"Gardening in May"

This May has been perfect gardening weather.
Sunday, 20 May 2018        

Golden oregano (right); I plan to spread mine around the garden this autumn

In this year of crazy, mixed-up weather, May seems to be the new April. I used to think that April was the very best month of the gardening year - beautiful weather (mild, sunny and no humidity), lesser need for constant watering, and perfect for doing all of what I regard as the most enjoyable tasks, such as moving plants around to improve the borders, splitting up herbaceous perennials, and planting spring annuals.

This year, April was nothing like that. It was hot - really hot at times - and I didn't dare transplant, plant out new specimens, or anything else for that matter. In any case, I was too busy watering, because of the ongoing lack of rain. However, May - which I used to previously regard as one of the bleakest, unappealing months of the year - has come up trumps and has given us some of our most enjoyable days for a long time in Sydney.

Yes, the mornings and evenings have a chill, and we still have had no worthwhile rain, but the days in general (so far, and particularly the weekend we have just had) have been superb. Perfect blue skies and brilliant sunshine have highlighted the hues of the autumn-colouring trees that do well in Sydney (especially the plain Japanese maples, crepe myrtles and liquidambars, the latter best admired in someone else's garden) and which, despite the strange seasonal patterns, have still managed to put on a fab display this year.

I have finally been able to get into my borders and start ripping out plants I am fed up with, moving plants around that are in the wrong place, and planting out things that have been sitting in pots way too long. With the soil temperature still warm, this is an ideal time for planting, giving the plants time to settle in before winter. I have also now begun avoiding planting in spring, because it seems we get hot, dry weather much earlier than we used to, and newly planted things struggle to establish, in my experience. I've also begun dividing up herbaceous perennials that do well in Sydney, such as phlox and asters. They look like just mingy rosettes of moth-eaten leaves at the moment, but once spring arrives they will expand and flourish, and give a long period of flowers, a reminder of my cottage garden years, and blending in well with my semi-tropical stalwarts such as Salvia, Dahlia and Pentas.

Taking out plants has become more of a thing for me in recent times, as I now want bigger clumps of fewer types, to create a greater impact. Also, with too many plants crammed into a space, inevitably there are casualties that get smothered. I feel my trajectory is towards a simpler garden these days, repeating the plants that give colour over a long period with little effort required from me during the summer months when it is just way too hot to be in the garden. As I ripped out a few plants yesterday, I could almost hear the sighs of relief from nearby specimens that had been overshadowed by these pushy plants that had more negatives than positives going for them.

I also removed some shrubby perennials that had got too old and woody after a few years, such as Pentas and Artemisia. Cuttings were taken and they will be planted elsewhere once these have struck. We often forget that many of these plants have a limited life and are best renewed every few years. Another satisfying activity is digging up bits of robust clumping groundcovers and planting them to fill bare spots elsewhere in the garden - for example, golden oregano (pictured at the start of the blog) is going to be used more in my garden for its toughness and wondrously coloured leaves.

I have also been scattering seeds of spring annuals, such as poppies, wherever I see a gap. Maybe not many will germinate, but the few that do will bring a freshness and vitality to the garden in September and October, and hopefully may self-seed from year to year, as some already do, including nasturtiums, Orlaya, Nigella and Primula.

Enjoy these amazing May days - but we really could do with some decent rain!

 Reader Comments

1/13  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 21 May 2018

I agree, May has been a good gardening time, and I have been trying to get my garden in order. My crepe myrtles this season, are colouring well. It is a timely reminder to keep a watchful eye on some perennial plants such as the pentas, cane begonias, etc. which do need to be replaced every three years or so. You do tend to think plants can go on forever and ever! The scattering of seeds is a great idea to fill in gaps. In my garden, I have poppies, nigella and primula regularly appearing. Glad to hear you have been enjoying the good gardening weather. Lovely to see those self-seedlings appear! Deirdre

2/13  Judy - 4350 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 21 May 2018

Have you had success propagating your Tagetes Lemmonii? Wondering if they would grow from a woody cutting. I have grown the plant from cuttings quite successfully. Maybe try a variety of cuttings, from woody to tip cuttings. The softer ones would benefit from being in an enclosed environment so they don"t wilt too much. Deirdre

3/13  Maureen - 2118 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 21 May 2018

I Love to hear of people successfully scattering seeds - only wish it worked for me!! never seem to have any luck but will keep trying!! I know it ca be frustrating, I find it best when they self-seed: such fun to find them popping up. I pull a fair few out and just leave the ones that are in a good spot. Deirdre

4/13  Helen - 7256 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 21 May 2018

Well I"m a lot further south & have had rain & May has been cold. Was lucky to get lots of planting out done in March & April. For me the race is on to get tidy for winter as there will be months when its too wet to weed/dig until spring. I agree its a good time for revising plantings & renewing salvias etc. Am really enjoying Euryops daisy now--a very common plant but I find its citrus yellow flowers very pretty with its blue green foliage & it will flower all through winter here.Such a very different climate; that is great that you have had rain. I like Euryops; mine is woody now and needs to be replaced. It flowers in winter here too. Deirdre

5/13  Anton - Hong Kong Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Love that chartreuse origanum! What is the must have little Cyathula cultivar with it!? Little tip before I forget, I"ve been meaning to tell you. This is not an add LOL. If you grow Hibiscus try Searles Azalea food, for Azaleas, Camellias and Gardenias. I"ve battled over the years feeding Hibiscus which are terribly fussy but this stuff I bought in Australia is the ticket. Flowering away in 35%C, 90%humidity, leaves green as can be. Also excellent for bougainvillea, Aloes, fussy natives. Magic! The plant next to the oregano is an ajuga. Thanks for the tip on feeding. Deirdre

