(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on May 5, 2011. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)

Name
There are several possible origins for the name of the fifth month. May might be named to honor Maia, in mythology the eldest and fairest of the Pleiades sisters and the Greek counterpart of Bona Dea, the Roman goddess of fertility. It is also possible that May was given its name in tribute to "maiores," Latin for “elders”, with June being named for “iuniores” or young people.

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Your May gardening to-do list should include:

• Deadhead spring bulbs as the flowers fade, but don’t clip the foliage away until it withers and yellows. Plant annuals or perennials nearby to disguise the ripening leaves.
• Provide perennials and shrubs with a late spring feeding to get them off to a good start.
• Divide any crowded fall-blooming perennials such as asters.
• Be ready to stake tall bloomers as necessary -- it’s much easier to do when the plant is just beginning its growth rather than after it has started to sprawl.
• Repot or topdress houseplants as needed, and supply them with some plant food.


May TraditionsImage
The ancient Romans observed the first day of May or May Day with ceremonies intended to assure a good crop. The Saxon name for May, “Tri-milchi” came from the fact that cows feeding on the newly abundant grass needed to be milked three times a day. To the ancient Druids, May 1st was Beltaine, a celebration marking the end of winter and a return to life. Rituals included building great bonfires, leaping over the flames and driving cattle between the fires for purification and luck.

By medieval times, May Day had become a public holiday, and a time when people rose early to go “a-maying,” that is, to collect flowers and tree branches to decorate their homes. Many believed in a superstition that claimed if one bathed his face with dew from the grass on this day, it would render him beautiful. A favorite tradition still observed in parts of England and other European cultures is the construction of a maypole, around which community members perform a dance.


ImageMother’s Day
In 1907, two years after her mother’s death, West Virginian Anna Jarvis proposed a day to commemorate all mothers. She started the tradition of wearing a carnation because it was her mother's favorite flower. Today in the U.S., Mother’s Day is observed on the second Sunday in May; many people wear a white carnation in honor of a deceased mother or a colored carnation to honor a living mother.
Garden For Wildlife MonthImage
The National Wildlife Federation has declared May to be Garden For Wildlife Month. The federation urges you to make your home, business, school, nature center, community garden or place of worship a Certified Wildlife Habitat. Whether your property consists of multiple acres or simply a balcony, you can create a wildlife-friendly garden by providing food sources, a water supply, a source of cover and a sheltered place to raise young. Your gardening habits are equally important, and by employing green methods such as composting and reducing your reliance of chemicals, you are doing your part to create a healthy wildlife habitat.

May Symbols

ImageEmerald
The May birthstone is the emerald, regarded along with the diamond, sapphire and ruby as one of the most precious gemstones. The name of this member of the beryl family derives from the French “esmeraude,” originally from the Greek “smaragdos,” or “green gem.” The finest emeralds are a deep grass green in color, with a slightly blue cast. This gemstone was traditionally believed to have healing powers and to enhance clairvoyance. The stones were highly valued by the Russian royals, whose crown jewels featured many distinctive emeralds. Cleopatra was also said to be particularly fond of emeralds. Image

Lily of the Valley
The birth flower of May is the lily of the valley, or Convallaria majalis, the second part of whose scientific name means “of or belonging to May.” This low-growing perennial plant prefers shady spots and can spread to form large colonies, making a good groundcover under trees. The plant sends up stems in May, upon which dangle small, white, bell-like flowers famous for their sweet scent. Like many other white flowers, lily of the valley symbolizes purity, chastity, humility and sweetness. By tradition, the French celebrate the first day of May by buying a bouquet or pot of the flowers from florists and street corner vendors. The flowers are seen as a good-luck charm, called a "porte-bonheur,” meaning literally “bringer of happiness."


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This sweet and merry month of May,
While Nature wantons in her prime,
And birds do sing, and beasts do play
For pleasure of the joyful time.

William Bird


Sources:
"All About the Months" by Maymie R. Krythe, Harper and Row, 1966

Images:

Tulip 'Parmentier' photo by DG member Kelli
Bleeding heart photo by Product of Newfoundland
Fern photo by Eric in SF
Apple blossom photo by Stephen Downes
May Day graphic from Web Clipart
Carnation graphic in the public domain
Wren photo by Kurt Wagner
Emerald photo by mygothlaundry
Lily of the valley photo by Anduze Traveler
Pink tulip photo by clearlyambiguous