Gardening: Lockdown benefits take root

The Cape Chestnut, Calodendrum capense

The Cape Chestnut, Calodendrum capense

Published Nov 21, 2020


By Christopher Dalzell

Lockdown, as hard as it has been, has had positives we should take advantage of.

It has given us time to reflect on what is important in our lives, be innovative and do things we could not do before because of our busy lives.

Growing your own vegetables even if you live in a small apartment. Working in your own garden and supporting your local nurseries. Travelling locally and enjoying our own country, taking advantage of game reserve specials, putting them within financial reach of almost all South Africans.

We have had lovely spring rains initiating fresh new leaves on all the trees, allowing the grasslands to sprout new growth and flowers. I live on the Krantzkloof Nature Reserve and it is fun to see so many young people enjoying the reserve that is only 20 minutes from downtown Durban.

I have just completed the landscaping of the second phase of a new game reserve in Babanango, which will become a Big 5 game reserve thanks to the investment of a German family. It will provide accommodation for local and overseas visitors, but also tented camps for school outings so their environmental programmes for pupils can continue.

Every day I watch to see what comes into flower and keep a diary of what flowers when. This is something I learnt to do when I was a young student. For instance, the Cape Chestnut, Calodendrum capense is flowering in Kloof and surrounding suburbs and will do so for the next few weeks. Not only is this a beautiful evergreen tree but it is also the food plant for the Citrus Swallowtail butterfly.

Dais cotinifolia - Pom Pom tree

Every family should plant at least one indigenous tree a year so we can increase the numbers of trees in our world, and provide homes for birds, animals and many other living creatures, including humans. We would not exist if all the trees were removed. Watch the documentary Kiss the Earth on Netflix: it’s a big wakeup call but if each one of us made a concerted effort we could make a difference to the world.

A very good friend of mine, Rob Havemann, recently celebrated his 60th birthday and instead of giving him a present he does not need, I brought trees to plant for each year of his life. This is a gift that will live for many years and one the world can enjoy.

Many indigenous grasses flower in November, providing a soft texture to the landscape and seed for birds. I am landscaping the garden of an estate on which the developers insisted on planting thousands of indigenous trees on this once barren landscape. Today that foresight makes this one of the most beautiful places to live and the one plant in flower is an indigenous grass called Melinus repens or Natal Red Top. Easy to grow, requires little water and flowers for many months of the year. What a winner. Simple landscaping but highly effective.

Mackaya bella – forest bell-bush

Taking a recent walk in the Krantzkloof Nature Reserve I was struck by the beauty of a small pink-flowering shrub called Hibiscus pedunculatus or the forest pink Hibiscus. It is a common species that grows in forest margins throughout the Eastern parts of South Africa. It belongs to the family Malvaceae, which consists of more than 2000 species of plants, many which have important economic traits such as cotton, cocoa and our iconic tree, the Baobab. In South Africa we have about 60 species of Hibiscus, ranging from large trees to small perennial herbs.

Hibiscus pedunculatus grows to about 2m under ideal conditions but generally is a small compact shrub. The beauty of the plant is in the flower, which is a solitary, large, drooping pink flower carried on a long stem. It is quick growing, flowers often from October to May, with each flower only lasting a few days. Once pollinated the seeds are dispersed in a cotton like floss. Best to grow this shrub in a well-drained sandy soil either in full sun or is a shady part of your garden. Other than creating colour in your garden it also attracts birds and butterflies. It is easy to grow and if you find the plant in a friend’s garden, they are easily grown from stem cuttings which root very quickly. At the end of summer, you can prune it to keep it in shape and remove any dead or dying parts. They like hot humid, wet conditions so they are ideal for small gardens in Durban.

Hibiscus pedunculatus - Forest Pink Hibiscus

Plants in flower in November for your garden

  • Hibiscus pedunculatus - Forest Pink Hibiscus
  • Gardenia thunbergia - Forest Gardenia
  • Plectranthus zuluensis - Zulu Spur-flower
  • Bulbine frutescens - spreading Bulbine
  • Calodendum capense - Cape Chestnut
  • Dais cotinifolia - Pom Pom tree
  • Agapanthus praecox - Agapanthus
  • Tulbaghia violaceae - Wild Garlic
  • Gazania rigens - Trailing Gazania
  • Xylotheca kraussiana - African Dogrose
  • Crinum bulbispermum - Orange River lily
  • Buddleja saligna - Olive Sagewood
  • Chlorophytum bowkeri - Hen and Chicken
  • Becium obovatum - Cat’s whiskers
  • Trachelospermum jasminoides - Star Jasmine
  • Brunsfelsia pauciflora – Yesterday Today Tomorrow
  • Mackaya bella – forest bell-bush
  • Gladiolus dalenii – Natal lily
  • Anthericum saundersiae – weeping Anthericum
Plectranthus zuluensis - Zulu Spur-flower

Things to do this month

With lockdown and many people not able to travel the best antidote for holiday blues is to garden during the December break. Start a veggie garden; there’s nothing better than walking into your garden and collecting everything you need for a salad. With the early rains I hope for a consistent summer rain pattern, with hot dry days in between rainy days. Of course, with hot, wet summer days the weeds will grow out of control which means we need to keep on top of the weeding. To keep weeds at bay use leaves that have fallen from your trees as a mulch. This keeps weeds down and moisture in the soil, which means less watering.

Start cutting your lawns every week. Try to lift the mower a little higher. This allows the lawns to grow full and healthy and reduces the growth of weeds. It is time to start feeding and either apply a natural fertilizer or an inorganic fertilizer such as 3.2.1. Lawns respond to food because they take a lot of strain during summer with it being cut every week. By allowing your lawns to remain at maximum height it also allows for carbon to be absorbed into the grass and then into the soil. This encourages a deeper root system which is good for the structure of the soil and helps prevent soil erosion.

Plant indigenous water-wise plants such as Aloes and shrubs or groundcovers that require less water to flower and survive. Examples: Plumbago auriculata, Crassula ovata, Crassula multicarva, Aristida junciformis, Anthericum saundersiae, Agapanthus praecox, Becium obovatum, Tecoma capensis, Asystasia gangetica, Dietes grandiflora, Aloe species, Carissa macrocarpa, Carissa green carpet, Eucomis autumnalis, Bauhinia galpinii, Setaria megaphylla

Watch for insects and fungal problems brought on by the humid weather especially scale insects, aphids, and Mealy bugs. Make sure you identify what is a pest and what is a caterpillar that will turn into a beautiful butterfly. The last thing you want to do is kill those caterpillars that feed on plants you have put in your garden to attract butterflies, such as Scabiosa, Plectranthus and Bulbines.

Take a walk in many of our free parks around Durban or nature reserves that do not have an entrance fee. This is good for the soul and allows you time to reflect on the year and how we deal with 2021. If you do visit these open spaces, please do not litter. Put it in the bin. Litter is one of my pet hates.

Happy Gardening

  • This article is sponsored by Chris Dalzell Landscapes, specialising in landscaping, consultation, plant broking and Botanical tours. Email [email protected] or visit

The Independent on Saturday

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