Desert jewels for a greener oasisComment on this story
Johannesburg - Climate-change forecasters are predicting more erratic weather patterns so now is the time to develop a water-wise garden filled with indigenous succulents.
Succulent gardens can be created in rockeries, in patio containers or even in a wide, naturally-flowing bed along the length of the garden wall.
There are also many indigenous shrubs and trees which can be effectively used as a backdrop to a succulent garden. Try the Karoo sage (Buddleja glomerata), cork bush (Mundulea sericea) or Karoo boer-bean (Schotia afra). All are easily maintained, never get too big and will not shade a sunny succulent garden.
Take flower and foliage colour into account when placing your succulent plants. Pale greys complement reds and deeper greys, bright green foliage and coppery bronze go well with yellow tones. Olive green leaves stand out against the small-leafed matted greys.
“The small succulent garden should ideally include a few select indigenous grasses, such as the pale grey Melinis nerviglumis with its burgundy flowers,” says Leigh Nieuwoudt from Simply Indigenous Nursery. “Also try strong form plants, such as Strelitzia juncea or helichrysum, with their powdery grey foliage which are also very good companion plants to succulents,” she adds.
Here are her suggestions for a selection of plants:
Start with the Aptenia cordifolia, a tough, shiny, almost golden-leafed succulent with small red or pink flowers. The Delosperma family provide an array of bright mauves, pinks and lilacs. Vygies never fail to impress each spring and summer with their brilliant colours.
One of the most beautiful of all aloes, Aloe vanbalenii, planted in a grouping of three at the base of Buddleja glomerata will put on a show of deep pinkish red foliage together with striking yellow or pink flowers in winter. Aloe striata is another popular choice for small gardens with its blue to orange green leaves, red margins and orange flowers in late winter and early spring. Aloe greenii has tall flower stems covered in dark pink flowers in midsummer and bright green spotted leaves, and Aloe maculata has spotted leaves and large, red, orange or yellow flowers that appear between spring and winter.
The less water that kalanchoes receive, the more intense are the red leaves. The flower stems of Kalanchoe luciae and scented Kalanchoe thyrsiflora are tall and creamy-grey and the sunbirds love the nectar. Kalanchoe sexangularis has deep, bronze-red, toothed leaves with yellow flowers.
These are one of the most under-utilised of all indigenous succulent families. The jelly bean crassula is by far the best known, however the small succulent shrublet, Crassula sarcocaulis subsp. sarcocaulis is perfect to give height and form.
It can be interplanted with any of the crassula ground covers, such as C expansa subsp. fragilis, the fairy crassula (C multicava), C spathulata with its pale green leaves and C swaziensis with velvety olive to reddish green leaves. One of the most striking crassulas is Crassula perfoliata var. minor, with velvety grey, sickle-shaped leaves and red flower heads.
These plants are another unique succulent group from the Crassula family, with foliage ranging from grey, finger-like leaves to the large shiny discs of plakkies. The striking, round-leafed, pale grey Cotyledon orbiculata can be planted in front of and around the sides of the kalanchoes.
Steps to success
Consider these tips for your succulent garden:
* Ensure the soil in your succulent garden drains well. If your soil is clayish, work in lots of compost and river sand.
* Mix bonemeal in with your compost before adding it to the soil.
* Succulents planted into the garden only need a thorough watering once every two weeks.
* If your garden gets frost, reduce watering during the winter months.
* Water succulents in containers once a week.
For plant information, go to, www.simplyindigenous.co.za.
GENERAL GARDENING TIPS
* Spread fallen leaves around shrubs as mulch. Increasing the organic material in sandy soils is important in any garden.
* Plant up butterfly-pollinated flowers including lilies, phlox and daisy-like flowers. They often have nectar hidden at the end of long spurs (aquilegia) or deep at the base of fused petals (mandevilla). Unlike bees, butterflies are attracted to flowers of red and orange.
* Most bee-pollinated flowers are yellow, blue or white. Many white flowers absorb ultraviolet and appear blue-green to the bee, which is not visible to the human eye. Bee flowers often have nectar guides on their petals in the form of spots (foxglove), or lines (pansy), which point the way to the interior of the flower where the nectar is located. Bees are also attracted to red poppies.