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  • Writer's pictureChris Jackson

'Never cast a clout till May’s out'

You will have probably heard this phrase if you are a gardener in Bradford.

Four Season Garden Maintenance were out all weekend quoting gardening jobs in and around Bradford and noticed everyone rushing to buy bedding plants to get some colour in their garden while the weather was nice.

Chris Jackson from Four Season Garden Maintenance said to me in the car 'Never cast a clout till May’s out'.

So as I thought this is old Yorkshire saying meant don’t put your bedding plants out until May has gone (as we often still have frosts in May). ‘May’s out’ being the end of May.

After researching on Google there are a couple of versions for translating this Yorkshire phrase.

As early as 1485 a similar phrase was penned "He had not left an holle clowt, Wherwith to hyde hys body abowte." This was referring to ‘clowt’ as clothing which simply means do not put your winter clothes away until May has gone.

Later in the 1700’s this was translated somewhat different. During this time over 200,000 miles of Hawthorn hedging was planted in England. Hawthorn is still a very common tree to this day in the English countryside.

In some areas Hawthorn is affectionately called the ‘May Tree’ as it will always be the first tree with flowers you see in late April and early May. Its blossom is actually called ‘May’.

So this has been interpreted as 'Haw' derives from 'hage', which is an Old English word for 'hedge'. 'Till May is out' could mean, 'until the hawthorn is out (which means when it is in bloom)'.

So my question to Bradford gardener Chris Jackson was what does winter clothes have to do with bedding plants?

His translation is ‘if you can’t plan a day out without taking your jacket because it might get cold, it’s too early to put out bedding plants, the frost might take them all.’

Or as a horticulture teacher once told me, if you put your bare bum on the ground and its still cold do not plant.

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