"Jewels of May"

Some lovely flowers bloom this month
Sunday, 01 May 2022     

Justicia aurea

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!

 Reader Comments

1/7  Jean - 4035 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 02 May 2022

Blooming now in y Brisbane garden is Mussenda Calcutta Sunset in yellow with hints of orange, Mussenda Bangkok Rose in pink, Salvias in purples, red and pinks, the last of beehive ginger, with chrysanthemums ready to bloom in patches throughout the garden.

2/7  Ann - 2263 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 02 May 2022

My Tree Dahlia is presenting a massive display from on high and the Kniphofia has a few pokers in full colour, many more to come

3/7  Jane - 2094 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 02 May 2022

Another Common Name for Justicia is Jacobinia.

4/7  Valerie - 2121 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 02 May 2022

The yellow Justicia aurea looks beautiful in your photo. So true about the blackening of some plants now, especially this year after so much rain. The viburnum bushes have taken on too much water and are rotting off by the look of it. Still, the Strelitizia seem to want to flower and some daylilies are being brave. And the Sasanqua camellias are full of flowers. Looking on the bright side.

5/7  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 03 May 2022

My dahlias are having a last fling, as are the cannas. The cane begonias are still in full flower and are a delight to behold. My yellow justicia is in bud and the peach-coloured brugmansia is loaded with blooms. All of these bring joy in an otherwise garden jungle!

6/7  Bren - 2540 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Wednesday, 04 May 2022

Flowering in my garden is Asclepias curassaica (tropical milkweed). It resembles swan bush A. physocarpus except it has brilliant orange and yellow flowers. I found a single specimen growing in the grass verge near my house. I dug it up and took it home. When I went back the next day I saw the council had slashed the grass verge. The plant is flourishing in my garden, but I hope it doesnt become a weed like swan bush.

7/7  Bren - 2540 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Friday, 06 May 2022

And my Abyssinian banana (Ensete ventricosum) is flowering, and so is my tea plant (Camelia sinensis), though the flowers of the latter are not at all spectacular.

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2009 - 10 May
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2011 - 01 May
2012 - 06 May
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2016 - 01 May
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