"On a sunny day in May"

Fine weather lured me outside at last.
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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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!

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.

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!

 Reader Comments

1/5  Marcelle - 2064 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 11 May 2015

Always lovely to read your blog Deirdre, I also found some surprising changes in my garden on these last beautiful sunny days after the rain. Daffodils poking their foliage through and our driveway lined in Jennifer Susan Sasanqua Camellia such a lovely sight. As I write this I have noticed the first Magnolia flower ( Sulangia) ready to burst open. Every season brings beautiful surprises for us to enjoy in our gardens. Sounds lovely, Marcelle. I love all the sasanqua camellias! That magnolia sounds gorgeous too. Deirdre

2/5  Ruth - 4034 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 11 May 2015

Ruth 4034 Very interested to hear of your garden after the terrible storm. Lovely to hear all is not too bad. Re Patricia"s Setsugekka, I have a hedge of these beautiful camellias, about 15 years old, recently my back neighbour cut down her hedges, which were as high as my house, the sunlight has transformed the camellias which are now covered in the most beautiful blooms. Much to my surprise and delight, after 15 years,I have discovered that they have a beautiful soft perfume. What a surprise. It is good to know that the sasanqua camellias grow well in your climate. And the perfume of that one is lovely! Deirdre

3/5  Lynne - 2479 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 11 May 2015

Oh Deirdre, I know what you mean about how the extreme weather can make ones garden seem alien. We too here in the North experienced some nasty weather lately. What I find though, is I have to trust my garden to find its balance again - and it always does (we get quite a few extreme events up here). Plants are incredibly resilient, most anyway and some just wait for the chance to shine. The worst part, is the clean up (and the weeds, as you say). I agree with you - our gardens can be amazingly resilient. Mine looked dreadful just after the storms but is starting to perk up again now and loved getting such a huge amount of rain! The weeds are certainly my current challenge. Deirdre

4/5  Barbara - 2086 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 11 May 2015

I just love to read that after the horrible stormy weather a few weeks ago, how you turned your blog into a positive about all the good things you found after, rather than dwelling on all the damaged garden. I too am finding it great to get back out there and check out all that is now looking good and colourful too for autumn. i love all your blogs and website. thanks for being so very dedicated in keeping me motivated and enthused. Thanks, Barbara. Hope your garden is not too badly affected. I am finding that with a bit of cutting back and tidying, things are looking much better now. Deirdre

5/5  Lynsey - 2100 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 12 May 2015

The sasanquas are in bloom after all the rain, but where are the greedy lorikeets which always knock the petals off as they feed? Was it the storm, or something more local that is causing their absence? I have flocks of them here, Lynsey! They also love all my salvia flowers. Deirdre

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