Stars of the winter garden

By KAY MONTGOMERY Time of article published Apr 10, 2013

Share this article:

Johannesburg - Autumn has arrived and night temperatures have dropped. Now is the time to start planning colour for winter.

Your winter and early spring garden will not be dull if you design borders with bedding plants. The joy of gardening with bedding plants is that you have almost instant colour, and because they are not permanent, you can try something different every year.

There is no limit to what you can achieve with these rewarding plants if you use them imaginatively. Use compact varieties to edge paths and as groundcovers for spring bulbs. Let those with a trailing habit spill over low walls, pots, window boxes and hanging baskets, and use taller plants to provide splashes of colour between perennials.

In the home garden, plant uniformity is not of primary concern, and plantings are even more interesting when there are variations in height. Grow a vertical tapestry of colour with climbing sweet peas on a trellis and give them a low frill of bush sweet peas.

Pansies and violas

Of all spring-flowering annuals, pansies with their cat-like faces and rich and varied colouring and markings, and in colours to please everyone, have remained an all-time favourite.

You could choose the old-fashioned charm of cream, lemon, rose and burgundy “Antique Shades” against a background of bronze foliage, or a mixed grouping of rust, gold and wine-coloured pansies to create a tapestry in colours rich and glowing. Line a path with a wide carpet of mauve and blue pansies, or for something more sophisticated, plant a bed of white and black pansies.

Viola flowers may be smaller than pansies, but make up for this with their long and generous flowering. Some are plain coloured, while other varieties are striped and blotched. Viola “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” has white, pale and deep blue flowers and is pretty in pots. Viola “Tigers Eye” with gold petals and radiating black veins is unusual and striking.

Sun or shade

Grow sweetly scented white, pink and lavender alyssum in a sunny position, between paving, in pots, edging borders, and as a carpet for taller growing annuals, perennials and bulbs.

Let petunias, another sun lover, spill from hanging baskets, brighten dull borders and liven up patio containers.

In light or semi-shade the pink and white English daisy Bellis perennis would make a charming groundcover for “Foxy” foxglove. A dainty filler for shady places is Primula malacoides in white, pink and lavender.

Spread a quilt

If you admire the glorious spring flowers of the Western Cape, plant a patchwork of dainty blue flax (heliophila) among Namaqualand daisies, and combine orange and gold nemesias with the blue daisies of felicia.

Plant Livingstone daisies between pavers, in rockery pockets and on slopes where their daisy-like flowers will flower in brilliant colours on sunny days.

Texture and shape

While colour is what first attracts gardeners, don’t overlook the value of form and texture. As well as their beautiful colours, bedding plants come in a variety of flower and foliage textures and shapes.

The silken flowers of poppies provide splashes of soft and bright colours in late winter and early spring gardens. They are equally at home in a meadow or cottage-style garden, in beds or in a sunny border.

The deep blue flowers of the Cape forget-me-not (Anchusa capensis) are perfect with the rich colours and velvety textures of snapdragons. The bold flowers of apricot, orange or yellow calendulas are attractive in a flower border and in the vegetable patch.


Now is the time to plant petunias. In the border, plant a mixture of pink petunias in all their tints and tones, or those in apricot shades. Mix yellow and purple petunias in hanging baskets, place pots of hot pink petunias to draw attention to a flight of steps, and cascading pink “Apple blossom” with deep blue petunias in cobalt blue pots at the entrance.

Planting guide

* Dig and rake soil and remove any lumps

* Add compost, superphosphate and a general fertiliser

* Choose bedding plants with sturdy growth and healthy leaves

* Water prepared ground, as well as seedlings in their trays, the day before planting

* Plant out during the coolest part of the day, or preferably on an overcast day

* Water well after planting

* Feed every two weeks with a dilute liquid fertiliser

* Deadhead regularly to prolong flowering


Bulbs are ideal for planting up in containers. Now is the time to plant early spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodil, grape hyacinth, ranunculus, freesia and ixia, which will brighten any sunny patio or entrance this spring.


The colourful autumn-flowering ribbon bush (Hypoestes aristata) from the Eastern Cape is being discovered anew by eco-friendly Highveld gardeners. Not only is it a favourite with bees and other insects, it is also one of the preferred nectar plants of many butterflies, and these in turn bring insect-eating into the garden.


Use your autumn leaves this season. Remove fallen leaves from lawns, steps and paths, birdbaths and ponds. Spread a layer of fallen leaves across borders and flower beds as a winter blanket for the soil. A thick layer of leaves will reduce moisture loss, regulate the temperature of the soil and eventually break down, releasing nutrients into the soil. - Saturday Star

Share this article: