Sweet little violet, where did you come from?

Sweet little violet, where did you come from?

The fire and the accompanied windstorm of last year brought with it surprise packets  of seeds.  In my neighbourhood abandoned plots have become seedbeds for unwanted wattles, bugweed, peanut butter cassias, vincas, Flanders poppies, campions, cherry tomatoes, gooseberries etc.  Some wonderful indigenous species also sprung up;   Blue fountain bush (Psoralea affinis), Cape mallow  (Anisodontea scabrosa), Pokkiesblom  (Hermannia hyssopifolia), and miniature arum lilies, (Zantedeschia sp.)    In my garden a pure white form of sweet violet  (Viola odorata) appeared,  it is pretty little plant, however the scent is not quite as alluring as the purple violet.   The delicate fragrance of sweet violets has won them a place in the hearts of most gardeners for many centuries. The origin of the violet, a member of the Violaceae family, is lost in antiquity.  One of the ‘Adonis flowers’, the tiny charming flower, so richly endowed with delicate perfume and exquisite royal purple colour, was the symbol of Athens, the proud emblem of Athenians, as much revered by them as the rose of England is cherished by the English, the shamrock by the Irish, and the fleur-de-lis by the French. The violet has – perhaps more than any other flower – been used to express regard, faithfulness and love.  Called the symbol of modesty (because of the shy manner in which the blooms nestle among the leaves) it is also associated with motherhood.  Celebrations of mothers and motherhood can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who held festivals in honour of the mother goddesses Rhea and Cybele, but the clearest modern precedent for Mother’s Day is the early Christian festival known as “Mothering Sunday.”  On that day all servants were permitted to go home to visit their mothers, and as Sunday fell during the flowering season of the violet, it became customary for them to take home a bunch of sweetly-scented violets. Once a major tradition in the United Kingdom and parts of Europe, this celebration fell on the fourth Sunday in Lent and was originally seen as a time when the faithful would return to their “mother church”—the main church in the vicinity of their home—for a special service. Over time the Mothering Sunday tradition shifted into a more secular holiday, and children would present their mothers with flowers and other tokens of appreciation. This custom eventually faded in popularity before merging with the American Mother’s Day in the 1930s and 1940s. Although violets are grown primarily for their scent and delicate beauty, they have culinary uses, too, and they were once widely used medicinally.  During the medieval period the violet was included among the plants that were regarded as ‘powerful against evil spirits’.  It was cultivated mainly for...

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Indigenous geraniums.

Indigenous geraniums.

Many people find the difference between Geranium and Pelargonium confusing for both belong to the family Geraniaceae, and pelargoniums are often commonly called geraniums. The difference is very easy to see: it is all in the shape of the flower. Geraniums have a very simple circular shaped flower with five equal sized petals while the pelargoniums have huge variation in their irregular shaped flowers that usually have two petals pointing up and three petals pointing down.         Geranium (Wayside garden centre}                                        Pelargonium (Davenport garden centre) Around the world these perennials thrive as wildflowers.  Famous for their delicate, jewel-toned flowers, attractive foliage and a low mounding habit they make the ideal plant for a wildflower garden Plants from this family, especially the geraniums and pelargoniums, have been hybridized and are widely cultivated the world over for their spectacular displays of flowers and striking colours. Geranium is a genus of 422 species of flowering annual, biennial, and perennial plants that are commonly known as the cranesbills. There are 33 species in southern Africa of which 4 species occur in the Cape.  (I’m discounting the introduced species which have naturalised in many parts of our area) In the surrounding areas of Knysna  we have 3 indigenous species: Geranium incanum var. incanum, Geranium incanum var. multifidum  and Geranium ornithopodon. The name Geranium is derived from an ancient Greek word geranos, a crane, referring to the similarity of the long beaked fruit (seed capsule) to the bill of the crane, incanum = hairy, hoary,  grey or silver coloured,  multifidum = many divided (referring to the leaves), ornithopodon = “bird feet”, from the Greek ornithos (“bird”) and pous (“feet”); … Geranium incanum Burm.f. var. incanum Family: Geraniaceae Common names: Carpet Geranium; Horlosies, Vrouetee, Bergtee, (Afrikaans); ngope-sethsoha, tlako (Sotho). It carpets the verges of national roads and covers large patches of grassland at the coast.  The leaves are deeply divided with the odd leaf turning shades of yellow, orange and red. Distribution and habitat It occurs naturally in the southwestern and eastern parts of the country where it can be found scrambling about through natural vegetation. They are plentiful in Steenbok Nature Reserve, Leisure Isle and can also be seen along the N2 to George. Uses This plant is used traditionally by both African  and Europeans to make a medicinal tea from the leaves which is used to offer relief from certain complaints such as bladder infections, venereal diseases, and conditions relating to menstruation. Growing Geranium incanum Planted near walkways, they soften the edges, in rockeries they can be tucked into crevices creating a softness in a hard landscape. Geranium incanum is easily propagated from...

