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!