Making the most of spring
A new season starts tomorrow and there are plenty of spring flowers and veggies that can be planted now, writes Alice Spenser-higgs
IN SA it feels as if we only really have two seasons — summer and winter. Spring is most fleeting, but according to the garden calendar, spring actually extends to November.
The nights can often be cool and there are flowers and veggies that grow better during these cooler months than at other times. What does spring offer? Of the indigenous spring flowers that start blooming from midAugust, the showiest are without doubt Clivia miniata, osteospermum and gazanias.
Clivia miniata is a forest plant, happiest in dappled shade, and ideal filler for those parts of the garden. The orange flower-heads bring the first splash of indigenous colour into the winter garden. Even after the flowers are over the dark green, strappy foliage remains a feature.
Clivia clubs traditionally hold their annual shows in September and one of the biggest is the Joburg Clivia Club. This year’s show is on September 15 and 16 at Garden World. It is at these shows that you will find the greatest variety of clivia and the best advice on how to grow them.
Osteospermum (Cape daisy) has become an exciting spring flower. No longer just available in white, its colour range has extended to red, gold, lavender, deep purple, pink-honey, peach and rose. There is also the double variety, Osteospermum “Flower Power”, which doesn’t fold up at night.
Gazanias also get off to a good start in spring. They are drought tolerant, fuss-free plants that work as groundcovers or as a border. The well known Daybreak series has been replaced by the Gazania New Day, which has larger flowers. It comes in three colourful mixes: Strawberry Shortcake (rose, yellow, cream), Sunny Side Up and Bright Mix (rose orange, yellow and gold).
Other indigenous fillers are Scabiosa Butterfly Blue, diascia (also available in many more colours), nemesia and bacopa, also known as Sutera.
Of the exotics, this is the season for petunias. They love the hot, dry days and the cool nights. With watering once a week, petunias look after themselves.
As groundcovers, the petunia Waves cover a large area quickly. For containers or hanging baskets there is the new Easy Wave that is spreading, but more compact.
Grandiflora petunias are best for bedding, having the biggest flowers. The Sophistica range includes Antique Shades (dusky pink with yellow throat), Blue Morn and the Lime Bicolour (lime and pink).
Primulas are starting to go off and they can be replaced with mimulus or torenia. Torenia is an alternative to impatiens and also flowers profusely. A new introduction is Torenia Kauai, with pure white throat and deep blue rim.
Containers with winter flowers may start looking straggly. Spring options include the new compact alstroemeria Inticancha, phlox, and pelargonium (geraniums).
Unlike the older varieties that tend to sprawl, alstroemeria Inticancha is a dense, multibranched compact plant that grows to a height of 30cm. The colour range includes white, rose, red, purple as well as white and red and yellow.
In the veggie garden, beetroot, carrots, radishes, onions, lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard and garden peas can be sown in cooler soil.
Marlaen Straathof of Kirchhoffs Seed says it is best to wait until night temperatures are 10ºC, preferably 12ºC, before one starts to sow seeds.
If seed doesn’t germinate, says Straathof, wait for a week and sow again. If germination is better the second time around, make a note of the date for sowing the following year.
“Most gardens have their own micro climates and can differ from garden to garden in one neighbourhood. Use the general sowing guidelines that are available, but tailor it to your own garden.”
Garden peas are always a delicious spring crop, especially sugar snap peas that are eaten for their crisp, sweet pods.
Make shallow drills and sow seeds about 3cm-4cm deep and about 5cm apart. Keep the soil moist until the seed germinates, which takes two to three weeks. Do not over water the seeds as cold, wet soil encourages damping off and foot rot.
Once the plants have become bushy, support the stem by drawing up the soil around the stem Light mulch around the plants keeps the soil cool and moist. Feed weekly with a liquid fertiliser when the plants start flowering.
The Joburg Clivia Club show is from 8.30am to 4pm on Saturday September 15 and Sunday September 16 at Garden World Garden Centre, Beyers Naudé Drive, Muldersdrift. Entrance is R10, children younger than 12 get in free. For more information contact Glynn on 082 650 1463.
Osteospermum ‘Flower Power’ does not fold up at night.
Clivia miniata are our lovliest indigenous spring flower, above. Torenia Kauai 'Blue and White' is a good alternative for impatiens, below left. Gazania ‘New Day’ is a larger flowered variety, below right.