In my garden there is a large place for sentiment. My garden of flowers is also my garden of thoughts and dreams. The thoughts grow as freely as the flowers, and the dreams are as beautiful. If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The promise of spring

Some Daffodils I had in my garden a few years ago

As the days of winter grow longer and lighter, we instinctively yearn for assurance that spring will come again. Like the Victorians before us, we strive to brighten our homes and our daily lives.

Searching for ways to fill their rooms with the blooms and fragrances of spring, the Victorians began experimenting with forcing bulbs. This skill became an important addition to the Victorian housewife's list of domestic accomplishments. Bulbs were sold by door-to-door salesmen and through mail-order catalogues as early as the 1830's.

Not only did bulbs provide instant gratification, but they offered possibilities of prolonging the pleasure of floral company throughout the long, dark winter.

The Victorians were particularly partial to single Hyacinths, which are easy to grow and wonderfully fragrant. Growing other Holland bulbs (Dutch imports) - such as crocus, snowdrops, narcissus and tulips - also created drama and excitement in the Victorian home. As technology improve, allowing interiors to be warmer and brighter, more exotic bulbs (such as Calla and Bermuda lilies), were able to be grown.

Bright yellow Narcissus formed from hardy garden bulbs flourish in a natural straw setting

Today, the available range of both Holland and Cape Bulbs (originating from the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa) is vastly greater than our Victorian grandmothers could ever have imagined. We can obtain both tender bulbs (planted in the spring to form summer flowers, such as gladioli) hardy bulbs (planted in the fall, requiring a cold winter treatment, such as tulips) as well as Holland and Cape bulbs, pre-potted and pre-chilled varieties. And we can use our modern refrigerators to trick our bulbs into believing that Old Man Winter has come - and gone!

What has not changed - and never will - is our sense of wonder at seeing a lowly, unpromising bulb sprout first roots, then leaves and finally, a burst of fragrant flowers - each one keeping its promise of spring.

Perfect for the novice, Paperwhites are easy to grow and wonderfully fragrant


Friday, July 24, 2015

Mid-winter rain in Gauteng

Mid-winter, July 2015, and it's raining, it's pouring!! Unusual for Gauteng... I'm really grateful for the rain, everything has been so dry and dusty, but at the same time I'm worried about all my succulents - it has been freezing cold and together with the wet I'm not sure if they will all survive...

Here in Gauteng we're not used to cold AND wet, that's Cape weather. When I lived in Cape Town, that was one of the most disturbing phenomena for me - cold, rain and wind, all together! Here in Gauteng, the weather is organised - rain in summer, cold in winter and winds in August! I don't know if Mother Nature is confused or whether she knows exactly what she is doing... Maybe this is our first Spring rains? Yesterday I noticed tiny little green leaves on the Acacias (thorn trees), and I thought that was rather odd, right in the middle of winter.


Sunday, July 5, 2015

A misty winter's morn'

It's 7am and the morning is cold and misty. But I've heard that, when there is a lot of fog, it's going to be a beautiful sunshine day!

The now dead Zebra grass made a lovely bright contrast against the rest of the dark garden. Luckily it springs back to life early in Spring.

When I left for town at 8.30am, visibility was a mere 30-50m and one didn't see another car until you were almost on top of it. Sensibly, people were driving very slowly with their headlights on (never on bright, that just worsens the scenario as the bright lights cause a huge, impenetrable white spot making it impossible to see anything) and it took me double the time to get to town than normal.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

A walk through my June garden

After a beautiful mild Autumn, winter has struck with a vengeance, giving us -3℃ temps at night and 7℃ in the middle of the day with a couple of warmer days in between.

Thank heavens for Phormiums and Restios, the hardy back-bones of the garden!

My herb garden is feeling the effects of the cold nights. I think a total revamp here in Spring would be in order...

Lanky and shrivelled Aeoneums and Echeverias

The young Aloe ferox along one of the garden paths is also showing signs of suffering

Over-worked wheelbarrow!

Arum lilies, who do not mind the cold at all, but slightly trampled by my chooks. Why on earth would they want to walk ON TOP of the plants...?!

Whoot whoot! Two of my Aloe ferox seemed to have escaped the effects of the frost and are flowering, although the one at the bottom seems to have been burnt a bit already, just hope its flowers are OK.

