THE ULTIMATE SURVIVORS – SUCCULENTS

THE ULTIMATE SURVIVORS – SUCCULENTS

If nurseries were to develop a group of plants perfectly suited to the lifestyle in the 21st  century, they could not do better than nature has done over hundreds of years, in creating the succulents and its fellow cacti plants. They can thrive because their stems, leaves and roots can store water over long periods of time. With water becoming scarcer over much of Southern Africa, water wastage is no longer an option for gardeners. Although it is not correct to say that succulents and cacti thrive on neglect, they do require less water and care than many other plants. A characteristic to be admired in today’s busy world where few people can devote as much time as they would like to garden maintenance. 

WHY INVEST IN SUCCULENTS

An increasing awareness of the fragility of our planet led to indigenous plants and water-wise succulents being planted both in public spaces as well as domestic gardens, aiming at limiting water wastage. The capacity to save water makes these plants an ideal plant for every homeowner. 

Succulents come in all shapes and sizes. They range from trees, such as the tree Aloe to miniature soil-huggers, like Bulbine sp. Their spines and tough skin make them highly resistant to pest and predators. They need less pruning and fertilizers because they tend to grow slower. Feeding with an organic fertilizer once a year and a prune to keep them neat is all it will need. 

THE VERSATILITY OF SUCCULENTS

Fortunately, for those with limited outdoor space, many cacti and succulents need only a place in the sun to thrive – even a narrow window sill will do. One succulent that will grow well without any direct sunlight at all is the Mother In Law’s Tongue, making it a good indoor pot plant. Succulents can also provide a blaze of colour at various times of the year, such as Crassula Campfire with its bright red foliage, or with their flowers, like the Aloe arborescent. With their architectural shapes, succulents combine well with modern domestic dwellings and office buildings. They are also good container plants, from a small teacup to a large cement pot. Succulents also make great cut flowers – alone or bunched with other blooms. 

Some succulents are cultivated for their juice-filled leaves, roots or stems which are a natural medicine, like the Aloe Vera. Portulacaria afra (Spekboom) is also a good food source and one of a kind as a carbon-sequestration (binding atmospheric carbon) plant.

Succulents and cacti are among the most useful and strikingly beautiful plants of the Southern African landscape and quite often we are unaware of the botanical jewels around us. 

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GROWING CRASSULAS

GROWING CRASSULAS

If you are looking for water-wise, low maintenance plants, indigenous Crassula is just the plants you need. In South Africa, there are more than 150 species of Crassulas growing, and their shape, leaf colour, size and flowers set them apart from all the other members of the stonecrop family.

The best reason for growing Crassulas is their diversity. They are hardy, evergreen, easy-to-propagate and grow.  They attract bees, butterflies and other insects to your garden.  Crassulas are the right plants for any garden.

Crassulas are invaluable groundcovers –

Particularly in dry gardens. Crassula capitella ‘Campfire’, Crassula capitella ‘Red Pagoda’ and Crassula fragilis are great for covering up dry open spaces. For those dry shady spots, Crassula multicava is the one, and even Crassula fragilis can grow under dappled shady areas.

The foliage colour –

The Crassula capitella ‘Campfire’ foliage colour turns from lime green to rich orange and even red when exposed to the sun and water – a real eye-catcher. Crassula capitella ‘Red Pagoda’ and the Crassula ovata’s red edges, Crassula ovata ‘Gollum’ or ‘Shrek’s Ears’ different texture and the Crassula ovata ‘Sunsets’ yellow edges are a good contrast against other green-leaved plants. Crassula ovata is a great flowering shrub for wintertime. It’s known by its common name, Jade Plant or Pink Joy because of its stunning display in winter.  This is when it’s covered in masses of pale pink, star-shaped flowers. Bees and butterflies love them.

Crassulas are ideal plants for containers, vertical gardens, hanging baskets and retaining walls

Crassulas planted in containers can provide you with year-round interest and reduce the amount of time and money you spend. Container planting is ideal for those with little or no space for gardening. Crassula muscosa, with the common name ‘Rastafari’ – named for its dreadlock-like stems – is a good container plant, as well as Crassula ovata. Crassula pellucida and Crassula spathulata are great vertical gardens, hanging baskets or retaining wall plants.

Crassula tetragona and Crassula ovata make great bonsai specimens

Crassula tetragona can also be used as a living Christmas tree for years.

Crassula species can also be used as indoor plants – 

Provided they have a warm sunny position close to a window.

Crassula species lives up to many expectations. They are wind resistant, tolerant of coastal conditions, grow easily in any well-drained soil with plenty of compost added.  Note that they need to be watered sparingly in summer. The only thing Crassulas don’t like is frost.

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GET YOUR HEAD IN THE STARS WITH THE STAR JASMINE

GET YOUR HEAD IN THE STARS WITH THE STAR JASMINE

Trachelospermum jasminoides

Common name: Star Jasmine

Trachelospermum jasminoides is an exceptional evergreen climber from China and is not only grown for its fragrant little white flowers, but also for its delicate foliage.

