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Gainesville, FL 32605

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May in the Southern Garden

From early times, the "Merry Month of May," has been associated with dancing, singing, love and general rejoicing. The word May comes from the Roman goddess, Maia -- deity of growth and increase.

On May Day, Romans honored the revival of vegetation with ceremonies intended to assure abundant crops. Among these rituals were the floral games -- the Floralia -- dedicated to Flora, goddess of flowers. Boughs and blossoms were gathered to adorn her temple and statue. Young men would hang wreaths and garlands on their sweethearts' home.

May Day has long been symbolic of a return to life, of the defeat of winter. With new hopes for good planting and rich harvests, people throughout Europe and later in the U.S., celebrated this holiday with festivals.

The flower of May is the Hawthorn. Its masses of white or pink are conspicuous in profusion. The English, for centuries, brought great flowering branches of Hawthorn to decorate their homes in early May. As a result, the flower was often called the "May."

The word, Hawthorn, comes from Greek for "strength." The wood is hard and closely grained. The fruit, called "thorn apples" or "haws" look like miniature apples. Preserves and jellies may be made of these fruit. This very thorny, small tree is deciduous and tolerates poor soil, full sun, or high, shifting shade.

The state of Missouri, in 1923, chose the Red Hawthorn as their official flower.

Incidently, the city of Hawthorne,(note the e) in S.E. Alachua County was named for James Madison Hawthorn. Because of misdirected mail often going to Hawthorn, California, Florida Congressman D.R.(Billy) Matthews introduced Federal legislation adding the final "e" to Hawthorne and the mail got delivered.

May is the time to begin replacing weary spring annuals with more heat-tolerant bedding plants. Some good choices include: Moss Rose, Periwinkle, Marigold, Cosmos and Scarlet Sage. These can be started from seed but flowers will come sooner with transplants. Visit the Farmers Market for good local selections and knowledgeable information.

You can still plant many varieties of vegetables. Sweet Potato vines may be planted until Independence Day and still yield a crop before the frost. Sweet Corn is ready to pick when the silks are brown and dried up. Watermelons are ready when the pale spot underneath turns yellow-green. Another indicator is when the tendril opposite the melons' point of attachment turns brown and withers.

Harvest Okra, Cucumbers, Beans and Squash often and regularly. These vegetables grow rapidly and taste best when slightly under-mature. Furthermore, leaving food on these plants decreases their motivation to continue production.

May is a good time to fertilize all your trees and shrubs. Plant Caladium bulbs in a shady area now. Their heart-shaped leaves have a remarkable variety of color and form. Keep lawn grasses well back from specimen trees and shrubs by shallow edging and deep mulching.

With the many flowers, May will be a beautiful month -- enjoy it to the fullest.

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