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Winter’s all white

Pavetta lanceolata (weeping bride’s bush)

Pavetta lanceolata (weeping bride’s bush)

Published May 15, 2022

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Chris Dalzell

Durban - I am Hiking with six American friends in Cornwall in south-west England and enjoying everything that makes an English spring so special.

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We are hiking about 120km along the coast where the weather is warm and sunny and the wild flowers, specially the bluebells, are in bloom. I will then join a group from South Africa to tour the gardens of England and the Chelsea Flower Show. What fun it is to be a gardener and enjoy plants all over the world.

May is always a special time in Durban, with lovely warm, sunny days, cool evenings and very little rain. We are heading towards the flowering of our winter gardens. The early flowering aloes, especially aloe pluridens, are in full bloom and will remain in flower for the next few weeks. Aloes produce an enormous amount of nectar, attracting a few nectar feeding birds and butterflies. These birds then pollinate these flowers, which is fun to watch.

Plants with white flowers have been popular for centuries. We are blessed with a palate of plants that make most countries envious, and I only use indigenous plants which attract butterflies and birds and provide colour throughout the year. Here are some of my favourite white trees, shrubs, and groundcovers to plant in Durban.

Trees

Gardenia thunbergia (white gardenia): Small, compact, evergreen tree that grows to a height of 2-5m with fragrant white flowers in late summer. Grows best in full sun and in a well-drained soil. Flowers pollinated by a hawkmoth which then produces a large seed pod that can remain on the tree for many years.

Xylotheca kraussiana (African dogrose): Perfect for a small garden. Produces fragrant white flat rose-like flowers in spring. It is the food plant for the blood red Acraea butterfly which lays its eggs in late summer and produces beautiful small red butterflies in May. Evergreen to semi-deciduous tree other than when leaves are eaten by the caterpillars of the butterfly. Can be pruned, but usually grows 3-6m high.

Rothmannia globosa (September bells)

Rothmannia globosa (September bells): Small evergreen tree that grows to 7m and belongs to the coffee family. Produces fragrant white scented bell-shaped flowers in September. Flowers are short lived but a perfect tree for small gardens. Grows and flowers in full sun and in shaded forests.

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Pavetta lanceolata (weeping bride’s bush): Compact large shrub to small tree with lanceolate evergreen leaves. Grows in full sun and produces masses of white fragrant flowers in early summer. Perfect for a small garden.

Craibia zimmermannia (peawood)

Craibia zimmermannia (peawood): Evergreen small tree to 4-5m that produces fragrant white pea-shaped flowers in late spring. Slow growing.

Shrubs

Turraea obtusifolia (honeysuckle tree). Small ornamental shrub that flowers profusely from January to March. Perfect for a small garden to hide an ugly area as it grows quickly and flowers for many months. Easily grown from seed.

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Mackaya bella (forest bell): Evergreen shrub that grows in deep shade to 4m and requires very little attention. Produces masses of trumpet-shaped white to light lilac flowers. Easily grown from cuttings. Can be cut back once a year.

Plumbago auriculata (leadwort). Quick growing shrub that can produce many white and blue flowers that attract many butterflies. White shrub is often used for contrast. Easily grown from cuttings and once established require very little attention.

Groundcovers and bulbs

Dietes grandiflora (wild Iris). Common groundcover, standing just under a metre, fills areas and hides ugly walls and buildings and requires very little attention once established. Flowers in mass when there is a change in weather. Plants can be divided and replanted.

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Zantedeschia aethiopica (arum lily). Likes wet areas in full sun. Requires very little attention once established. Flowers August to October.

Crinum macowanii (river crinum).

Crinum macowanii (river crinum). A deciduous bulb used by traditional healers for several cures. It has large strap leaves which are either eaten by the Amaryllis caterpillar or disappear during its dormant period. In full growth it produces a large head of fragrant flowers with light pink stripes on the leaves. Found mostly in wet riverine areas.

Galtonia candicans (summer hyacinth)

Galtonia candicans (summer hyacinth). Summer flowering bulb found in grasslands. It has strap-like leaves and white snowdrop-like flowers in summer. Spectacular in mass, it will flower each December-January.

Agapanthus dwarf white: Easily grown from seed and from divisions. White flowering agapanthus are very common and include the large white flowering heads. Try to plant in mass or around rockeries.

Most aloes push spikes out at this time of the year and many of the species are already in flower. They flower in winter and you can either get the single stemmed species such as aloe ferox and aloe marlothii or multi-stammered varieties such as aloe arborescens. They are easy to grow, require little water and suffer from very few diseases, except a white scale insect that attacks some of the species. Best thing to do if you see this scale is to remove the leaves and check that it has not spread to other plants. Aloe flower in conjunction with leonotis leonorus and one of my favourite landscaping groundcovers, crassula multicarva.

What to do this month:

  • Reduce your grass cutting to at least every three weeks. Lawns go into a form of dormancy in the short cooler days. No need to water if you have treated them well over summer and allowed good root growth. Wait until spring before applying a topdressing of lawn dressing.
  • Reduce the size of a few of your shrubs by selective pruning which allows the shrub to produce new growth and does not stress it. Add the leaves and branches to your compost heap.
  • Take leaves which have fallen from trees and spread them over your soil as a mulch. This improves soil texture, prevents weeds from growing and prevents water loss. It is a natural form of landscaping and soil rejuvenation.

Take time to enjoy the beauty of autumn. Go for a walk or sit in a park and just contemplate life. It is good for the soul. Happy gardening.

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

The Independent on Saturday

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