miracles, including temporarily trapping the devil by pinching his nose with hot metalsmithing tongs.
Lucky Penny Day is celebrated every year on May 23rd (for absolutely no reason at all that we know of). Just remember the old adage; See a penny, pick it up and all day long, you’ll have good luck.
Whitsun, Whit Sunday or Pentecost has always occurred on the 7th Sunday after Easter Sunday, so it’s a moveable holiday and in the Christian calendar, it marks the day the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus’ disciples as tongues of fire.
In England, Whitsun has been widely celebrated since the middle ages and celebrations varied all the way around with country with outdoor parties (usually with tea and little cakes), country fairs, parades and even Morris dancing in some places.
It was only decided in 1971 that the moveable holiday should be replaced with a secular public bank holiday which should always take place on the last Monday of May every year.
This year, Whit Sunday actually falls on the 9th of June, but we will celebrate it with a public bank holiday on Monday the 27th.
Birds and animals
May is the month when swifts, swallows, finches and house martins all return to UK skies, signalling the beginning of summer with their shrill calls. Swifts can be recognised by their dart-shaped bodies and long, curved wings.
It’s now mating season for a lot of birds, so if you listen in the mornings, you’ll hear them begin to sing at dawn.
Caterpillars start to appear, munching their way through foliage and we start to see butterflies fluttering in the breeze, including the stunning Common Blue.
This month is an ideal time to spot otters, which fortunately are now found in greater numbers in the UK after being endangered for many years. Although they are shy, elusive creatures, you might be lucky enough to spot one if you take a walk along the riverbank just before dawn.
If you are out in the countryside at dusk, you may also have the chance to spot foxes and badgers with their cubs in wooded areas, and baby hares in open fields.
Plants and flowers
Hedgerows are bursting with life in May, filled with hawthorn flowers (or May flowers) and crab apple blossom.
Along grass verges, find brand new nettles, delicate blue germander (speedwell), white cow parsley and elderflower.
These last two unfortunately look very similar – An easy mistake to make if you’re foraging, so take care!
There are still bluebells to be found in wooded areas; brightly-coloured trumpets of the foxglove and wild strawberries tentatively begin to flower.
In fields and grassy areas, you will often see seas of dandelions, daisies and buttercups.
Whilst gardens are a mass of beautiful colours, with geraniums and peonies bursting into flower in glorious shades of pink and red.
Things to cook
May sits happily between the Spring and Summer seasons. Still cold enough on some days for soups, stews and roast dinners. War, enough on others to make the most of the first salad vegetables of the year from the garden.
Along the hedgerows, foraging now starts to get interesting.
Hawthorn berries will not be ready for picking until the autumn, but the leaves and flowers can be picked now to make delicious, sweet hawthorn-blossom syrup.
Elderflowers can be picked to make perfect summer cordials, cocktails, jellies and jams. You can also use them to make sparkling elderflower wine if you’re patient enough.
Just make sure you’re picking elderflowers and not cow parsley!
They both have similar frothy white flowers and are often found together, but whereas hawthorn blossom is found on trees, cow parsley flowers are found at the top of very long stems growing from the ground.
Young nettle leaves are still in season and can be picked to make a refreshing tea by adding a small handful to a cup of boiling water. If you don’t like fishing out the leaves, wrap them carefully in a square of unbleached muslin cloth.
In the garden, May is a month to harvest your asparagus - if you’ve succeeded in growing any that is.
A particularly difficult vegetable to cultivate, asparagus is wonderful either roasted or quickly boiled for a few minutes.
Eat for breakfast with poached eggs, freshly cooked sourdough toast and hollandaise sauce, with seafood for a light lunch; as an accompaniment with a roast dinner, or popped into a creamy risotto.
You really are spoiled for choice with soup and salad vegetables this month, with peppers, beetroot, lettuce, radishes, rocket, spring onions young cabbages (spring greens) and watercress all starting to come into season.
New potatoes can now also now be dug up. Roast them with a little oil, rosemary and garlic, toss them into a warmed salad or pop them into a comforting dauphinoise.
The rhubarb season is now in full swing. Perfect for crumbles, jams, cordials and Gin.
Finally, strawberries are now tentatively starting to appear. Although they may only just be starting to ripen, you might still find enough to snack on.
Traditionally, foods associated with Beltane, the May Day festival include wild mushrooms cooked with garlic and herbs and baked in goat’s cheese; grilled salmon with nettle sauce; and of course, spring greens.
To complete your May Day feast, indulge in an almond tart topped with a few strawberries for a delicious start to the summer.
Things to make
May is a month to bring the outdoors in.
If you have the time, decorate your home with a traditional yellow May Day garland or wreath. Natural rattan wreaths can be found everywhere from crafts shops and Amazon, to garden centres and even pound shops. Whilst there should be plenty of yellow flowers around.
A lesser-known May Day tradition is that of the May Day Basket. These were hung on the The year isdoors of friends and neighbours to celebrate the beginning of summer.
If left by a man for a lady, it was a way of showing his affection.
To make your own May Day Basket, arrange a bouquet of spring flowers in decorative paper, along with some candles and small gifts.
If you’re feeling brave, hang the basket on someone’s door to show them you care, or just make one to decorate your own home.
May is also an ideal month to start pressing and preserving either wild or garden flowers. Just remember that some wild flowers are endangered and are legally protected from picking – It’s also nice to leave wild flowers for everyone to enjoy.
Dried flowers are perfect for scrapbooking, journaling, making pot pourri and for adding to homemade bath bombs, beauty products and teas.