The wildlife pond has sprung a leak and this is how much it has drained so far. Next step is to scoop out the last bit of water (being careful and keeping an eye open for any aquatic wildlife), but I'm waiting for a day a bit warmer than 16℃!

I am absolutely thrilled to bits! This is the first time my Aloe marlothii has flowered since I planted her in February 2012! These aloes do best in a more temperate climate and I was worried that it would not make it through our severe winters, but so far she's holding her own!

Close-up of Aloe marlothii flower

Hopefully my Aloe marlothii will manage to complete her blooming, I'm dying to see the open flowers.

My little private forest at the pond, now the trees are leafless and letting through much needed sunlight

I'm surprised that the Sword Ferns are still green and maybe it's a sign that this winter is not as severe as I perceive it to be. Just a month or two more, roll on Spring!


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Just before winter (April 2015)

Winter hasn't sunk in yet and I'm still hanging out in April! It has been sooooo absolutely cold that I haven't yet managed to catch the devastation that's happening in my garden. I'll get around to that this week, but in the meantime, let's still bask in the sunshine and greenery of Autumn!

Autumn (and the month of April) is when many of my Aloes start flowering. The Aloe ferox (the larger Aloes) will start a bit later, roundabouts May/June, but the aloe zebrina (with the long stalks), are already in full flower, above and below.

Walking through the garden just after sunrise is still a pleasure with the sun shining brightly through all the plants. But soon most of those Nasturtiums will be gone and the Sword Ferns will be withered and dead. But the hardy back-bones of the garden like the Phormiums, Restios, Aloes, Arums, big trees and succulents normally escape unscathed, leaving something to tend to.

I'm looking forward to when the Aloe ferox start flowering; if they're not caught by a bad frost in the early-flowering stage, they will provide splashes of orange to brighten up all the greenery.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Kalanchoe rotundifolia

Kalanchoe is one of a number of plant species which are presently being tested for their suitability to be grown as Green Roof plants in the Durban region that have initially shown good results. They all occur naturally within a radius of 50 km of the Durban city centre. Kalanchoe rotundifolia is widely distributed in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

It is a very common plant found growing as a pioneer plant on poor soils in full sun and partial shade on road cuttings, road verges, on rooftops and derelict land and this brittle succulent (making it very easy to break off pieces for propagation) has an upright growth habit with fleshy, rounded or lobed leaves that are 2.5cm broad and are clustered at the base of erect stems. They reproduce naturally by means of vast amounts of very small seed which germinates readily under ideal conditions.

The robust red flowering specimens are rewarding garden plants, flowering for many weeks. This is an easy plant to propagate from both seed and cuttings. The seeds of these plants are very fine and must be collected as soon as they are ripe before they disperse. The best time to sow these seeds will be early spring in order to give them plenty of time to grow before late autumn. Sowing may be done either in seedling containers or directly into the garden.

Some new propagations of Kalanchoe in a good draining potting soil

Kalanchoe rotundifolia plants are very drought resistant often growing where there is virtually no soil. However, they are susceptible to attack by thrips and red spider mites if they are grown in nutrient rich well watered medium.

A cutting I planted a couple of months ago growing well in a pot

My original Kalanchoe rotundifolio where I found them growing in a pot next to my Echeverias. I have no idea how they got there, must have been seeds brought in by the wind!

Some more Kalanchoe cuttings (in the plastic pot on the right) taking root next to some Graptoveria 'Fred Ives' and a Vygie

Family: Crassulaceae
Common names: Common Kalanchoe, Nentabos, Plakkie (Afrikaans) and umadinsane (Zulu).

Indigenous to South Africa.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Converting an exotic garden to an indigenous garden

Perhaps you, like many gardeners, want to change your garden from being predominantly exotic to predominantly, or even totally, indigenous. Here is a wonderful article from Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery telling you exactly how to go about this.

There are many good reasons to go indigenous, but the more common ones are because you are environmentally aware and want to increase the biodiversity in your garden, want to use less water, or use fewer pesticides. Or you have realized that indigenous plants can add colour and interest to a garden, require less maintenance or maybe you just want to stay trendy.
If you are new to gardening, or have not gardened with indigenous plants before, the prospect of converting your existing garden can be daunting, even more daunting than starting a new garden.  It need not be a traumatic an experience, and if you do your homework first and treat it as a long term project, it should be interesting and fun.

