The darling buds of May

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Nerine bowdenii bud

Why this line popped into my head as I searched for a topic for today's blog, I am not sure - but I was at once inspired. Shakespeare was talking about late spring in his sonnet - but in our Sydney gardens in late autumn, we have a rich palette of buds that are about to open to bring us cheer at this time of year.

May can be a very colourful month: many Salvia plants are still smothered in bloom (in particular 'Joan', 'Meigan's Magic', 'Phyllis' Fancy', S. semiatrata, the leucantha tribe and many others); cane and shrub Begonia still look great; and lots of Plectranthus are still flowering.

Bud of Salvia Timboon

They are joined by plants that only start to bloom now, and the buds of which give much excitement as they open. Most are plants of temperate to semitropical areas, which enjoy our mild climate. I am thrilled to see a profusion of buds on a new Salvia I acquired last year: 'Timboon' (ht 2 to 3 m). The plump buds are just about to open to deep burgundy-pink flowers in wine-coloured calyces, which will continue for several months. In recent times, I have been moving away from the really big Salvia specimens, as they take up so much space and tend to sprawl and smother other plants. This one, however, is, a said to be a strong grower with an excellent upright shape. It needs to be hard-pruned in summer as well as after flowering. When pruned after flowering, large woody stems should be removed at ground level. Its big leaves provide an attractive backdrop for other plants throughout summer. It seems likely to be a Salvia involucrata x karwinskii cross.

Bud of Camellia japonica Moshio

Camellia japonica buds are just starting to open, revealing their exquisite flowers. How I wish I had planted more of these classic shrubs when I first started my garden! They give excellent background structure and can even be shaped as small trees by removing the lower branches. The flowers look lovely floating in bowls indoors. I am about to plant out three small specimens that I grew from some pretty pink Camellia flowers given to me last July in a posy from a friend's garden. I often do try to strike cuttings from floral bunches and was thrilled when these ones took root.

Brilliant yellow blooms are catching my eye as the bristly, dark brown buds of Acanthaceae plant Justicia aurea (ht 1.5 m) open. These are just like the more familiar pink Justicia carnea, but they flower in May and June, whereas J. carnea has just about finished its season now. These sunny flowers really brighten up the garden at this time of year. The shrub can tend to be a bit straggly after flowering so I cut it back very hard in late August. It needs a sunny spot to do well.

Another Acanthaceae plant that is just starting to flower is Brazilian red cloak (Megaskepasma erythrochlamys, ht 2-3 m). This plant is a striking feature at the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney at this time of year, as there are a number planted throughout the garden. It has bold leaves and tall spires of brilliant carmine bracts that last for a long time. It looks effective grown next to blue flowers, such as those of Salvia guaranitica Large Form, which blooms from summer through to the end of autumn.

Another bright yellow flower just opening its buds now is the so-called linum (Reinwardtia indica, ht 1 m). It is an old-fashioned shrub that I seem to remember from my childhood. The rounded blooms will appear even when the plant is grown in shaded spots, so it is useful for lighting up those areas in the garden. I grow mine next to a green-and-yellow variegated Euonymus japonicus, and I really enjoy the colour echo this pairing creates.

I never fail to be thrilled by the slim buds of Nerine bowdenii when they appear in May in my garden (pictured at the start of the blog). These will soon open to exotic pink spidery flowers. Mine grow under a silver birch tree, where they are assured of dry soil in summer when they are dormant.

Finally, I am always pleased to see buds on several bromeliads that come out at this time of year: Aechmea weilbachii, with its startling red and purple spikes, and Aechmea gamosepala, with its bright blue and pink inflorescences. Like many bromeliads, these will last for a long time and bring colour to dry, shaded places in my garden.

With the gloriously mild weather we are enjoying at the moment, and such a diversity of flowers in bloom, it is a joy to be in the garden in May!

Reader Comments

  • By Peta 2758 Monday, 19 May 2014

    It"s always good to read about lots of flowering plants and there are plenty here!I would add Luculia. Mine is just gorgeous at present. Totally agree about Camellias. I had a set against them in my"cottage days" describing them as dumpy and boring. How wrong can you be. We"ve added lots to the garden recently. Once established they are so tough and as you say, beautiful. Mild weather yes but some rain would be good. I have the sprinklers on again. Would love to grow a luculia but have never had any luck. I too thought camellias too dull and stiff in my cottage garden days - I love them now. Deirdre