Whilst we’re on the subject of wild flowers, in case you haven’t noticed, dandelions are absolutely everywhere at the moment.
Dandelions are not just weeds! In fact, the flowers can be eaten and they make the most delicious, refreshing wine.
If you’re going outside for a wander, take a bag with you to collect the flowers.
You’ll need a large bag of dandelion flowers to make much of anything. You’ll only want the petals mind, not the green bits! Those are bitter and extremely unpalatable.
With a hint of summer in the air, it’s time to think about a brand new skincare regime. Winter skin needs protecting from the cold, wind and rain with heavy, nourishing moisturisers, but now, your skin needs to breathe.
Keep your skin looking fresh and hydrated with gentle homemade exfoliating scrubs and toners for a perfect summer complexion.
Things to do
The earth is finally starting to warm up in May, encouraging us to venture out for more than just essential outings. Wander, relax and enjoy!
National Walking Month starts on the 1st and it’s also Walk to School Day on the 20th, so you have the perfect excuse to get outside (even if it really is just to work or school).
Ancient woodlands are still full of bluebells, so if you’re lucky enough to have some near you, go out and explore. The Woodland trust website has a handy ‘find a wood near me’ facility if you’re not sure where to go.
Even if you can’t find any bluebells, it’s still great to get out and breathe in some fresh air.
Check out the Walking Britain website. Pop in your postcode and it brings up recommended walking trails within a certain radius from your home.
Blow off the cobwebs, dust off your bike, or go and find a bridge and a few interesting sticks for an old fashioned game of Pooh sticks.
It’s World Migratory Bird Day on the 11th, which aims to raise awareness of the issues facing migratory birds in the world today. Everything from the destruction of habitats to plastic pollution.
Think about how you can make your own garden a more bird friendly place to be.
Although most birds have now found homes for the year, it’s still nice to attract them and make them feel welcome.
If you’re the handy sort, you could have a go at building a bird house, a bird table or a bird feeder. You could also build a bat box if you want to attract even more wildlife.
If that’s not really your thing, you could always go and buy one. Position them at least 4 meters off the ground for bats or 2 meters off the ground for birds, on a south facing wall or tree. You wouldn’t want to be attracting handy snacks for local cats!
If you haven’t already done so, sprinkle some sunflower seeds and wild flower seeds in your flower beds to attract bees, butterflies and other wildlife in the summer months ahead.
May with its sunshine and showers is the perfect time to plant your broccoli, Brussels sprouts, parsnips, cabbages, carrots and peas outside.
You can also start to plant out a lot of your salad vegetables including beetroot, radishes and spring onions.
Just remember that May showers tend to being out a lot of snails, especially overnight. If you don’t want them eating their way through your entire crop, consider ways to remove them.
Sprinkle broken eggshells or coffee grounds over the surface of the ground to deter them, or fill a large shallow plate with a little beer and place on the ground late in the evening.
The snails will be attracted to the beer and once on the plate you can collect them and move them elsewhere.
If you have a greenhouse, or enough space indoors, you might also want to start growing lettuces, cucumbers, sweetcorn, beans and squash seeds ready for Halloween.
Now the weather is starting to improve, you should be able to peg your clothes out on the line and get your summer clothes out in relative safety.
Just keep an eye out for random showers and chilly days. Remember ne’er cast a clout until May is out!
Things might be a little cold for the bank holiday at the beginning of May, but towards the end of the month, you should be able to start to decorate your garden with candles and fairy lights in time for your late May bank holiday barbeques and garden parties.
Places to Go:
Make a beeline to one of the many county or local agricultural fairs going on up and down the country in May. They usually start around now and continue on for the summer season.
The UK County Shows website has a comprehensive alphabetical list that includes locations, dates and a brief description of each event.
Most are a great mix of traditional country activities, with plenty to buy and see.
Get up close to tractors, trailers and farm animals. Watch dog shows and show-jumping. Have a go at country crafts. Try out locally produced foods and drinks and watch all manner of displays and performances.
You might even stumble across a traditional Maypole at one or two.
May marks the start of the summer Music Festival season with something for almost everyone going on around the country.
The Brighton Festival stretches on for almost the whole month from the 4th – 26thwith everything from circus acts and comedy, to theatre and music.
From the 1st – 5th there’s the Cheltenham Jazz Festival.
If you fancy listening to some new music act’s there’s Liverpool’s Independent Sound City Festival from the 3rd – 5th.
From the 10th – 26th there’s the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, whilst the Bath Music and Arts Festival from the 11th – 27th.
The Dot to Dot Festival spans the weekend of the 24th – 26th with acts tavelling between venues in Bristol, Manchester and Nottingham.
Finally, on the 25th and 26th, we have the Love Saves the Day concert in Eastville Park, Bristol.
If you’d like to do something slightly less energetic and are searching for a beautiful day out, head to the Chelsea flower show from the 21st- 25th. Discover beautifully designed, contemporary show gardens, craft workshops, delicious food and wonderful gifts to buy.
London Craft week starts on the 8th, giving you a chance to visit exceptional craft people in their own studios and see the work that goes on behind the scenes. Everything from metalwork and jewellery, to ceramics, leatherwork and furniture making.
Take a look at the London Craft Week website to see the huge range of makers involved.
If flowers and crafts aren’t quite your cup of tea, it’s the FA cup final at Wembley on the 18th.
Finally, for a weekend to remember, head to Birmingham over the weekend of the 25th and 26th for the biggest ever Birmingham Pride Festival.
Head to the city’s Gay Village, along with thousands of visitors from all over the UK to see the carnival parade, musical performances and street party.
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