On a sunny day in May

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Ageing flower of Hydrangea macrophylla

Sydneysiders experienced some atrocious weather in late April, with high winds, torrential rain and even a violent hailstorm. The storms caused much serious damage for many people. The effects in my own garden were just a lot of very flattened plants and very boggy ground, but during the time of the bad weather, it seemed an alien, frightening place. I hadn't been game to walk around and look closely at how it had fared until this past week, when we had some of the most delightful days for a long time.

Snowflake shoots in the garden

Endless blue skies, warm sun and just the whisper of a breeze - the sort of weather that makes a gardener feel good to be alive and keen to get outside into the garden: and so I did on Tuesday for the first time for several weeks. Surveying the after-effects of the bad weather revealed a lot of cutting back to be done on battered plants; and a million weeds have sprouted since we received more than 250 mm rain in two weeks. However, there were a number of lovely surprises in store too - developments that had had occurred over the period when the garden went unobserved.

Clerodendrum wallichii

The beautiful shrub Clerodendrum wallichii (sometimes called C. nutans, ht 1-2 m; pictured at left) revealed itself to be in full and glorious bloom. The white, long-whiskered flowers of this unusual shrub seemed improbably exotic when I first saw it growing somewhere years ago, but it does well in Sydney gardens in a sheltered, shaded spot and blooms throughout autumn. I also found the first flower of the icy-white Camellia japonica 'Lovelight', with a profusion of buds promising a whole lot more. As well as these flowers, there are still lovely ageing heads on a particular Hydrangea macrophylla shrub: originally white, the blooms are now a rich shade of antique pink and look very decorative (shown at the start of the blog).

Helleborus argutifolius

I also found lots of flowers on the Corsican hellebores (Helleborus argutifolius, ht 60-80 cm), a robust species that sports clusters of many pendulous pale-green exquisite cup-shaped blooms which open in late autumn and last until early spring. It flowers for the longest period of all the hellebores in my garden, and is happy in a dry, shaded spot, self-seeding to create a nice clump.

White jonquil

Another surprise was two chubby, yellow and orange spires on Kniphofia 'Zululandii' (syn. 'Winter Cheer'), the most tenacious of my red-hot poker plants, which I had moved to a new spot only a few weeks before the storms. I also found the first white jonquil in flower for the season - these bulbs came from my grandmother's country garden, and taking a whiff of the strong perfume immediately transported me back to autumn school holidays spent there many years ago. Elsewhere, the shoots of snowflake bulbs could be found peeping up through the fallen leaves that currently smother the garden, their pristine form heralding dainty white bells in the coming months. This is a bulb that can be left alone for a number of years without disturbance; it is so useful for shaded areas of the garden.

Liquidambar leaves in my garden

Whereas a few weeks ago, there was no autumn leaf colour in my garden, I now have a looming tower of red, yellow and gold, as the giant Liquidambar does its thing. I would never recommend that anyone plant this tree in a suburban garden, but ours was here when we arrived and has probably doubled in height over the past 21 years. I do love its gaudy seasonal cloak but I know we are in for many leaf-raking sessions ahead, not to mention picking up the seedpods - which last year filled four large green Otto bins!

Dendrobium nobile cultivar

Another exciting finding in the garden was five plump buds on a Cymbidium orchid - and the first flower of a Dendrobium nobile orchid cultivar. I as yet know very little about these epiphytic plants, a few of which were given to me from the garden of a very keen orchid-grower a few years ago. They seem easy to grow in Sydney and I have simply attached them to trees, using an old stocking with some rough compost in a sort of 'pocket' to sustain their growth till they attach themselves firmly onto the bark.

Salvia Love and Wishes

Some of my tall Salvia plants were knocked around badly by the wind and rain (my fault for not staking them well enough) but it was a joy to see that one of the most floriferous Salvia shrub in the garden - the red-violet flowered 'Love and Wishes' (ht 80 cm)- was blooming on, unfazed. This graceful, compact plant never seems to stop flowering; I take the deadheads off every so often and it is always forming new buds. It is currently my very favourite Salvia!

I'd love to know what is pleasing you in your May garden today!