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Let's celebrate our indigenous plants

Published Sep 22, 2015

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Cape Town - For gardeners, Heritage Day on 24 September can be celebration of the wealth of indigenous plants we can grow in our gardens; plants that are survivors of floods and droughts, of wind and heat, plants of wet winters and dry summers.

You may prefer to remain faithful to the simple wild flowers of our land, or include the ever-increasing range of plants developed from these species to increase plant vigour, better disease resistance and a wider colour range. Choose screening, foundation and low-level plants to suit your conditions and you will have a garden with year round appeal.

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Plants for screening

Pruned dune crow-berry (Searsia crenata) with glossy foliage is effective as a hedge, a screen and as a wind barrier for sun and sandy soils. The female plant bears red-black berries that attracts birds.

The indigenous dogwood (Rhamnus prinoides), with leaves that are glossy dark green on the topside and dull green on the underside, can be grown as a tree or clipped as a screen. The inconspicuous greenish flowers are sought after by bees.

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Nectar-rich Cape honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) can be grown as a screen, a tall shrub or a clipped hedge.

Honeybells (Freylinia tropica), with a slender growth habit of loosely spreading branches and small leaves, makes a good background shrub and a medium height screen or hedge.

Drought-resistant spekboom or green jade plant (Portulacaria afra), can be grown as a screen or hedge. This 2-3m shrub of unusual shape has succulent stems and fleshy leaves that retain moisture. Recent studies have found that it has carbon-storing capabilities.

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Foundation plants

The wild iris (Dietes grandiflora) has spreading fans of dark green, sword-like leaves that is always useful as an accent or filler plant, on a verge and on the perimeter of a pond. White flowers, similar in shape to those of the Dutch iris, have yellow and lavender-blue markings, and appear sporadically..

Every garden should grow agapanthus for their umbels of flowers in shades of soft blue to dark violet-blue that begin flowering in early spring and continue into summer.

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Indigenous salvias are water wise. The African wild sage (Salvia africana-caerulea) can reach a height of 2m. It has grey-green aromatic foliage and pale blue flowers pollinated by bees, is just right for a shrubby border, a fynbos or herb garden. Golden salvia (Salvia africana-lutea) grows to 1.5m in height and has aromatic grey foliage and yellow blooms that fade to brick-red then brown. Trim salvias to keep them neat and to encourage new growth.

The confetti bush (Coleonema album), has heather-like foliage and tiny white flowers in spring and summer. C. “Sunset Gold” is a compact shrub with pink flowers and gold foliage and C. “Sunset Pink” has darker pink blooms.

The gold foliage can burn in hot summers and when grown in semi-shade the foliage becomes more lime-green. Confetti bushes can be clipped into low balls to add contrast in a border.

Plants for low-level colour

Plants that hug the ground are disturbed very little by wind, making them less likely to be damaged. Some are spreading, while others form low mounds when planted closely together. Small shrubs, such as the kingfisher daisy (Felicia amelloides) with blue daisy-like flowers, and euryops with yellow daisy flowers can be planted closely to form a ground cover.

The carpet geranium (Geranium incanum) with finely divided grey-green leaves and magenta-purple flowers has a low mounded growth habit and makes a good groundcover among plants of bolder form.

The jelly burn plant (Bulbine frutescens) with orange or yellow flower spikes with frilly yellow stamens is heat and drought tolerant, grows in poor soils and blooms repeatedly. The succulent, evergreen grass-like foliage grows in clumps to about 30cm tall and makes an excellent groundcover. Plant in pots near outdoor entertainment areas so that the jelly-like juice in the leaves will be easily available for rubbing on insect bites and sunburn.

Suitable for light or dappled shade under trees and on shady banks, hen-and-chickens (Chlorophytum comosum) with plain green or green-and-white-striped straplike leaves spreads by vegetative plantlets that root when they touch the ground.

Providing they are given an open aspect, arctotis, dimorphotheca, gazania and ursinia will spread on flat and sloping ground to add splashes of colour on sunny days. Known as bacopa or sutera, the variety Bacopa “Breeze” with pink or indigo flowers is a fast growing groundcover. Sutera “Snowstorm” has larger flowers than the species.

Little pickles (Othonna capensis) is named for the bluish-green succulent leaves that look like baby gherkins. This is a succulent groundcover with small yellow daisy flowers that will grow in poor soil, but needs excellent drainage to avoid rotting in wet winters. A sunny bank would be ideal.

Kay Montgomery, Weekend Argus

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