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Summer tips for Durban gardens

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Flowering bougainvilleas are loving the conditions.

Durban - Summertime and the living is easy… but not always when it comes to gardening on Durban’s stinking-hot sunny days that are interspersed with lots of rain – just to keep the humidity as high as possible!

But never mind, says gardening expert Eric Burgess – your garden loves this sort of weather: heat to get things growing and blooming, and regular rain to keep it all racing along.

“I have hardly had to water my garden at all for weeks – just the beds of seedlings and the plants growing under the eaves of the house, where the rain does not quite reach,” he says.

“The hot weather means we tend to seek out shady spots in the garden at this time of year. If you do not have enough shade, or wish to create more shade in a certain area, now is the time to plant a tree or large shrub to give you shade and coolness in future.

“A quick way to make shade, of course, is to build a pergola covered with shadecloth or wooden slats, or thin wooden poles or ‘droppers’.

“The wooden droppers or slats provide wonderful shade that provides moving patterns as the sun moves across the sky.

“There are many shade trees available. Some grow quickly, some flower well, some are deciduous and some are evergreen.”

Evergreen trees, says Burgess, keep their leaves all year, and are thus suitable for screening, but also give shade in winter.

Deciduous trees let in more sun in winter when their branches are without leaves, Burgess points out.

“Falling leaves can also block gutters and drains – and choke the pool cleaner. A tree is forever, so think carefully about your choice, and ask your nurseryman for advice.”

Some of Burgess’s favourite trees are:

* White Stinkwood (Celtis africana) – Indigenous, quick-growing, a big tree with a tap root system, evergreen.

* Leopard Tree (Caesalpinia ferrea) – Exotic, quick-growing, big tree, ornamental bark, yellow flowers, smallish root system, small leaves, light shade, deciduous.

* Golden Trumpet Tree or Yellow Tabebuia (Tabebuia chrysotricha) – Exotic, medium quick-growing, small tree, spectacular yellow flowers in August/September, light shade, deciduous

* Frangipani (Plumeria rubra) – Exotic, medium quick-growing, small rounded tree, very fragrant flowers in cream, yellow, apricot, pink or red varieties, medium shade, big leaves, deciduous.

* Lavender Tree (Heteropyxis natalensis) – Indigenous, 5m to 6m tall, quick-growing, attractive bark, leaves smell of lavender, light shade, deciduous.

* Wild Pear (Apodytes dimidiata) – Indigenous, fairly quick-growing, 5m to 6m, white flowers, attractive seeds, dense foliage, evergreen.

* Natal Laburnum (Calpurnia aurea) – Indigenous, quick-growing, 4m to 5m, attractive bunches of yellow flowers, light shade, evergreen.

* River Indigo (Indigofera cylindrica syn I frutescens) – Indigenous, quick-growing, 3m to 4m, small tree/large shrub, good for small gardens and screening, sprays of pink flowers in summer, light shade, evergreen.

Burgess says that if you are a rose grower, be extra-diligent with your spray programme at this time of the year as the humid weather means blackspot and mildew are a threat.

“Hot, dry conditions are favoured by red spider, so spray with a combination spray of a fungicide and an insecticide – ask your nurseryman for more details.

“Lightly prune back stems that have flowered, to encourage growth for the autumn flush. Feed generously and water well if necessary.”

Summer is the time for flowers and your garden should be a riot of colour.

In flower now are Allamanda cathartica, with huge yellow trumpet flowers on cascading branches; bougainvillea in all their glorious colours; dipladenia (mandevilla), a favourite climber with huge pink flowers in profusion; and Plumbago auriculata, which is indigenous and has many uses in the garden and is covered with either blue or white flowers.

Other flowering plants to see at your nursery are pentas, in a range of colours and so easy to grow; lavender, with its aromatic leaves and flowers; angelonia, in white, pink or blue forms which flower almost all year; and day lily (hemerocallis), which are probably the easiest of all flowering plants to grow, flower really well and are edible.

The perennial portulaca (P oleracea) is another edible plant commonly known as purslane – they are low-growing groundcovers with large, bright flowers in white, yellow, orange, red and pink which need full sun as the flowers close in the shade.

The succulents are full of vitamin C, and contain more omega-3 fatty acids than some fish oils, so are a vegetarian’s delight.

On the pest front, the wet weather is a paradise for snails.

Says Burgess: “On a walk the other day – between rain showers – I found three huge snails on the grass pavement. These were adult carnivorous snails (Natalina caffra), which I was only too happy to carry back to our garden.

“They have voracious appetites for all kinds of snails and slugs – even resorting to cannibalism if food is scarce!

“They are bigger than the common snail, Helix aspersa, (which is the edible snail you pay for in restaurants).

“Natalina is easily recognised as it has a very long ‘foot’ which sticks out both in front and at the back of the shell when it is crawling.

“It also has a round hole in the middle of the underneath of its shell. It is not the snail with the pale, long, tapered shell like an ice-cream cone (this is also a baddy and needs to be destroyed).

“Look for the carnivorous snails and treasure them!” - Independent on Saturday

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