The flowers of May
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I ALWAYS look forward to May in Durban because it is one of the most colourful times of the year.
I am amazed at the number of different plants in flower or which are pushing flower spikes that will flower in the next three weeks. With the exceptional summer rains we experienced, many plants are flowering earlier than normal. How gardeners complain that indigenous is not colourful confuses me because we have some of the most magnificent plants to choose from that flower throughout the year.
Choosing the right plants is the first step to success. Asking for advice if you do not know is the next best option because if you get it wrong from the beginning, it can take a long time to repair the mistake. Keep an eye out for interesting natural landscapes, seeing how these plants grow in nature and try to come up with a garden design that mimics them.
Below is a list of plants you should put in your garden which will give you lots if interest and colour in May and June:
Tecoma capensis (Cape honey-suckle). Colour varies from yellow to bright red. Quick growing, flowers throughout the year but best from autumn to spring. Attracts nectar-feeding birds plus vervet monkeys that suck the sweet nectar from the flowers. Prune back hard once a year to keep in shape and size. Best on neighbour’s boundary and to hide ugly walls.
Plumbago auriculata (plumbago). A large shrub that produces light to dark blue flowers. Perfect for areas you would like to hide. Must be cut back hard once a year to keep in shape and remove old growth. Attracts butterflies.
Dombeya burgessiae (pink dombeya). Multistemmed shrub up to 5m. Flowers deep or pale pink to white. Very fragrant at night. Flowers from April to August. Must be pruned hard every year to keep in shape and size. Hides ugly walls.
Polygala myrtifolia (September bush). Flowers throughout the year but best from May to August. Large shrub 3m with mauve to purple pea-shaped flowers on terminal clusters. Can be pruned yearly to keep in shape. Bumble bees love the flowers.
Plectranthus saccatus (stoep jacaranda). Soft, erect perennial up to 1.2m. Grows best in semi-shade. Flowers on terminals, mauve to white, hanging on one side of the stem, from November to May.
Plectranthus zuluensis (Zulu spur-flower). Soft erect shrub up to 2m. Best in shade with pale blue to mauvish white flowers. Leaves semi-succulent to hairy. Requires water to remain lush.
Leonotis leonurus (wild dagga). Robust shrub that grows in grasslands up to 2m in height. Flowers on the stem in clusters of 3-11, bright orange or creamy white. Attracts nectar birds, bees, and butterflies. Cut back after flowering to allow the new growth.
Strelitzia reginae (bird-of-paradise flower or crane flower). Bright orange to yellow flowers that resemble a bird. Flower throughout the year but best from April to July. Easily grown from seed. Beautiful specimen plant.
Other flowering shrubs: Euryops pectinatus (woolly resin bush), Polygala virgata (bumblebee), Hibiscus pedunculatus (forest pink hibiscus), Dissotis canescens (pink wild Tibouchina).
Groundcovers and bulbs
Crassula multicarva (fairy crassula). Succulent groundcover that produces red flowers in May and June. Easily grown from tip cuttings that require little attention once planted.
Plectranthus ciliatus (speckled spur flower). Attractive succulent leaves that are maroon, purple beneath. Flower white with purple dots. Easily grown from tip cuttings that require little attention when rooted. Grow in deep shade which fills gaps very quickly.
Plectranthus verticillatus (money plant). Used extensively in hanging baskets and in loffelstein walls, this versatile groundcover is extremely rewarding and forgiving. Best grown in shade but can take some sun. If watered well, will grow quickly and produce light mauve flowers.
Bulbine natalensis (broad-leaved bulbine). Succulent leaves that produce sprays of yellow flowers on longish flower spikes. Does best in semi shade. If too sunny the leaves will burn.
Aloe chabaudii (Chabaud’s aloe). Multistemmed aloe that forms a really lovely large groundcover. Easily grown from seed or divisions.
Kniphofia praecox (red-hot poker). Winter always showcases one of South Africa’s iconic plants. There are summer and winter forms with more than 47 species in South Africa. Seeing a head of red-hot pokers will always inspire you to plant more.
Becium obovatum (cat’s whiskers). Easy to grow from cuttings or plugs this groundcover will grow quickly and fill retaining walls and loffelstein blocks. The flowers stand up above the leaves and grow well in grasslands. Flowers are white to pale mauve.
Chlorophytum bowkeri (hen and chicken). This is probably my favourite Chlorophytum because it grows into an extremely healthy, handsome evergreen groundcover with a flower spike with white flowers that stand high above the leaves. Grows well in deep shade and will require watering during its early stages of growth.
Cotyledon orbiculata (pig’s ears). Very versatile with many different leaf forms. Growing to about 1m in height, the succulent groundcover can grow in shade and full sun. Its flowers are orange to pinkish red with stems that stand up above the leaves and the flowers hanging down. In mass, it is spectacular groundcover.
Other groundcovers: Barleria obtusa (bush violet), Anthericum saundersiae (weeping anthericum), Aloe tenuior (fence aloe).
Things to do this month:
As we head into the dry season this is the time to preserve as much water as possible. Mulching your flower beds reduces water loss from the soil and keeps root systems warm. It also prevents weeds from growing and reduces the amount of water you need to put on the plants.
Reduce your lawn cuts to every 2 weeks to allow the grass to grow and improve the root system. It also increases the surface area for the absorption of energy from the sun in the form of photosynthesis.
Do not spray for caterpillars: this is the season for butterflies that lay eggs on many of the indigenous plants in your garden. One tree that is full of caterpillars is the African dog rose (Xylotheca kraussiana) which attracts the Red Acraea butterfly.
Open Gardens in the Kloof and Upper Highway area will be held over the weekend of June 5 and 6. These gardens will give you good ideas.
- This article is sponsored by Chris Dalzell Landscapes, specialising in landscaping, consultation, plant broking and Botanical tours. Email [email protected] or visit
The Independent on Saturday