A truly lovely climber with a dense habit and glossy dark green leaves, with new growth in the spring showing as lime green. Noted for its diverse uses, either a climbing twining plant or as a low spreading groundcover plant. They twine themselves round anything and is famed for its reliability to cover anything.  Particularly effective at providing screening for fences or for growing over trellises and pergolas. Trachelospermum jasminoides is also a good container plant with or without a framework. The fragrant, white, star-shaped flowers from October to January and are produced in abundant clusters, with a divine scent, especially at night.

Star Jasmine thrives in full sun to part shade and prefers fertile, well-drained soil, however, they need a fairly sheltered position from cold winds and frost.  They are, also, drought tolerant when they are fully established. Fertilise them with compost after flowering and give them good mulch to keep the soil cool. They are fairly fast-growing once established.

Being low maintenance, prune groundcover plants after flowering and also trim climbing Star Jasmine to keep it neat. Be careful when pruning because the stem contains a white milky fluid that can irritate your skin.

Being fairly pest-free, fragrant, low maintenance and water-wise, the Star Jasmine deserves a place in every garden.

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GORGEOUS GRASSES FOR EVERY GARDEN

GORGEOUS GRASSES FOR EVERY GARDEN

Planting grasses in your garden is low maintenance and mostly water-wise.  They are becoming more and more popular as a landscaping plant too. Planting in mass, it makes a brilliant display and can be used in both large and small gardens in full sun. Grasses are useful for preventing soil erosion and prefer well-drained soil. Water well till established, give a good mulch after planting and keep soil healthy by applying compost once a year. Removal of dead leave matter in winter is necessary to keep grasses neat.

Melinis nerviglumis

Their common names are Red Top Grass or Bristle-leaved Red Top.  These grasses are pretty, tufted grass with a slightly blue, green leaf and a shiny pink inflorescence. They are an easy grower and attractive grass to any border or garden.  It is native to Southern Africa and the flower heads appear from spring to summer.

Aristida junciformis

The common name is nGongoni grass (Zulu).  It is a handsome, very hardy, thick grass with mauve plumes that sway beautifully in the wind during summer and autumn. It will grow in wet, clay soil as well as under normal garden conditions. nGongoni is considered to be the best grass to make brooms from.

Eragrostis curvula

The common name is weeping love grass. It is a robust, densely tufted grass that produces many long hanging leaves and cream plumes in early spring. It is fast-growing grass and valuable as a forage for livestock.

Eragrostis capensis

The common name is heart seeded love grass. It is a hardy, densely perennial grass with blue-green leaves of which the bases are usually purplish and the flower spikes are plump, heart-shaped spikelets in yellow. Heartseed love grass is a very hardy, fast-growing grass.

Themeda triandra

The common name is red grass which grows in dense tufts with red-brown spikelets on branched stems in summer. The foliage comes in many shades of green and turns reddish when older. This very hardy grass is also known to be fire resistant and a fast grower.

Ornamental grasses are highly valued as low maintenance plants and many grow well in poor soil. They provide interest for most of the year, are hardy and resistant to pest and diseases and are fast-growing. There is an ornamental grass for nearly every garden situation.

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CHINCHERINCHEE – WHAT WOULD I DO WITHOUT YOU?

CHINCHERINCHEE – WHAT WOULD I DO WITHOUT YOU?

No other plant shouts ‘spring has sprung’ like South African Ornithogalum thyrsoides.  Common names are chincherinchee, Star of Bethlehem or wonder flower.

Where you can view Chincherinchee

Take a drive along the N1 between Paarl to Cape Town and especially on the R304 from Joostenbergvlakte towards Philadelphia.  The fields, on both sides, are covered in the white shiny flowers from September to December.

chincherinchee

A Bulbous Plant

Ornithogalum thyrsoides is a bulbous plant that is endemic to the Cape Province, growing wild from Caledon to the West Coast. In nature, it prefers sandy plains and lower parts of mountain slopes. Growing in your garden, they prefer a sunny position with healthy soil and they do particularly well in a sloping garden with good drainage. Ideally, plant the bulbs in autumn.

Pretty Flower

chincherinchee

For winter growing, Ornithogalum thyrsoides are a rewarding plant for pots, window boxes and gardens. The leafless flowers stalks rise above the basal foliage of strap-shaped bright green leaves which usually die back when the plant is in flower. The flower heads consist of dense, conical spikes of 20 to 30 cup-shaped white flowers adorned with centres tinged green-brown that fade with age. This pretty flower provides a pretty burst of white among the green leaves in spring of home gardens. The flowers last a long time in a vase, making it a popular plant with florists and flower markets. It is also exported worldwide as a cut flower. Interestingly, if the stems are put into water containing a large portion of food dye, the flowers take on the colour of the dye. Hence the common name wonder flower.

Propagate by dividing the bulbs after blooming is over and all the leaves have died back or are sowing fresh seed. 

The yellow Ornithogalum dubium is a less known variety with smaller and shorter flowers.  

TAKE NOTE: Ornithogalum species are toxic to livestock.

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