Durban - I am writing this article from 38 000ft on my way to Cape Town on route to Nieuwoudtville in the Northern Cape to experience one of nature’s true wonders, the flowering of the March or candelabra lily.
Brunsvigia bosmaniae flowers in late summer and early autumn if the area receives late summer rains, which triggers the bulb to flower within 21 days of rain, turning this dry, desert area into a display of brilliant, rounded, candelabra-like, pink flower heads.
The flowers vary in shades of pale to bright pink with more than 20-40 flowers a head. Once pollinated these flower heads break away from the bulb and the tumble flower heads are blown by the wind and while tumbling along the ground disperse the seed.
We have experienced one of the wettest summers in many years with most dams overflowing and the countryside of KwaZulu-Natal turned into a green oasis. This past week has been incredibly wet with widespread flooding across many areas of KZN, causing loss of life, extensive damage to roads and many gardens.
We are now heading into the cooler dry season of autumn and winter and so much to look forward to as we prepare for winter. I planted a tree ‒ xylotheca kraussiana or the African Dogrose ‒ in my garden for two reasons: its beautiful white fragrant flowers in spring and the food it supplies for the red Acrae butterfly which breeds in late summer, lays its eggs under the leaves, hatch and feed through the different instars before pupating and finally hatching into a beautiful butterfly. Please get to know your butterfly plants so you don’t spray and kill the little creatures that bring so much life to your garden.
The streets of Durban are in flower with a tree from Madagascar called colvillea racemosa that reminds us that Mother’s Day is just around the corner. These drooping sprays of orange flowers remain on the trees for a few weeks unless the heavy rains cause the flowers to drop more quickly.
April also sees flowers on one of South Africa’s most iconic plants, famous all over the world: the bird of paradise or strelitzia reginae flowers in early autumn and will last for 6 weeks. Flower arrangers, garden lovers, and nectar feeding birds all marvel at this plant that requires very little attention and produces a display that turns any garden into a paradise.
One last plant that flowers in late summer is a succulent called stapelia gigantea which produces a very large star shaped flower that stinks of rotten meat. It really is a very interesting flower that catches you by surprise. Easily grown from cuttings.
The plant I would like to discuss this month, dombeya cymosa or Natal wild pear, is a small flowering tree, 3-10m in height, with a rounded crown and ideal for small gardens. From March to April it produces sweetly scented white drooping flowers that remain on the tree for many months. This small tree is very sensitive to cold conditions thus grows best in full sun. The genus dombeya is in the same family as hibiscus or the mallow family, malvaceae and named after Joseph Dombey, a French botanist who worked mostly in Peru and Chile. The are eight species of Dombeya in Southern
Africa with dombeya cymosa characterised by small flowers which distinguishes it from the others, which all have large flowers. The flowers attract bees and butterflies for pollination, and honey produced from the flowers is in high demand. It is easily propagated from seed which should be sown in spring. If you have a small garden this is an ideal small tree which must be planted in full sun.
It won’t be long before most of the aloe species push their winter flower spikes, which over the next three months will provide colour to the landscape and turn our gardens into a magnate for nectar feeding birds. They must be one of my all-time favourite plants as they require very little attention, grow in the harshest conditions, and provide flowers that turn an ugly bare area into a very colourful display. You can find species that flower at different times of the year.
Next month I will tell you which aloes flower at what time of the year so if you are interested in creating a waterwise garden these are for you.
Also flowering in autumn, are two of our most common shrubs,
Tecoma capensis or the Cape Honeysuckle and plumbago auriculata or Cape leadwort. They both grow in difficult of conditions and require little maintenance except once or twice a year with a little pruning and possible mulching and feeding. If you have a very difficult bank or ugly building you would like to hide these are perfect plants as they grow quickly and look good most of the year. They can either be left to grow naturally or clipped into hedges. I prefer the natural look. They respond very quickly and well to a big prune so don’t be shy to cut back hard.
Once the rains stop you can then plan your garden for winter and for the next growing season. This is the time to do all the structural changes you have always wanted to do such as pathways, retaining walls and rockeries. Plan them carefully because once you have placed many of the large rocks, they will be hard to move around. Visiting gardens during open garden weekends to get ideas.
These happen in early July in the Highway area. Here you get ideas from gardens that have taken years to establish and designers are happy to share ideas. Select the right plants for your garden so that you only must design the gardens once every 3-5 years. Don’t be shy to prune ‒ it may look a little bare but soon the new growth will appear and you will have new vistas and new plants that have space to grow.
I prune my garden hard once a year and normally during the growing season. This allows the new growth to appear before winter. Be careful not to prune certain shrubs before they flower. An example is Plectranthus ecklonii which is just about to finish flowering.
Things to do in March:
- Prune shrubs that have finished flowering
- Mulch flower beds to prevent weed growth and water loss plus provide nutrients for your soils.
- Reduce the numbers of cuts to once every 2 weeks for your lawns.
- Repot indoor plants that have become root bound and too big for its pot. New soil rejuvenates those plants. Sprinkle some slow release fertiliser in the pots.
One very important instruction: have fun!
- This article is sponsored by Chris Dalzell Landscapes, specialising in landscaping, consultation, plant broking and Botanical tours. If you have questions, email [email protected]
The Independent on Saturday