Gardening in May

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Golden oregano (right); I plan to spread mine around the garden this autumn

In this year of crazy, mixed-up weather, May seems to be the new April. I used to think that April was the very best month of the gardening year - beautiful weather (mild, sunny and no humidity), lesser need for constant watering, and perfect for doing all of what I regard as the most enjoyable tasks, such as moving plants around to improve the borders, splitting up herbaceous perennials, and planting spring annuals.

This year, April was nothing like that. It was hot - really hot at times - and I didn't dare transplant, plant out new specimens, or anything else for that matter. In any case, I was too busy watering, because of the ongoing lack of rain. However, May - which I used to previously regard as one of the bleakest, unappealing months of the year - has come up trumps and has given us some of our most enjoyable days for a long time in Sydney.

Crepe myrtle in autumn

Yes, the mornings and evenings have a chill, and we still have had no worthwhile rain, but the days in general (so far, and particularly the weekend we have just had) have been superb. Perfect blue skies and brilliant sunshine have highlighted the hues of the autumn-colouring trees that do well in Sydney (especially the plain Japanese maples, crepe myrtles and liquidambars, the latter best admired in someone else's garden) and which, despite the strange seasonal patterns, have still managed to put on a fab display this year.

Phlox paniculata Graf Zeppelin

I have finally been able to get into my borders and start ripping out plants I am fed up with, moving plants around that are in the wrong place, and planting out things that have been sitting in pots way too long. With the soil temperature still warm, this is an ideal time for planting, giving the plants time to settle in before winter. I have also now begun avoiding planting in spring, because it seems we get hot, dry weather much earlier than we used to, and newly planted things struggle to establish, in my experience. I've also begun dividing up herbaceous perennials that do well in Sydney, such as phlox and asters. They look like just mingy rosettes of moth-eaten leaves at the moment, but once spring arrives they will expand and flourish, and give a long period of flowers, a reminder of my cottage garden years, and blending in well with my semi-tropical stalwarts such as Salvia, Dahlia and Pentas.

Taking out plants has become more of a thing for me in recent times, as I now want bigger clumps of fewer types, to create a greater impact. Also, with too many plants crammed into a space, inevitably there are casualties that get smothered. I feel my trajectory is towards a simpler garden these days, repeating the plants that give colour over a long period with little effort required from me during the summer months when it is just way too hot to be in the garden. As I ripped out a few plants yesterday, I could almost hear the sighs of relief from nearby specimens that had been overshadowed by these pushy plants that had more negatives than positives going for them.

Pentas lanceolata

I also removed some shrubby perennials that had got too old and woody after a few years, such as Pentas and Artemisia. Cuttings were taken and they will be planted elsewhere once these have struck. We often forget that many of these plants have a limited life and are best renewed every few years. Another satisfying activity is digging up bits of robust clumping groundcovers and planting them to fill bare spots elsewhere in the garden - for example, golden oregano (pictured at the start of the blog) is going to be used more in my garden for its toughness and wondrously coloured leaves.

Papaver rhoeas, the original Flanders poppy

I have also been scattering seeds of spring annuals, such as poppies, wherever I see a gap. Maybe not many will germinate, but the few that do will bring a freshness and vitality to the garden in September and October, and hopefully may self-seed from year to year, as some already do, including nasturtiums, Orlaya, Nigella and Primula.

Enjoy these amazing May days - but we really could do with some decent rain!


Plant of the week
Flowers in May, June, July, August.
See everything that's out this month »

My previous blogs at this time of year:
2009
17 May
2010
23 May
2011
22 May
2015
17 May
2017
21 May

Reader Comments

  • By Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 21 May 2018

    I agree, May has been a good gardening time, and I have been trying to get my garden in order. My crepe myrtles this season, are colouring well. It is a timely reminder to keep a watchful eye on some perennial plants such as the pentas, cane begonias, etc. which do need to be replaced every three years or so. You do tend to think plants can go on forever and ever! The scattering of seeds is a great idea to fill in gaps. In my garden, I have poppies, nigella and primula regularly appearing. Glad to hear you have been enjoying the good gardening weather. Lovely to see those self-seedlings appear! Deirdre

  • By Judy - 4350 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 21 May 2018

    Have you had success propagating your Tagetes Lemmonii? Wondering if they would grow from a woody cutting. I have grown the plant from cuttings quite successfully. Maybe try a variety of cuttings, from woody to tip cuttings. The softer ones would benefit from being in an enclosed environment so they don"t wilt too much. Deirdre

  • By Maureen - 2118 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 21 May 2018

    I Love to hear of people successfully scattering seeds - only wish it worked for me!! never seem to have any luck but will keep trying!! I know it ca be frustrating, I find it best when they self-seed: such fun to find them popping up. I pull a fair few out and just leave the ones that are in a good spot. Deirdre

  • By Helen - 7256 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 21 May 2018

    Well I"m a lot further south & have had rain & May has been cold. Was lucky to get lots of planting out done in March & April. For me the race is on to get tidy for winter as there will be months when its too wet to weed/dig until spring. I agree its a good time for revising plantings & renewing salvias etc. Am really enjoying Euryops daisy now--a very common plant but I find its citrus yellow flowers very pretty with its blue green foliage & it will flower all through winter here.Such a very different climate; that is great that you have had rain. I like Euryops; mine is woody now and needs to be replaced. It flowers in winter here too. Deirdre

  • By Anton - Hong Kong Tuesday, 22 May 2018

    Love that chartreuse origanum! What is the must have little Cyathula cultivar with it!? Little tip before I forget, I"ve been meaning to tell you. This is not an add LOL. If you grow Hibiscus try Searles Azalea food, for Azaleas, Camellias and Gardenias. I"ve battled over the years feeding Hibiscus which are terribly fussy but this stuff I bought in Australia is the ticket. Flowering away in 35%C, 90%humidity, leaves green as can be. Also excellent for bougainvillea, Aloes, fussy natives. Magic!

  • By Anton - Hong Kong Tuesday, 22 May 2018

    Ps - mines almost finished ); madly looking for someone to send me some mail order, Hong Kong. If you know anyone? Just a pity I didn"t bring the 5kg back with me, grrrrrrr. Have you tried any of the spectacular aloe hybrids available these days? I can even get one or two to grow here which is a feat, they should do so well and easily in Sydney! They love this fertiliser and a little sprinkle goes a long way. Even ferns love it. Total revelation. ( :

  • By Anton - Hong Kong Tuesday, 22 May 2018

    My Crepe Myrtles are just thinking abut going into bud now, upside down world it is. I have a lovely bright white with dark red leaves (Australian bought ) and a pure shocking red with bright green leaves. Yes they too love Mr Searle, they thrive on it. I suppose it"s the acidity they love, and the organic compost mixture with trace elements. Honestly I could bath in the stuff Im so over the moon. My hibiscus which I love I barely managed to keep alive before. Thrilled to bits. Anyone game?

  • By Anton - Hong Kong Tuesday, 22 May 2018

    Helen how do you renew Salvias? My "black and blue" is the star of my garden right now. I would love to renew it after it"s finished flowering. Gorgeous vibrant Moroccan blue. Would love any tips.

Add your comment

* Only previously registered iGarden members can post comments on Blogs. If you are already registered please go to the Home page and login first. If you are not an iGarden member please click here to register now.