What is meant by “indigenous”.

A Celtis africana in my garden

Plants are deemed “indigenous” to an area if they occur naturally in that area, so, for example, Celtis africana (White Stinkwood, Witstinkhout) is indigenous to Africa. Plants are considered to be indigenous to southern Africa if they occur naturally anywhere south of the Kunene or Zambezi Rivers or the northern borders of Namibia and Botswana between these rivers. So, from our previous example, Celtis africana is also indigenous to southern Africa. Strictly speaking though, when speaking of indigenous plants, these should be limited to those plants that occur naturally within area you are speaking about. Most gardeners accept the broader definition for southern Africa. We can extend this by also including hybrids that have been bred from plants that are indigenous to southern Africa.

Do your homework

Before starting the conversion of your garden, find out which plants will grow in your area. There are some good books on gardening with indigenous plants in the summer rainfall regions. One of the best is Pitta Joffe’s Creative Gardening with Indigenous Plants. (Afrikaans edition ISBN 978-1-875093-36-6 and a new English edition co-authored with Tinus Oberholzer, launched on 1 September, ISBN 978-1-875093-99-1.) Also good are those by David and Sally Johnson, and Charles and Julia Botha, but remember that they garden in KwaZulu-Natal, where winters are in general not as harsh as those in parts of the South African interior.  Fanie & Julye-Ann Venter’s Making the most of Indigenous Trees is strongly recommended. The Gardener’s Tanya Visser and Anna Celliers’ book, Homegrown Garden Design, is about landscape design using indigenous plants.
SANBI and some indigenous nurseries have good websites that provide information about indigenous plants and gardening with them. Find sites that are based in your area or at least a similar region so that information is applicable to your garden. If there is a National Botanical Garden in your area, visit it to see what the plants look like in cultivation and how they have been used.

Euryops pectinatus (Golden Euryops, Gouemagriet) growing and flowering beautifully in the dappled shade of Acacia karoo (Sweet thorn, Soetdoring) in the Free State Botanical Gardens, Bloemfontein. By visiting botanical gardens you will be able to see what plants will look like in cultivation, as well as how you can use them in your garden.

My 10-year old Acacia karroo in my garden

Establish your starting point.  Identify what plants you already have in your garden. Identify which plants in your garden are indigenous. You may be very pleasantly surprised to realize that you already have quite a few indigenous plants. Many common, widely grown garden plants, like Plumbago auriculata and Freylinia tropica (Blue Honeybell Bush, Blou Heuningklokkiesbos) are indigenous without gardeners realizing it. If you are uncertain of the plants, cut samples and take them to your local nursery and ask them to help. If you cannot get joy there, send us close-up pictures of the leaves, flowers and fruit (if available) and we will try to help you. Then determine which of the exotic plants are invasive or potentially invasive, as these will be the ones you should remove first.

The white form of Freylinia tropica (Blue Honeybells, Blouheuningklokkies) has become a very popular garden plant, but many gardeners do not realise that it is indigenous to southern Africa.
Remember that you can use indigenous plants to create whatever style of garden you would like, from very formal to wild and woolly.  Plan for the style you want before you physically start changing your garden.
Phase the changes
It is very seldom that an existing garden needs to be totally trashed and re-started from scratch, rather phase the conversion.  If you decide to replace existing trees, see if you can use them to shelter their replacements for a few seasons before you do remove them. Remove the declared invasive plants before attacking the more benign plants. If you do need to fell the trees immediately, do not despair, because if planted correctly, most indigenous tree are quick growing and will quickly fill the gap. For shrubs, remove 1 in 3 or 4, plant their indigenous replacements and give them time to establish themselves before repeating the process. In this way you will not be left with a naked garden while the new shrubs get established, and use the existing plants to give more cold-sensitive plants protection through winter.

Remember to group together plants that have similar water and soil needs.
If you are converting to an indigenous garden to attract more birds and other wildlife to your garden, select plants that will provide different types of food. Include a variety of plants that provide fruit, seeds, flowers and nectar. Select some that are hosts to insect larvae and so provide food to insect eaters, while ensuring that there are butterflies in your garden. You will be amazed at the life your indigenous garden will attract.
Gardening is meant to be fun, so take time and plan carefully, and you will enjoy the journey to your new garden!


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