Karomia speciosa
Karomia speciosa

Summer’s blooming amazing

By Time of article published Jan 17, 2021

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Your garden is a welcome refuge from Covid

Chris Dalzell

Durban - Wishing you all a happy New Year for 2021. It has been a different festive season because of the coronavirus, which has created so much uncertainty in our lives and which, over the past 12 months, has changed the course of the world we know.

Our holiday was cut short because the friend we were staying with caught Covid, resulting in us heading home immediately to be tested and to go into 10 days of isolation. Please be safe, follow the advice of the experts and, if possible, stay at home.

December and January brought lots of rain, typical of the summer weather patterns in the eastern parts of South Africa. Many families stayed at home so were able to keep the garden weeded and the grass cut. Summer is always a beautiful time of the year, with long, hot, sunny days and lots of rain. It is also an exceptionally beautiful time for flowering grassland plants, in particular terrestrial orchids, and wild flowers plus one of my favourite trees, the Cape Chestnut, Calodendrum capense.

We spent a week in the central Drakensberg, just before Christmas, hiking in the mountains and enjoying the grasslands, which were alive with flowers. Being high up in the central berg and seeing thousands of orchids in flower was a sight to behold. It is one of the places we can go and feel safe. If you can’t make it to the berg, enjoy many of the nature reserves around Durban that are mostly free, and which are safe for visitors. The Krantzview Nature reserve is only 18km from Durban, so try to visit over the next month and enjoy many of the summer flowering plants such as the Inanda Lily, Cyrtanthus sanguineus, which always flowers in January.

Erythrina humeana

January is also gardenia season, where one of our most beautiful indigenous trees, Gardenia thunbergia, flowers. These flowers only last a day or two, with the white, fragrant flowers turning a muddy yellow-brown colour before falling. The flowers that open at night are pollinated by the hawk moth. It is not a large tree, so is ideal for a small garden. Another small tree that flowers in summer is the dwarf coral tree, Erythrina humeana, with its extremely attractive red sprays of flowers standing proudly above the vegetation.

Let’s all make an effort to plant at least one tree per family in 2021. It is not expensive, and will provide housing for birds, monkeys and other living creatures plus improve the air quality for future generations. For my 60th birthday next month, I am going to plant 60 large indigenous trees in Kloof as my gift to the world.

When I was a young student back in the mid 80s, we grew and used extensively in landscaping the Holmskioldia tettensis, or Southern Chinese hats or wild parasol flower. The name has changed to Karomia speciosa, which consists of one specie with two colour forms. It flowers in summer and is best seen from December/February. The flowers are produced at the ends of the branches and this is a shrub you should plant for your summer garden. The flower base is pink to mauve, with a papery texture, and the main part of the flower is a deep violet to blue. Most times the main part of the flower falls off, leaving the purple to mauve base on the shrub for many weeks. In tropical to sub-tropical regions, it remains evergreen, but in the cooler temperate regions it will become deciduous and lose its leaves.

Karomia speciosa grows best in very dry, rocky slopes and wooded bushveld. It can either be a single-stemmed plant or multi-stemmed, growing to a height of 2m. Under ideal conditions, this shrub can be pruned hard every few years to keep its shape and train it into a handsome summer flowering shrub. It belongs to the sage or mint family, which consists of many herbs that produce essential oils and aromatic leaves. Sadly, it is no longer grown in many nurseries, but can be propagated either by seed or by cuttings, which should be from the previous year’s growth. It is not an easy plant to propagate, which is maybe why most nurseries do not grow it. Once propagated, it is a quick-growing, long-lasting shrub to small tree which prefers to be grown in the sun. If you can get your hands on one of these shrubs, grab it and plant it in a prominent position that can be enjoyed in summer.

Sandersonia aurantiaca
Scadoxus multiflorus subsp. Katharinae

Things to do this month

Enjoy the summer flowers of these: Agapanthus praecox, Gardenia thunbergia, Karomia speciosa, Crocosmia aurea, Plectranthus zuluensis, Gladiolus dalenii, Erythrina humeana, Scadoxus multiflorus subsp. Katharinae, Calodendrum capense, Orthosiphon labiatus, Bulbine natalensis, Cyrtanthus sanguineus, Aloe cooperi, Kniphofia praecox, Eucomis autumnalis, Sandersonia aurantiaca.

Cyrtanthus sanguineus

Prune shrubs before autumn: This allows them time to recover and produce sufficient growth for the next season. Prune shrubs to at least a third of the size of the plant. Use a sharp pair of secateurs, which will prevent any damage to the delicate branches.

Cut lawns at least twice weekly: This will keep your lawns healthy, produce a healthy root system, prevent damage to the grass if it gets too long and encourage new growth. Top-dress with a well calibrated and even mix of river sand, compost and well decomposed bark. Do not use a thick layer of top-dressing because this can damage your lawns.

Fertilise all your indoor and outdoor pots: Use with a slow-release fertiliser such as osmocote. If plants are root-bound in the pot, remove the entire plant, clean off all the old growing medium, plus dead or damaged roots, and repot into a larger pot with new growing medium. Water well so that the water runs out of the bottom of the pot. Check for insects on the leaves and roots.

Collect seed of many of early summer flowering bulbs: Crinum macowanii and Crinum bulbispermum are two extremely easy bulbs to collect seed from and propagate. At the end of the flower spike, you will see a large head of seeds which will burst from their coating. Take each seed and place on top of a tray with potting medium or river sand. Cover the seed partly. Within a few days these seeds will all germinate. Once they get to a decent size with leaves and roots, remove and plant in the garden.

Continue to plant your veggie garden: Best to buy seedlings in trays of 4-6 and ensure you give the soil lots of well-decomposed compost that will provide nutrients to the soil and allow the new roots to grow quickly. Monkeys are a problem, but the effort will be worth it.

Happy gardening

  • This article is sponsored by Chris Dalzell Landscapes, specialising in landscaping, consultation, plant broking and botanical tours. If you have any questions, email [email protected] or visit www.chrisdalzellinternational.com

The Independent on Saturday

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