Cape Town - If you’re hoping to find a chameleon, look in the restios, the honeysuckle and the daisies. Trish Hutton-Squire’s Kenilworth indigenous garden is loved by insects, and we’re here to see what plants attract the bees and chameleons.
Although it’s a sunny day, we are in autumn, and the chameleons are already hibernating, so we find none.
Although the chameleons stay in hiding, despite Trish’s best efforts to find us one, we’re not disappointed – dragonflies, golden orb spiders, bumblebees are plentiful, and the garden is beautiful. The flame-orange gladioli are in full bloom – Trish calls it her “AfrikaBurn” as their flowering coincides with the annual desert festival.
Come summer, there will be hundreds of Cape dwarf chameleons in her garden, she assures us. “I can’t tell you how they got here – 15 years ago there was nothing here. We removed 17 trees and started from scratch. As it indigenised, chameleons arrived and I have noticed there are particular plants that they like.”
One of them is the restio Ischyrolepis subverticillata (also known as Besemriet), with soft tufts, a versatile plant from the large restio family that does well in the garden or in a pot. Other favourites are the Cape honeysuckle Tecomaria capensis, the yellow daisy bush Euryops pectinatus, and Gnidia oppositifolia. “They just love the Gnidia and you just know you’ll find one here.” Gnidia has yellow flowers in summer, and soft willowy foliage.
Now for the bees: “We know from the global bee forage programme that Eucalyptus are important. Agathosma ovata (buchu), in various forms, is a favourite bee food in winter, and the Chrysanthemoides at this time of year. Any flowering plant attracts bees. But the bottom line if you want to be bee-friendly is not to use poisons.”
Bumblebees like the Keurboom with its sweetly-scented pink flowers, and the Polygala myrtifolia.
Trish has two ponds, which the dragonflies love, and her garden is full of rain frogs, endemic to the Wynberg Hill area. They live in the soil, and they, too, are nowhere to be found as she scratches to show us one.
“They look like little potatoes. And they are very noisy. You have to gently scratch in the soil when working in the garden so as not to harm them, so no forks and spades are used here.”
Trish is co-owner of the Kirstenbosch Garden Centre with Richard Jamieson.
Horticulture was her second career, studied after her children went off to school and she realised she’d never go back to nursing.
“My parents were both keen gardeners, with an interest in indigenous gardens. My mother was involved in the annual Plant Fair, which has been going for 39 years.”
After completing her studies, the opportunity to start the Kirstenbosch Garden Centre came up, and she and Richard Jamieson took it.
“One piece of advice when you’re starting a garden: don’t rush in. Live in a place for a year, observe the sun, the wind and their relationships. And plant at the right time, which is now, for your spring garden.”
Trish’s garden is dry – the only place she waters is the lawn, which she has reduced in size considerably. She’s just redone the bed next to the pool, removing the overgrown plants and replacing them with Ericas, proteas and restios.
The whole back section is not watered – another reason to plant indigenous plants, like the buchus, pelargoniums, aloes and groundcovers. Hypoestes aristata (ribbon bush) and Barleria, a bushy shrub with violet flowers, which attracts butterflies, are both in bloom now.
A beautiful pink Erica is in flower now, and groundcovers like Arctotis which will be a carpet of flowers in spring. The spring bulbs are pushing their green leaves out.
It’s a special garden, where nothing is killed and nature finds a balance. Chameleons, dragonflies, spiders and frogs love this garden. And of course it’s bird-friendly – a pair of Karoo Prinias nest here and raise their chicks, along with Cape Robin-Chats. A good plant for birds is Rhamnus prinoides with its purple berries.
If you want the birds and bees – and hopefully chameleons – to come to your garden, plant indigenous and don’t use poisons.
Jeanne Viall, Cape Argus