6/13  Anton - Hong Kong Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Ps - mines almost finished ); madly looking for someone to send me some mail order, Hong Kong. If you know anyone? Just a pity I didn"t bring the 5kg back with me, grrrrrrr. Have you tried any of the spectacular aloe hybrids available these days? I can even get one or two to grow here which is a feat, they should do so well and easily in Sydney! They love this fertiliser and a little sprinkle goes a long way. Even ferns love it. Total revelation. ( : Have not had much luck with those aloes; should try again, I guess. Deirdre

7/13  Anton - Hong Kong Tuesday, 22 May 2018

My Crepe Myrtles are just thinking abut going into bud now, upside down world it is. I have a lovely bright white with dark red leaves (Australian bought ) and a pure shocking red with bright green leaves. Yes they too love Mr Searle, they thrive on it. I suppose it"s the acidity they love, and the organic compost mixture with trace elements. Honestly I could bath in the stuff Im so over the moon. My hibiscus which I love I barely managed to keep alive before. Thrilled to bits. Anyone game?

8/13  Anton - Hong Kong Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Helen how do you renew Salvias? My "black and blue" is the star of my garden right now. I would love to renew it after it"s finished flowering. Gorgeous vibrant Moroccan blue. Would love any tips. If it is the Black and Blue that we have here you may not need to renew it! It is very vigorous and spreads from underground tubers. However if it is a different salvia, you can cut it back and it should regrow; when it gets woody, take a few cuttings to replace the original plant. Deirdre

9/13  Anton - Hong Kong Sunday, 27 May 2018

Thanks for the tip Deirdre. Yes it"s your "Black and Blue", though I noticed last time I was in Australia they called it something else. Yes it"s evergreen here and throws up new flowering shoots every year. I took a cutting. Stuck it straight in the ground, so I now have two vigorous plants. So after the first flush of flowering stems should I just cut the whole thing back to the ground to get another? I want to order S.patens seed because it looks more compact, any cultivar? I love easy blue! I have not had luck with S patens beyond the first year here in Sydney. I think it does better in a cooler climate but you could treat it as an annual. Two good compact blue ones that do well here are Marine Blue and S sinaloensis. Deirdre

10/13  Anton - Hong Kong Sunday, 27 May 2018

Far as those Aloes go try "Topaz" it seems to be easiest far as wet is concerned. Its a hybrid with one that grows in damp water seeps so is quite fond of humidity. As you are a winter rainfall area it would also be better to get species or those hybrids with Cape Aloe species in their parentage, a winter rainfall area. I"ve even seen Aloe plicatillis growing well in Tasmania for example. Sydney botanical gardens must have a fair few. They look lovely with agapanthus, grasses natives.....

11/13  Anton - Hong Kong Sunday, 27 May 2018

I"ve just discovered you have whole excellent section on Salvias! What a treat. Thank-you. Not only that but you seem to concentrate on those that like warm wet sticky tropical like conditions which is right up my street. Im not into cottage gardening as such but will find a good place for anything that does reliably well. Im very keen to extend my salvias. I have decided to go to Brisbane next month, I know you are in Sydney but do you know any good garden centres that sell salvias that end? Sorry, I do not know any nurseries in Brisbane but I am sure there are some good ones. In fact, Bunnings usually has a reasonable number of salvias these days, especially the small hybrids, and they do well in Sydney so possibly will do well for you also. Deirdre

12/13  Anton - Hong Kong Tuesday, 29 May 2018

One last question and Im sure you are sick of them by now (see above). Anyway I saw Salvia "African Sky" for sale in one of the depo type stores in Australia, is this one good for hot wet humidity? I"ve tried a few South Africans (lol) and they don"t all thrive because of our rainfall and humidity. I didn"t buy it because unless it"s parents come from closer to tropical Africa I get suspicious but it did look a lovely soft blue..... That one does well here and I cannot usually grow the African ones successfully! Do not confuse it with African SkieS as that is a S uliginosa cultivar that spreads terribly! Deirdre

13/13  Anton - Hong Kong Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Thanks so much for your responses. I dont think it was "African Skies", at least the inflorescence didn"t look much like "Uglynosa" but I will make sure it isn"t. Yes I will go to Bunnings and Mitre10 etc. Just doing some homework now. I would love some of the dark dusky pinky ones. Anyway I suppose I can only try. Lucky you told me I was about to order S.patens seed from the UK.....saved me some rather expensive seed. The black and blue number I have is lovely, I like that it has tubers....

Make a comment

* You can only post comments on Blogs if you are signed in. If you are already registered please go to the Home page and Sign-In first. If you are not an iGarden member please click here to register now.

My eBooks (PDF)

Plant of the week

Most-recent blogs

Winter crops
18 Jul 21
There are lots of edibles that grow in winter!

Winter's bounty
11 Jul 21
There are a surprising number of flowers in bloom!

Winter colour echoes
04 Jul 21
Some plant combinations bring joy in winter.

The Coal Loader
27 Jun 21
An old industrial site has been transformed into a centre for sustainability.

A feast of berries
20 Jun 21
Berry-bearing plants can bring colour into our autumn and early winter gardens.

Previously at this time

2010 - 23 May
2011 - 22 May
2012 - 20 May
2013 - 05 May
2015 - 17 May
2017 - 21 May
2019 - 19 May
2021 - 23 May

Sponsor message