Indigenous colour for Highveld gardens
Alice SpenserHiggs tracks down easily available indigenous flowering plants for the garden
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.