On the wild side with natural fynbos

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Copy of Fynbos (1) Allan Dawson gardens SUPPLIED An indigenous fynbos landscape with lilac-flowering geraniums around a pool was developed by top landscaper Alan Dawson.

Cape Town - Get ready to celebrate National Birding Day on Saturday November by planning a fynbos garden. An indigenous fynbos garden is a garden without form, one where there are no straight lines, no formality, no contrived plantings. It’s a natural garden where birds and wildlife are welcome.

Fynbos plants have low nutrient levels and should not have soil enriched with fertiliser, phosphate, bone meal, manure or mushroom compost. Feed them with an organic liquid seaweed fertiliser such as Kelpak.

Take care not to damage the root system when planting or cultivating around fynbos plants as they are sensitive to root damage. Mulch with compost or bark nuggets to retain moisture and suppress weeds. Fynbos is waterwise once established, and requires low maintenance.

Layered planting adds structure and interest in a garden and creates changing light patterns. This can be achieved by selecting suitable trees, adding an understory of shrubs and herbaceous plants, and filling in with small plants, bulbs and groundcovers.

To create a fynbos garden, choose trees and shrubs of suitable height and spread in relation to the size of the garden. The wild olive (Olea europaea subsp africana), wind-resistant milkwood and silver tree (Leucodendron argenteum) are among the choices available.

Proteas are an integral part of a fynbos garden. They attract nectar-loving birds and vary in height from low-growing species, such as the dainty Protea scolymocephala with yellowish-green blooms, to the king protea, Protea cynaroides, which grows to two metres.

Even taller is the oleander-leafed Protea neriifolia, and the sugarbush P repens, which reaches 2.5m.

Also look out for all the fabulously floriferous Arnelia protea hybrids grown in Hopefield, and made available to gardeners through local garden centres.

Leonotis leonurus, with tall upright stems of velvety flowers arranged in tiers, also attracts sunbirds. Orange is the most common colour, but there are cream and apricot forms.

Add a further layer to the garden with smaller shrubs and perennials, such as pink Anisodontea scabrosa, the grey-leaved and yellow daisy flowers of Euryops pectinatus, golden-yellow honey-scented bells (Freylinia lanceolata), and Gomphostigma virgatum, with silver leaves and white star-like flowers.

The salvia family, with nectar-filled flowers, is well represented in the fynbos garden – the blue sage (Salvia africana-caerulea), with greyish-green aromatic foliage, a shrub that grows to two metres; the beach salvia (Salvia africana-lutea), with rusty-brown flowers; and summer-flowering Salvia chamelaeagnea, with blue, mauve, pink or white flowers.

The erica family of plants forms an important part of the fynbos. These come in a variety of heights, with most species flowering in spring and summer. Flowers can be starry, tubular or bell-shaped in scarlet, white, pink or lilac.

Blue flowers are a welcome foil to more brightly coloured blooms. The low-growing shrublet known as the kingfisher daisy (Felicia amelloides) has dainty blue daisy flowers with a yellow centre. Agapanthus are valued not only for their umbels of blue flowers, but for their strong root system that helps anchor soil on slopes.

Aristea capitata, a member of the Iris family, has strap-shaped evergreen leaves and tall, bright blue flower spikes in early summer.

Introduce plants with different forms and textures, such as Cotyledon orbiculata, with orange-red, tubular bell-shaped clusters of flowers and succulent large grey- green leaves, and clumps of dietes and watsonias with sword-like foliage for vertical interest.

Plant bulbs of nerine, sparaxis, babiana, gladiolus and ixia. Scatter these bulbs randomly to create a more natural effect.

Elegia tectorum (previously Chondropetalum tectorum), the horsetail restio (Elegia capensis) and Thamnochortus cinereus, the silver reed, are restios, an ancient fynbos family that offers textural interest and a different form.

Groundcovers are the final layer in a garden. Scabiosa incisa, with mauve or white frilly flowers, is a fast-growing groundcover, as are gazania and arctotis species, and the carpet geranium (Geranium incanum), with fine foliage and cup-shaped purple or white flowers. These can be threaded through taller plantings to carpet the ground and reduce maintenance.

Include bushes with aromatic foliage such as wild rosemary (Eriocephalus africanus), with tiny white flowers, and Agathosma crenulata, as these are an essential part of the fynbos.

The confetti bush (Coleonema pulchellum) has needle-like leaves that, when crushed, release an aromatic fragrance. It bears masses of tiny pink flowers and is best planted in groups of three or five. Coleonemas make good companion plants for protea, euryops and felicia.

Wherever there is run-off from a slope into a depression, try arum, aristea, crinum, wild iris (dietes) and kniphofia. - Weekend Argus

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