  • By margaret 2122 Monday, 19 May 2014

    The colour in the garden is amazing. I must look to see if my Nerines have any buds - they tend to be fickle, not flowering every year. Huge buds on Justicia aurea, but no colour, as yet. Salvias and cane begonias are still full of flower, with some flowers lingering on the Plectranthus. I have never grown Reinwardtia indica, but must purchase a plant, it sounds as though it is very useful in the garden. Zinnias and Zygopetalum are providing colour with the latter exuding their exotic perfume. Hopeyou get some nerine flowers. The Zygopetalum is very lovely - I encountered it for the first time last Friday. Gorgeous fragrance. Deirdre

  • By Trudi 4223 Monday, 19 May 2014

    Dhe darling buds of may are wonderful and I love it that you are able to name all of them. Sometimes I get cuttings without names and sometimes it is hard to put a name to it, is it a Plectranthus species or is it a Salvia??? My problem sometimes. The names will fall into place and in any case we do not have to know the proper names to enjoy our plants! Deirdre

  • By Sue T. 2566 Monday, 19 May 2014

    Looking out the window i can see a splash of yellow from my Reinwardtia. Very cheerful on a dull morning. It is one of the favourite plants I remember from my childhood. Another Salvia flowering now is the large ungainly but beautiful Salvia purpurea with its jacaranda purple flowers. Sue T. Glad you also have fond memories of the Reinwardtia. I too have that Salvia purpurea in bloom - it certainly flops but I am really enjoying the colour at the moment. Deirdre

  • By Jan 2582 Monday, 19 May 2014

    I too am enjoying the last of the blooms before the first serious frost cuts sensitive things to the ground. Salvia, gaura, penstemon, pelargonium and a various grevillea are still putting on a beautiful display. We are also enjoying some colour from our young deciduous trees that are slowly getting large enough to at least give a taste of what is to come. It sounds like there is lots of colour in your garden at the moment, Jan. Deirdre

  • By meryl 2206 Monday, 19 May 2014

    My huge Dombeya is a mass of beautiful bloom clusters now but, oh,in close up, the leaves! The leaf-rolling caterpillars have found it and every leaf is either rolled or lacework from feeding caterpillars. The shrub is way too big to squish them by hand and once they are rolled up inside a leaf to pupate the birds can"t get them and neither can pesticides, even supposing I were prepared to use one. I think the Dombeya may have to go, like the caterpillar-prone Abutilons before it. The Dombeya is a lovely shrub. I also have that the spray called Success is good for controlling those horrid caterpillars on Abutilons. It is an organic spray so not a nasty one. Should work on the Dombeya too. Deirdre

  • By Jane 2088 Monday, 19 May 2014

    Really enjoyed reading this blog as grow some of these plants successfully myself. If you don"t have it I strongly recommend Camellia japonica "High Fragrance" - it is a very strong, prolific flowerer and the flowers have a beautiful perfume. I have it on the corner of my path leading up to the front door and get comments all the time! I like the sound of that Camellia. Thanks for telling us about it. Deirdre

  • By Sue 2074 Monday, 19 May 2014

    The "Darling Buds of May" was also the name of a lovely series on TV years ago. My daughter was very sick at the time and we watched the whole series during her recovery. My nerines have opened and are near a blue ageratum houstonianum (a slip I received from Katherine on your plant swap) which seems go ok with their hot pink flowers and today Camellia Magnoliaeflora has its first flower open. Thanks for bringing back some memories with your title:-) Thanks, Sue. I do recall that show. I recently got a cutting of a strong Ageratum - that combination sounds good. Deirdre

  • By Annette 4306 Monday, 19 May 2014

    Hi, my first comment in Deidre"s blog. Be careful whereyou plant the Reinwardtia shrub as it can spread by underground runners quite a considerable distance from where planted. If I had only one japonica camellia in my garden - High Fragance it would be. It is absolutely outstanding in every way. Bye for now Deidre. Regards, Annette Thanks for that warning. I have never had a problem of suckering of the Reinwardtia in my garden but in good soil and maybe warmer climate than Sydney, it could well be a bigger issue. Deirdre

  • By Georgina 2076 Monday, 19 May 2014

    I"m so pleased that Annette mentioned the camellia High Fragrance. What a camellia-looks and perfume. One bloom scents a room. So many surprises are popping up everyday. It feels like winter is over and done with but after a weekend in Oberon and a lovely fire, I"m still looking forward to it happening in Sydney -a little bit! Thanks Deirdre for your wonderful words. Georgina Thanks, Georgina. Must check out this camellia. Yes - weather is mad at the moment! Deirdre

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