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Broad-leaved Bulbine.

Broad-leaved Bulbine.

Bulbine latifolia (L.f.) Roem. et Schult. From Latin: bulbus and Greek bolbos: an onion of bulb and  inus– indicating resemblance or possession, latifolia = wide leaves,  curvata = curved Pronunciation: BUL-bin-ee    lat-ee-FOH-lee-uh Family: Asphodelaceae Common names: broad-leaved bulbine (Eng.); rooiwortel, geelkopieva (Afr.); incelwane (isiXhosa), ibhucu (isiZulu)   Bulbine latifolia is one of the largest species in the genus. They are found in Knysna along the sandstone cliff facing the Lagoon.  You will see them clinging onto the top sandstone ledges, just above the conglomerate strata. They suffered somewhat when we had the fire last year, but I was delighted to see a few survived and are showing some promise that the colony will recover and flourish again.  In my own garden they also managed to cling on to life:  healing took place during the summer and autumn months and now they are rewarding me with a fantastic show. They can easily be identified by their aloe-like growth. The leaves are triangular-lanceolate with faint lines and an absence of marginal teeth on the leaves. They bear elongated racemes of small yellow flowers. There seem to 2 variants:  the one growing in Knysna is Bulbine latifolia var.curvata. The leaves of this variant re-curves slightly, and are soft  and very fleshy.  Distribution is from Knysna to Eastern Cape. Bulbine latifolia var. latifolia has more upright and stiffer leaves that are also significantly darker in colour. The flower stems are also slightly longer than B.latifolia var.curvata, and more showy, making this species a wonderful garden subject.  B.latifolia var.latifolia is restricted to Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga. Ecology Bulbine latifolia is pollinated by insects. The ascending inflorescence with fruiting capsules and winged seed is an adaptation to being wind dispersed. Fleshy leaves store water and making it drought tolerant and an ideal water wise garden plant. This plant is well adapted to disturbance such as grazing and trampling as it  regenerates easily from seed. Uses Bulbine latifolia is popular with traditional healers. The roots are used, taken orally to quell vomiting and diarrhoea, but also for a number of other ailments, including diabetes and rheumatism (Van Wyk et al 1997). The leaf sap is used to treat wounds, burns, eczema, rashes and itches. I have found that slicing the leaf in half and placing the juicy parts on sunburned or steam burned areas not only gives instant relief, but  also there is no blistering. Growing Bulbine latifolia: It is best grown in full sun. The soil should preferably be enriched with compost. It also grows well in containers with a sandy mixture enriched with compost. It is relatively pest free, but may have occasional fungal infection causing dark leaf spots. These can be treated with a fungicide. This fast grower is ideal for a...

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Has a smell or taste ever brought back your childhood memories?

Has a smell or taste ever brought back your childhood memories?

A while ago, Hilary Haarhoff gave me a little rue plant to ward off insects in my veggie patch.  For months on end this little plant struggled, perhaps not liking the new position where I planted it, but lately it’s  flourishing, keeping the few veggies I have free from unwanted critters.  Perhaps it likes the peas I planted, perhaps it likes me now? For the first time  I planted some peas this year.  With all the trees gone on the neighbour’s side, I  now have ample sun for half the day, ideal for growing veg. The vigorous Green Feast variety of peas have climbed up the wire fence at an alarming rate, first sending out flower stalks with the prettiest white pea flowers:  the fragrance not quite as strong as the ornamental Sweet Peas but still very alluring. The pods develop very quickly,  and over a few  weeks they ