May 15th, 2008
GBBD 200805: May 2008

coral bean
Coral bean, Erythrina herbacea, in the fiery colors of early summer. I think I finally got the tone right in this photo.

Carol at May Dreams Gardens invites us to tell her what’s blooming in our gardens on the 15th of each month.

May 15, 2008

Austin has two summers. May marks our first early summer, when temperatures are in the low 80s to mid 90s and the humidity is off the chart. This is our old southern summer. As the meadow flowers go to seed, the sweet scents of four o’clocks, Confederate jasmine, crinum lilies, and magnolia hang heavily on the air. The humidity is oppressive but it typically means rain (often from violent thunderstorms). Generally May is wonderfully green. (The second summer is our southwestern summer which starts around the 4th of July. Then we expect long days of drought, temperatures in the 100s, water-rationing, and general misery. The color of second summer is brown.)

In my garden, May has the feel of winding down. I yank out the wildflowers, save seeds, and top dress and mulch all the plants I hope to keep through summer. This year, I think I’ll rename May “Pam/Digging” month. She’s given me so many passalongs that are in bloom right now, finally finding sunlight as I pull the exuberant growth of the wildflowers off them: white mistflower, purple coneflower, society garlic, and zexmenia. Pam has helped me extend the flowering season at Zanthan Gardens and May is no long just the month of green.

New for May

Acanthus mollis

Acanthus mollis
This very tropical-looking plant with the imposing flower stalk is one of my favorites. Apparently it can’t be killed. People from the Pacific northwest frequently write to me to ask how to get rid of it. In Austin, it dies down when temperatures hit 92F–so it’s not a problem. In fact, its habit leaves a disappointing hole in the border during the summer.

Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’

Magnolia grandiflora
Bruised, battered, and blooming–my ‘Little Gem’ magnolia is the perfect emblem for this May’s bloom day after last night’s very destructive storm.

Rudbeckia hirta, Black-eyed Susan

Rudbeckia hirta
I planted the annual black-eyed Susans the first summer I lived here and I’ve never been without them since. They self-sow, coming up the same time as the bluebonnets and the larkspur but not flowering until those spring wildflowers have died down. I don’t really love it but I’m always glad to see it because for years it was the only thing blooming in my garden at this time of year. Last year I bought the perennial Rudbeckia fulgida; they’re just coming up now.

Echinacea purpurea, purple coneflower

One of the passalongs from Pam/Digging. This is the first time I’ve ever grown purple coneflower and these are the first flowers that bloomed.

And also new for May…

  • Borago officianalis
  • Cosmos sulphureus
  • Dolichos lablab
  • Hibiscus syriacus
  • Malvaviscus arboreus Turks cap
  • Nigella damascena ‘Mulberry Rose’ (3 miniscule flowers the size of a dime)
  • Papaver somniferum “Dorothy” selection
  • Plumbago auriculata
  • rose ‘New Dawn’ (back, north border)
  • Ruellia
  • summer squash
  • white mistflower
  • Zexmenia

Between GBBDs

Several flower bloomed and faded in my garden between GBBDs and so didn’t show up in the inventory for either April or May.

  • bearded iris ‘Champagne Elegance’
  • bearded iris ‘Silverado’
  • Nigella damascena ‘Mulberry Rose’ (3 miniscule flowers the size of a dime)
  • rose ‘Mermaid’
  • Tulbaghia violacea (society garlic)
  • Zephyranthes grandiflora (some bloomed yesterday, some will bloom tomorrow, but none are blooming today. Killjoys.)

Complete List for May

The garden is not as flowery as this list might make you believe. About half these flowers are going to seed and about to get composted.

  • Acanthus mollis
  • Borago officianalis
  • Centaurea cyanus Black Magic’
  • Commelinantia anomala (a couple that resist my stamping them down)
  • Consolida ambigua (a few in the shade)
  • Cosmos sulphureus
  • Dolichos lablab
  • Dianthus chinensis (reblooming now that the wildflowers have been cleared off)
  • Duranta erecta
  • Echinacea purpurea
  • Engelmannia peristenia/pinnatifida
  • Erythrina herbacea (coral bean)
  • Eschscholzia californica ‘Mikado’
  • Eupatorium wrightii
  • Hesperaloe parviflora
  • Hibiscus syriacus
  • Lantana montevidensis (a few tiny flowers)
  • Lantana x hybrida ‘New Gold’
  • Lathyrus odoratus ‘Perfume Delight’
  • Lavandula heterophylla ‘Goodwin Creek’ (a few tiny flowers)
  • Lupinus texensis (mostly going to seed; first plant now flowering since 12/15)
  • Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’
  • Malvaviscus arboreus
  • Mirabilis jalapa
  • Nandina domestica
  • Nerium oleander ‘Turner’s Shari D.’
  • Nigella damascena ‘Persian Jewels’ mix
  • Oenothera speciosa
  • Oxalis crassipis (hot pink, full bloom)
  • Oxalis triangularis (only purple, not white)
  • Papaver somniferum “Dorothy” selection
  • Polanisia dodecandra
  • Phlomis lanata
  • Plumbago auriculata
  • Retama
  • rose ‘Blush Noisette (full bloom)
  • rose ‘Ducher’ (waning)
  • rose ‘New Dawn’
  • rose ‘Red Cascade’ (two small flowers)
  • rose ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ (one flower opened today)
  • Rudbeckia hirta
  • Ruellia
  • Sedum album
  • Setcresea (both purple and green)
  • Trachelospermum jasminoides (starting to fade)
  • Verbena canadensis (lavender wilding)
  • Viola cornuta ‘Sorbet Coconut Duet’
  • Zexmenia hispida

In addition to the flowers, the following fruits or vegetables are also blooming: strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, and squash.

by M Sinclair Stevens

17 Responses to post “GBBD 200805: May 2008”

  1. From Lori, Austin TX:

    I really like your Acanthus mollis. Mine is puny and ridiculous , suffering through too much sun. Have you seen the huge one at Barton Springs Nursery? It’s spectacular– with the flower spikes, it’s about five feet tall and four feet wide. I tried to get a picture of it the last time I was there, but no luck.

    I first saw Acanthus mollis at BSN, where I was fascinated with it and ended up buying mine. Actually, this plant reminds me of you because the flower stalk is vaguely menacing, perfect for a garden of good and evil. — mss

  2. From Mr. McGregor's Daughter:

    Acanthus mollis is one of those plants I’m so tempted to try, but it is only marginally hardy here. It always reminds me of Rome and all the carved marble Acanthus leaves everywhere. Now coneflower I can grow–too well. This morning I resumed the task of yanking out all those superfluous seedlings.

    Yes, the Romans loved the shape of Acanthus leaves. During these humid days of first summer, I like the tropical look. In Austin, it is root-hardy. Last winter was so mild it didn’t even freeze back, although it usually does. (And I didn’t cover it.) — mss

  3. From Carol, May Dreams Gardens:

    That Acanthus does look like a great plant. I need some more plants with big leaves, maybe that is one I can try.

    You may not have all those flowers listed blooming at any one time, but you certainly have a lot of variety in your garden, which to me makes it interesting to see it any time, no matter what is blooming.

    Thanks for joining in for bloom day, in spite of storms, power loss, and falling trees!

    The flowers listed for GBBD are actually all blooming today, the 15th of May…but sometimes there is just one or two flowers, not a whole bed of them. — mss

  4. From Frances:

    Your coral bean shot is perfection, what a great red. We love the annual black eyed susan, but it chooses spots to grow, such as at the edge of a dianthus border, that are not conducive to design principles, what few we have. The flowers are more interesting, some have darker colors on the petals near the centers, almost brown, we allow them, but still need the perennials to give us yellow in the appropriate spots later in the season. How exciting to see Pam’s coneflowers doing well for you, they must be a good seed strain. I like your two summers idea, this sounds like the good twin, later is the evil twin.

    I pick out the black-eyed Susans that I think are strongest and have the biggest flowers and let them seed (no matter where they’re growing) and pull out the others. I’d like to design more with my plants but I’m still at the stage where if it will grow, I let it. — mss

  5. From Gail:

    Your photographs are wonderful, you caught the Acanthus just so you can see the high shine of the leaves; the Coral Bean color is indescribable. When I saw the Black Eyed Susan…Genghis Kahn flashed into my right brained head! Trust me it makes sense!

    Without Black eyed Susan my garden would be quite bare in July, I have come to appreciate their coarse qualities.

    Thanks. Sometimes I think I like gardening just so I’ll have something to photograph. I’m not a natural–I actually work quite hard at it. I’m glad that once in awhile a photo turns out. (I must have taken a score of photos of the coral bean in different lights and angles before I finally captured the color.) — mss

  6. From Annie in Austin:

    It’s dangerous to participate in Garden bloggers bloom day – especially when the garden is in Austin. While I may wish for out-of-zone tulips and lilacs and viburnums of the Northern gardens, they can be admired with regret and then we move on…. but you show me stuff that might grow in my garden, MSS, and I might actually have to plant Coral beans, Acanthus and old roses.

    Two summers, yes – one you can walk around in and one best viewed through a window!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    I was interested in reading Tom Spencer’s comment explaining how he designed his garden with views from indoors. I do that too (not as successfully, of course). But whenever I plant a new plant, I do spend a lot of time figuring out the placement from inside. The coral bean is nice but it doesn’t bloom very long. The acanthus looks good for about four months and then dies down in the heat. If we have a mild winter, though, you can keep it through fall, winter and spring. — mss

  7. From Diana Kirby:

    Funny – you write of two summers and I wrote of a nine-month-long summer! Same difference, I guess. Your Coral bean photo is amazing. Pam said you’d inspired her to buy one. And the Acanthus is so imposing and tropical–makes me want one until I realize its days are numbered. I’d love a long shot of the meadow without the larkspur–I’m intrigued by all the change you chronicle in your garden. You’ve done a great job of planting for successive blooming.

    I took some photos of the meadow for bloom day but didn’t have the time or energy to post them. However, I will do a post of the transformation of the meadow from November to May–I’ve been planning it for some time now. — mss

  8. From Cindy, Katy:

    I hear we get a brief reprieve tomorrow from our early summer weather. We’d best savor every moment! That’s a great picture of the Coral Bean: I saw one on a garden tour last weekend and was thinking I needed to look for one. I’m even more convinced now. I’ll worry about where to put it later! I have a bloom stalk on one of my Acanthus. I can’t remember how I ended up with several of them … maybe I planted seeds. I’m glad to see that you came through the storms relatively unscathed.

    All the downtown Austin neighborhoods were hit hard by high winds. Neighbors on every property around me had huge trees sheared off at the tops. We had comparatively little damage. I think it was the second worst storm since I’ve been here, and the third worst as far as property damage. — mss

  9. From Amy:

    Such beautiful photos! We’re having a heat wave for the next few days – well, heat wave according to our standards 🙂 Apparently is won’t last though and we’ll be having a cool summer. That’s actually okay with me as I’m just not used to the heat!

    This is my first year growing purple coneflower too. I can’t wait for blooms!

    Thanks for sharing your flowers this bloom day. I think it’s interesting to compare the similarities despite our differences in climate. — mss

  10. From Helen (UK):

    I thought it was funny when you said the colour of the second summer is brown – you sounded really despondent.

    You are right you cant kill an Acanthus. I have tried to get rid of one and the roots go down very deep so when you dig it up bits break off and another plant grows. The only real problem I have had in the past has been mildew–which is why I tried to get rid of it but its offspring have been fine.

    Austinites, as a rule, hate second summer. If you’re new to Zanthan Gardens, you can check out the video to see why. I’m not joking when I say “brown”. — mss

  11. From Curtis:

    Sounds like our late summer. when its early September I am about watered out. You have a lot of things blooming in your garden and they look great.

    Yep. This is the end of the season for me. I batten down for summer and then look for “spring” in September or October. — mss

  12. From Karen, Savannah:

    I love that Acanthus. I’ve always wanted it but thought it wouldn’t survive our summers. Do you have it in a lot of shade? I’m tempted to try it.

    My Acanthus is in filtered shade. And it dies down to the ground when the temperatures get above 92 every summer. But it always comes back with the cooler weather. I think it would do fine in Savannah. It takes up a lot of space when it’s growing so it does leave a big blank hole when it’s not leafed out. — mss

  13. From Bonnie:

    Oh, that coral bean-yum!

    BTW, I had no idea about all of your storm damage. Glad to hear the tree limbs missed the house and any beloved plants. We didn’t have it as bad as you all, but saw some hail.

    Downtown was hard hit. I think there are trees down on every house on my block, except mine. Mine fell on the power lines. This is the fourth big tree-felling storm since I’ve lived here. I’ve come to expect it. — mss

  14. From Leslie Kuss:

    What a wonderful list…I’m going to need to look up a lot of plants after reading the Austin lists…you have quite a few I don’t recognize. I love the photo of the rudbeckia…the detail is beautiful!

    Thanks. I have plant profiles on many of my plants. Check out the links in the Plant Highlights category or at the Plant Profiles Index. — mss

  15. From gintoino:

    That Erythrina herbacea is really a show a beauty. I just planted a Erythrina cristagalli, which is also a beautiful plant. Your acanthus does look a lot more delicate than mine (mine is currently in a pot until I decide where to replant it). Your Echinacea is so much more ahead than mine.

    I’m glad Carol @ May Dreams Gardens provides this forum for comparing garden notes. — mss

  16. From Samantha in East Texas:

    I found your blog from a link in a fellow blogger’s, Gardens of Casa Martin, blog. Your list of plants blooming inspires me and I can only hope that one day my gardens will an extensive array of plants as yours.

    One of the great things about garden blogging is all the plant swaps we end up doing. Everywhere I look I see plants given to me by other generous gardeners whom I’ve met online. — mss

  17. From Adam Austin, TX:

    I am in south Austin and am looking for a good little gem magnolia supplier. Any suggestions?