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Make your winter garden come alive

Cape Town - Winter has arrived, and what is now taking centre stage is the tracery and grace of the bare branches of deciduous trees, as well as the textures and colours of winter-flowering plants.

If you need a little colour in your garden this winter, plant the best of the winter-flowering plants.

A bank of red flowering aloes create a focal point in a view across to the giant oak on the main lawn, which is finally shedding the last of its leaves. Picture: ALICE NOTTEN, KIRSTENBOSCHThe pinkish blooms of the pig's ears are a winter classic. Picture: SuppliedWinter flowering camellias are still the queens for the shady spots of the garden. Picture: SuppliedYellow hybrid aloes can look most spectacular in sunny spots. Picture: SuppliedThe new candy floss aloe has pink and cream flowers. Picture: Supplied

Here are a few ideas:

Indigenous colour

There are many plants that colour our winter gardens, but the most striking, in both architectural form and colour, is the aloe. Aloes attract bees, butterflies and nectar-feeding birds, and are most effective when grown among large weathered rocks in natural-style gardens, on sunny slopes and in rockeries.

Their growth habit ranges from the dune aloe (Aloe thraskii) to the stemless aloes (Aloe arborescens) that form clumps 2m-3m tall and are often grown as a hedge.

Many of the new aloe cultivars bred for cold tolerance are suitable for small gardens and pots, such as yellow Aloe “Bafana” and “Egoli”, pink and white “Candy Floss”, bi-colour “Sunbird”, “Maggi’s Pink” with white and pink candy stripes, orange-yellow “Nectarine”, and yellow-green “Greengage”.

Winter-flowering erica, pincushion and proteas bring nectar-feeding birds to gardens.

Another bird favourite is the tiered orange or cream flowers of Leonotis leonurus. The warmth of orange and red can also be seen in winter-flowering red-hot pokers (kniphofia) displaying their bold torches of colour above green strap-like leaves. They make a dramatic statement alongside ponds and water features.

Banks are ablaze with water-wise gazanias and arctotis in red, orange, pink, yellow and cream.

Namaqualand daisies open their flowers on sunny days, and vygies (mesembryanthemum) glisten in the sunshine as they spread carpets of pink, orange and purple. Rockeries are bright with the pendant apricot-orange blooms of succulent pig’s ears (Cotyledon orbiculata), and with kalanchoe, gerbera, venidium and ursinia.

The sweetly-scented tiny tubular cream, orange or lilac flowers of the evergreen weeping sage Buddleja auriculata scent the winter garden.

Early colour

While many plants in the garden are still enjoying their winter sleep, the first buds of hellebores thrust their way through the cold earth. Despite the delicate appearance of the flowers, hellebores are able to withstand cold and rain. The first of the hellebores to flower is the Christmas rose, (Helleborus niger, followed by H argutifolius). This hellebore is dramatic in the size of the spiny leaves and the apple-green flowers held in clusters on strong, branched stems.

Following these early hellebores and the one most frequently seen in our gardens is Helleborus orientalis. This long-leafed, evergreen perennial has fan-shaped leaves and slightly nodding flowers of apple-green, pink, wine or creamy-white, many with delicate spotting. Hellebores need rich but well-drained soil, and a position where they get dappled shade in summer.

Bulbs provide much of the early colour in the winter garden. Among the first to appear is the snowflake (leucojum) with dainty white bells, each petal with a green dot.

Narcissi, with their clusters of white and cream scented blooms, and single flowered jonquils, soon join the snowflakes.

Primroses and their showy cousins, polyanthus primroses, do well in filtered shade. Low-growing fairy crassula has dainty pink flowers in winter and makes an attractive groundcover for sun or shade, providing the soil is well-drained.

Camellia japonica hybrids put on a splendid show in winter in light shade, their rosettes of white, pink and red flowers framed by their glossy green leaves. Growth habit can be upright and bushy, slender or more compact.

Spring annuals

Purple and pink cinerarias and bright and pastel Iceland poppies planted in autumn will be putting on an early show, but gaps can still be filled with these and other winter/spring flowering plants from garden centres.

Plant stocks to scent the flower garden, and orange calendulas and blue cornflowers to add splashes of colour in the vegetable patch.

Fairy primrose (Primula malacoides) turns shady parts of the garden into a fairyland of white, mauve and purple.

No winter garden is complete without pansies and violas, which come in many colours and are perfect for edging pathways, as a carpet for bulbs, and to brighten containers. Also for pots and for planting in groups is cold-tolerant ornamental kale, with ruffled leaves in white, pink, purple and green.

Clivia miniata, with umbels of orange-red blooms, flowers from mid-winter to spring, in dappled shade, and make a wonderful show when planted in drifts under evergreen trees.

Foliage and fruit

It is not only flowers that colour the winter garden. Berries on bushes and hedges provide pantries for seed-eating birds. Grow the indigenous dogwood (Rhamnus prinoides), with shiny evergreen leaves and small red berries, as a tree or clipped as a screen.

Some conifers change their coats of summer green to gold and bronze. It is important to know each variety’s ultimate height and width so that they will be in scale to the rest of the garden.

The fern-like green leaves of nandinas become red as temperatures drop. Citrus trees also add to the winter show with their orange and yellow fruits showy against green foliage.

Kay Montgomery, Weekend Argus

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