Tapping the roots of an early spring

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Red-hot pokers

Most gardeners will say that June is a rather quiet month in the garden, but there is still lots you can do, says Durban’s Eric Burgess, who runs the Burgess Nursery and Garden Centre in Barham Road, Westville.

The shortest day of the year is on June 21, he adds, and from then on the days start getting longer – and it only takes about three weeks for plants to realise this.

They will then start to grow with spring vigour from the middle of July, on the coast at least, Burgess says.

“Even though spring does not start officially until September, no one has told the plants yet, and they start growing as soon as they feel the days get longer,”

Now is a good time, says Burgess, to consider plants as a gift - and bonsai is a good idea.

“It is a gift that grows on you, and makes an ideal hobby. They become more valuable over time.”

Bonsai, he says, come in a range of styles and prices, from inexpensive “starter” plants to ready-made, proper bonsai specimens. Your local nursery should have a good selection from which to choose.

Getting back to plants for gardens, Burgess says people sometimes complain that winter gardens lack colour, but he insists there are quite a few plants that only flower in winter, or start to flower now.

A well-loved example is the indigenous kniphofia, or red-hot poker, a type of lily that has tall red and yellow flowers. It is easy to grow.

Poinsettias also only flower in winter. They are day-length sensitive and flower when the days are shortest.

“They are so expensive at Christmas time in the southern hemisphere, when days are longest, as the growers have to cover their greenhouses with black plastic in the afternoons, to give the plants ‘short days’ to make them flower.

“In Europe and America, it is easy to get them in flower over Christmas as the days are naturally short.”

The “ram’s horn” variety, with large, bright-red pom-pom flowers on drooping branches, is the most popular garden variety, says Burgess.

“Pelargoniums, or ivy-leaf geraniums, also begin blooming now, and will stay in bloom all through spring, summer and autumn. They are indigenous and make ideal cascading plants for rockeries, baskets and window boxes.

“They need lots of sun, respond well to feeding and are water-wise. They are grown by the millions in Europe and are seen in every windowbox.

“Cape daisies, or osteospermum, are another fairly recent indigenous introduction. Many new hybrids are available, in a wide variety of colours and flower shapes – from singles, doubles and whirly-gigs to whites, purples, yellows and sunsets.

“They are ideal in rockeries, pots, baskets and window boxes. They prefer full sun, regular feeding, are water-wise, and are easy to grow and will last for many seasons.

Burgess says it is always good to keep the birds in your garden happy and well fed by putting out seeds for them to eat.

“Winter is a sparse time for seed-eaters and a regular feed will keep your garden alive with birds. Remember to put out some fruit as well. The fruit will also attract fruit flies, which in turn will attract the flycatchers and insect-eating birds.

“Hang the birdfeeder in a protected area where you can easily observe activity. Most birds need an ‘escape route’ when feeding, so position the feeder near a bush or tree, so that you attract ‘shy’ feeders as well.” - Independent on Saturday


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