Whilst I love plants that bloom over a long period in summer and autumn, and base my garden around them, I also like those that add a seasonal note of interest, appearing at just a certain time of year. May can sometimes be a bleak month and much of my garden starts to disintegrate at this time, as the Dahlia plants blacken and collapse, many Salvia are desperately in need of a good haircut, summer/autumn perennials give up flowering and a general air of shabbiness settles in. To raise my spirits, I set off on a quest to find some flowers that only begin to bloom around May, bringing an element of freshness and a sense of the change of season. We are lucky in Sydney that our mild climate allows a number of gorgeous flowers to appear.
Warm colours can have a cheering impact at this time of year, and the mountain marigold (Tagetes lemmonii, ht 1-1.5 m) has a profusion of small golden-yellow daisy flowers amidst ferny foliage, which smells exactly of ripe passionfruit. It makes a brilliant companion for other bright flowers coming out now: glowing red Salvia gesneriiflora 'Tequila' (ht 3-4 m); poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima, ht 3.5 m) with its long-lasting, dramatic, red inflorescences; and the chubby, bright yellow plumes of Justicia aurea (ht 1.5 m, pictured at the start of the blog). In another corner of my garden, the stout yellow and orange spires of Kniphofia 'Zululandii' (syn. 'Winter Cheer',ht 1.5m) are arising and will soon open up. Elsewhere, Reinwardtia indica (ht 1m), sometimes called linum or yellow flax, is starting to display its rounded, bell-like flowers in a cheerful golden yellow hue. The other plants mentioned here prefer full sun, but Reinwardtia will grow in part-shade. Mine grows beneath some glowing-red Camellia japonica 'Moshio', which are spangled with flowers now; it is one of the earlier-flowering cultivars.
The sugary-pink, spidery flowers of Nerine bowdenii (ht 45 cm) always take me by surprise in May, the flower stalks seeming to appear overnight. This is a beautiful bulb and the only species of Nerine I have been able to grow. It is sited near the roots of a silver birch, which possibly keeps the soil around it dry in summer when it is dormant. Another lovely (if temperamental) bulb is the eucharist lily (Eucharis x grandiflora, ht 45 cm ). I was thrilled to find one of its glistening flowers - like a pristine white daffodil - in my garden today. Admittedly, a snail had taken a bite out of it, but it was still glorious to behold. Its flowering seems connected with moisture patterns in the soil, so in some years, it doesn't bloom. It can cope with some shade. An easier-going bulb that also appears in May is Tulbaghia simmleri (ht 45 to 60 cm), a relative of the familiar 'society garlic' (Tulbaghia violacea). It has larger star-shaped flowers, though of the same pretty lilac colour as society garlic, and these are clove scented. There is also a white-flowered version. Tulbaghia simmleri does well in part-shade.
A number of members of the Acanthaceae family of plants begin to flower in May. Yellow Justicia aurea has already been mentioned earlier in the blog. In a different colourway, shrubby Ruellia macrantha (ht 1.5-2m) , known as Christmas pride, sports large, pinkish-purple bells from May onwards for several months; it does best with sun in autumn and winter, and part-shade in summer. On a lower scale, Ruellia makoyana (ht 30 m), the trailing velvet plant, has smaller blooms of a similar hue, and spreads to form a good groundcover in shade, including quite heavy shade. Megaskepasma erythrochlamys (ht 2-3 m), sometimes called Brazilian red cloak, bursts into bloom in May, with vibrant crimson bracts in bold spikes held above huge, glossy, veined leaves. It can grow well in part-shade, even near trees.
Some bromeliads come into bloom in May. Two of my favourites are Aechmea gamosepala (ht 50cm, ), with its thick bristles of purplish-pink bracts tipped with iridescent blue bead-like flowers (a great match in colour to the Ruellia plants just mentioned, as pictured in the previous paragraph); and Aechmea weilbachii (ht 60 cm) with slender stems of red-bracted, lilac-purple flowers, which last for quite a while, and meld with the hot-coloured blooms mentioned at the start of the blog. These bromeliads are very useful for dry shade under trees.
All these flowers bring joy to the May garden!
Fabulous summer foliage
03 Dec 23
Summer colour does not have to be all about flowers.
November pruning and snipping
26 Nov 23
We can do a lot of trimming this month!
The reappearance of Lizzie
19 Nov 23
Busy Lizzies seem to be back!
12 Nov 23
There are some interesting and unusual bulbs that flower this month.
Thank you, Brazil!
05 Nov 23
Many of the plants that thrive in Sydney come from Brazil.