Cape Town - There is very rarely a time in the garden when there is absolute stillness. Usually there is some movement that can be seen and heard in the rustling of leaves in trees, and the movement of flower stems and grasses.

As a light breeze, wind in the garden is a gentle ally, but a strong wind is a powerful adversary that causes damage, breaking branches, shredding soft and large leaves, and snapping flower stems.

Roots are weakened when rocked by wind, preventing them from absorbing water.

Air movement in trees is completely different from that among low-growing shrubs or delicate flowers. Because of their height, trees catch the first whisper of wind before other, more protected plants. A gentle breeze will send leaves fluttering and spiralling gently earthwards, while a gale will cause branches and leaves to hurl themselves against windowpanes – foe rather than friend. Aged trees creak when a strong wind bends their branches, and pines and poplars sway and rustle as the breeze passes through them.

Solutions for windy gardens

Lessen the force of the wind by planting hardy trees and shrubs on the boundary. Indigenous trees that withstand wind include sage bush (Buddleja saligna), coastal silver oak (Brachylaena discolor), Rhus lancea and yellowwoods (Podocarpus henkelii).

Plant the toughest shrubs along the perimeter of the garden, and less hardy shrubs in front, where they are more sheltered. A solid wall is not a good choice as a windbreak as it creates turbulence. But if necessary for security, grow hardy shrubs on both sides of the wall to filter the wind. Continue to lessen wind damage in the garden by planting hedges and shrubs that will shelter and protect.

Plants for windy gardens

Plants that have adapted to wind often have grey foliage with a leathery, waxy covering, or a fine layer of hairs to reduce transpiration and keep plants cool.

* Wild olive (Olea europaea subsp. Africana) silver-grey leaves.

* Purple hopseed bush or sand olive, (Dodonaea viscosa “Purpurea”), green-tinged purple leaves.

* Phlomis fruticosis, grey leaves, yellow flowers in tiers.

* Australian rosemary (Westringia fruticosa) grows to 2m, fine grey leaves, light-blue or white flowers.

* Rhagodia, one of many species known as “salt bush”, hardy shrub with small grey leaves.

* Statice (Limonium perezii), purple heads of flowers, large green leathery leaves.

* Lavender species and cultivars, grey scented leaves, usually need replacing every two to three years.

* Rosemary, upright or spreading, dark-green aromatic foliage, blue flowers.

Go Indigenous

* Trees and shrubs: Coast silver oak (Brachylaena discolor), white milkwood (Sideroxylon inerme), camphor bush (Tarchonanthus camphoratus), hiccup nut (Combretum bracteosum), Freylinia visseri, bush-tick berry (Chrysanthemoides monilifera), Rhus crenata and Ficus burtt-davyi.

* Sculptural plants: Strelitzia reginae, Aloe thraskii and Aloe succotrina.

Ground covers Chrysanthemoides incana, Arctotis stoechadifolia, Gazania rigens var. leucolaena, Carpobrotus edulis,Cacinaciformis, Helichrysum cymosum, Ipomoea pes-caprae and Osteospermum fruticosum.

* Succulent plants: Pig’s ears (Cotyledon orbiculata), Aloe arborescens and Aloe distans.

* Tufted perennials: Cape reed (Chondropetalum tectorum) and Thamnochortus insignis.

Small leaves

* Confetti bush (Coleonema pulchellum), tiny pink flowers, needle-like leaves that when crushed release an aromatic fragrance.

* Abelia, plain green leaves or variegated “Francis Mason”, arching stems and tiny white bell-shaped flowers.

* Euryops daisy, indigenous yellow daisy, grey-green leaves.

* Freylinia tropica, upright growth habit, small leaves, dainty white or mauve flowers that attract butterflies.

* Sacred bamboo (Nandina domestica) and dwarf cultivar “Pygmaea”, bamboo-like stems and fern-like leaves that assume red shades in winter.

* Australian rosemary (Westringia fruticosa), extremely hardy shrub with needle-like grey-green leaves and tiny flowers.

* Blue sage (Salvia africana-caerulea) blue sage with greyish-green aromatic foliage.

* Beach salvia (Salvia africana-lutea) rusty-brown flowers.

* Rough blue sage (Salvia chamelaeagnea), blue, mauve, pink or white flowers.

Shiny leaves

* Coprosma repens (mirror plant), fast-growing evergreen with glossy foliage that can be plain green or variegated.

* Escallonia cultivars, evergreen shrub, 2m or more in height, glossy leaves, small white or pink tubular flowers.

* Raphiolepis indica, 2m in height, evergreen with small, glossy leaves and pink or white flowers in spring.

Grasses:

Grasses can play an important part in a windy garden, stabilising the soil, introducing sound and movement, and revealing subtle shades of copper and bronze, red and purple, grey and blue. Aristida junciformis is an attractive, tuft-forming grass with an arching habit and white seed heads.

Many grasses are architectural and dramatic, particularly effective when used as focal points, while others soften and add movement to bold, static modern architecture.

They introduce a distinctive form and texture as they weave among other plants in the garden, soften paved areas and pool edges, and divide one part of the garden from another.

Grass-like plants share similar characteristics of thin leaf blades with grasses. Chlorophytum saundersiae, the weeping anthericum, is a grass-like plant with evergreen narrow leaves that bears masses of tiny star-like white flowers throughout the year.

Flowers

Some flowers are made to move – Wordsworth’s “host of daffodils fluttering and dancing in the breeze”. Flowers that grow on slender stems – astilbe, campanula, columbine (aquilegia), cosmos, Dierama pendulum, Gaura lindheimeri, Japanese anemone, poppy, thalictrum and white lace flower – sway gracefully in the wind.

Some plants, like agapanthus, cope with wind because of their strong root system that helps anchor them in the ground. Plants that hug the ground are disturbed very little by wind, making them far less likely to be damaged. Some spread – thyme, carpet morning glory (Convolvulus sabatius), osteospermum and verbena – while others form low mounds (arctotis, felicia, gazania and santolina).

Kay Montgomery, Weekend Argus