In­dige­nous colour for Highveld gar­dens

Alice SpenserHiggs tracks down eas­ily avail­able in­dige­nous flow­er­ing plants for the gar­den

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THE idea of a purely in­dige­nous gar­den is very ap­peal­ing and I re­mem­ber talk­ing to in­dige­nous plant ex­pert Suzette Vlok who summed it up beau­ti­fully by say­ing, “I’m a pa­triot, and I be­lieve in South African plants.”

I’m sure many gar­den­ers share this sen­ti­ment; a love of this coun­try’s fauna and flora and a de­sire to pro­tect our nat­u­ral her­itage.

In a re­cent ar­ti­cle in Home­front, Tim Con­radie spoke about opt­ing first for en­demic plants, those that oc­cur nat­u­rally in one’s own area, which raised the ques­tion for me of which plants are most suit­able for the Highveld?

Not hav­ing the time to tramp through the veld or visit the clos­est botan­i­cal gar­den I took a short cut and turned to Ernst van Jaarsveld’s “Won­der­ful Water­wise Gar­den­ing” (Tafel­berg pub­lish­ers) which is a re­gional guide to in­dige­nous gar­den­ing in SA.

He has de­vel­oped an ex­ten­sive list of in­dige­nous trees, climbers, shrubs, peren­ni­als, ground­cov­ers, suc­cu­lents, or­na­men­tal grasses, lawn grasses and bulbs that are suit­able for highveld gar­dens. Of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est was the list of flow­er­ing plants be­cause of a per- cep­tion that in­dige­nous gar­dens are not nec­es­sar­ily colour­ful.

Of the peren­ni­als, Van Jaarsveld high­lights Di­as­cia as prob­a­bly SA’s most at­trac­tive soft peren­nial, as well as other well known gar­den plants such as Sutera (also known as ba­copa), Fe- li­cia, Gaza­nia, Bar­leria, Bar­ber­ton daisies (Ger­bera jamesonii), a range of pelargo­ni­ums in­clud­ing the rose-scented Pe­largo­nium grave­olens, Cape fuch­sia (Phygelius capen­sis), Scabiosa colum­baria, var­i­ous plec­tran­thus species, Ursinia tenuiloba and Neme­sia caerulea.

Of the ground cov­ers he men­tions Gera­nium in­canum (pur­ple flow­ers and feath­ery grey leaves), vy­gies (var­i­ous De­losperma species), Helichry­sum, as well as Arc­to­tis and spread­ing plec­tran­thus species like P neochilus, which likes full sun.

What is ap­par­ent from his list is that there are in­dige­nous plants that have adapted to a wide range of dif­fer­ent gar­den con­di­tions like the Cape Fuch­sia, which I saw on a re­cent visit to a Jo­han­nes­burg gar­den cen­tre. It was a beau­ti­ful spec­i­men, in full flower, and would be an as­set in any gar­den.

Notic­ing that it came from Kirch­hoffs a quick check through the new Kirch­hoffs’ cat­a­logues for an­nu­als, peren­ni­als and veg­e­ta­tively prop­a­gated plants yielded a list of at least 14 in­dige­nous an­nu­als and 24 dif­fer­ent kinds of in­dige­nous peren­ni­als, in­clud­ing 45 aloes that can be grown from seed, and five Protea species.

As one of three seed houses that sup­plies plants to the gar­den in­dus­try, it means that there is an ever in­creas­ing range of in­dige­nous plants be­com­ing avail­able to gar­den­ers through main­stream gar­den cen­tres.

What could cause con­fu­sion, how­ever, is that many of these in­dige­nous plants are hy­brids, which is why they are so much more adapt­able to a va­ri­ety of con­di­tions. This may not suit purists but, as Mar­laen Straathof from Kirch­hoffs ex­plains, it should be re­mem­bered that a hy­brid is a plant that is bred through nat­u­ral se­lec­tion meth­ods to per­form bet­ter in terms of vigour, disease re­sis­tance or flow­er­ing abil­ity and size. A hy­brid is still true to the species and should not be con­fused with ge­netic mod­i­fi­ca­tion.

For cool sea­son plant­ing Straathof rec­om­mends the Cape daisy (Os­teosper­mum) which flow­ers pro­lif­i­cally in au­tumn and again in spring. The hy­brid “Seren­ity” is a com­pact, up­right bush, be­tween 30cm and 40cm high, which main­tains its shape and is more heat tol­er­ant than the species. It is avail­able in nine dif­fer­ent colours, of which Dark Pur- ple, Honey Gold, Lemon­ade (yel­low), Sun­set (bi­colour pink and yel­low) and Vanilla (cream) are new colour in­tro­duc­tions.

Other daisy-like in­dige­nous plants that flower through win­ter into spring are Na­maqua­land daisies, which are best sown from seed, and two types of Feli­cia. The low grow­ing Feli­cia het­ero­phylla reaches a gar­den height of 15cm to 20cm so works well as an edg­ing or front-of-bor­der plant while Feli­cia amel­loides is a much larger bush with blue as well as pink, rose and pur­ple daisy-like flow­ers.

Di­as­cia, Neme­sia and Ba­copa (Sutera) are all mem­bers of the Schro­fu­lar­i­aceae fam­ily and their com­mon trait is the pro­duc­tion of a mass of del­i­cate flow­ers from au­tumn to early sum­mer.

They are low grow­ing and can be used as ground­cov­ers, bor­der or edg­ing plants, as well as in con­tain­ers and hang­ing bas­kets.

Ba­copa are gen­er­ally used as ground­cov­ers but the new Ba­copa “Colos­sal”, which has sky blue and white flow­ers, is more up­right with larger flow­ers.

There are quite a num­ber of Di­as­cia hy­brids avail­able, the new­est in the range be­ing “Romeo” and “Juliet’ in shades of pink, white, bright pink, red, salmon and orange. Juliet is com­pact with a height and spread of 15cm while Romeo is freer rang­ing, with a height of 23cm and spread of 25cm. Both have larger than nor­mal blooms and can be grown in con­tain­ers as well.

Neme­sia is slightly taller plant, with a gar­den height of 30cm to 35cm, and should be grouped en masse for best ef­fect. The fra­grant Neme­sia ‘“ro­mat­ica” se­ries has an ex­tended range of colours; rose pink, white, royal blue, scar­let and sky blue.

Fi­nally, one shouldn’t for­get the amaz­ing ar­ray of win­ter and spring flow­er­ing in­dige­nous bulbs orig­i­nat­ing from the win­ter rain­fall ar­eas. They can be grown on the highveld as long as they re­ceive enough wa­ter dur­ing their grow­ing sea­son.

These in­clude Freesias, Sparaxis, Ixia, Lachena­lia, Tri­to­nia, Chincher­inchee, Chas­man­the bi­color, Babi­ana and Wat­so­nia.

Di­as­cia Romeo in hang­ing bas­ket.

Neme­sia Aro­matic Scar­let, left and Os­teosper­mum Seren­ity Lemon­ade.

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