Trumpeting beauty of a pergola
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The winter spectacle of flowering aloes makes this season one of the most colourful times of the year. I spent last weekend in the north-western part of KwaZulu-Natal and saw tens of thousands of the mountain aloe, aloe marlothii, in flower.
No matter where you drive in South Africa during winter you will be treated to the spectacle of flowering aloes so enjoy them while they last.
We also have several trees, shrubs, succulents, and groundcovers that flower during winter for us to enjoy, and provide sustenance for birds and bees.
This month, we look at a wonderful structure to add shade and beauty to our gardens.
Pergolas first became popular in Italy in the mid-1600s and were later used by many famous English landscape designers in the 19th and 20th Century. If you ever visit some of the famous gardens in England or Europe, most will have pergolas as part of their design.
A pergola is a garden feature that creates a shaded walkway, on which flowering vines are planted. Today pergolas are designed as an extension to the house that leads to a shaded area outside the lounge or around the pool. It is important when building a pergola that it has a strong support structure both in the pillars and the cross beams as mature creepers become heavy with age. When selecting a creeper do your homework because this determines the success of your pergola.
One of the most beautiful creepers I have seen growing on pergolas in South Africa is the Port St johns creeper or pink trumpet creeper, podranea ricasoliana. It belongs to a famous flowering family called bignoniaceae which includes the jacaranda mimosifolio from South America, tecomaria capensis or Cape honeysuckle and kigelia africana or sausage tree.
Podranea is a rambling evergreen creeper that grows quickly. With careful pruning it can be trained to cover a pergola within one year and to flower the same year.
During summer (November to March) it produces fragrant pink-lilac trumpet shaped flowers on the branch tips of the new growth. Normally the flower stands up above the foliage but if the branches become too heavy these flowers will hang down from the pergola, thus showcasing the flowers.
It is grown all over the world especially in the tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world and in many of the Mediterranean regions of California, Australia, and Europe both as a creeper and as a container plant. Sadly, its natural habitat is under threat from farming, alien invasive plants and fire, making this specie vulnerable. It is found at the mouth of the Mzimvubu River at Port St Johns.
Podranea tolerates heat, full sun, wind, and drought, a little frost and temperatures below freezing. It will require lots of pruning throughout the year to keep it neat and under control. Pruning also improves flowering.
It is one of the best plants for pergolas because it gives lots of shade during the hot summer months. It has no tendrils so will need to be tied to supports. It is a wonderful plant for banks because where the stems touch the ground, roots form.
If you want to experience the beauty of the winter aloe display, here are some planting ideas:
Aloe arborescens (krantz aloe) develops into a multiheaded shrub 2-3m high with large colourful flower spikes borne in profusion during the winter months (May-July). Deep orange is the most common colour, but there are also pure yellow forms. The inflorescence is usually unbranched, with two to several arising from a single rosette. The flowers produce nectar and are attractive to many kinds of birds, in particular the small and colourful sunbirds.
Aloe vanbalenii (crawling octopus) is one of the most beautiful and distinctive aloes, with its long, twisted, and recurved leaves resembling an octopus. Leaves are copper-red when exposed to full sun, with marginal teeth of the same colour and bright green when grown in shade. The flower colour varies from different shades of yellow to orange. Flowering occurs June to August.
Aloe ferox (bitter aloe) is one of the best known South African plants with a long history of medicinal use. It grows on a single stem, reaching 2-3m in height with flowers (between May and August) carried in a large candelabra-like flower-head. Flower colour varies from yellow orange to bright red.
Aloe chabaudii (Chabaud’s aloe) is a multi-stemmed aloe that forms a really lovely large groundcover. When planted in mass it creates a beautiful show in winter with grasses and other succulent groundcovers as the flower spike stands high above the leaves. Easily grown from seed or divisions.
Things to do in winter
Mulch your garden with leaves that have fallen from the trees to protect roots, reduce weed growth, prevent water loss and provide nutrients for the soil.
Stop cutting your lawns to allow grass to rest and produce new roots. Do not water as lawns go semi dormant.
Cut back shrubs that have finished flowering to encourage new growth. Mulch around the root systems. Give the plants a once off watering to keep the plants alive during the winter months.
Do any construction work such as building staircases, rockeries or water features before the rainy season starts.
- 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]
The Independent on Saturday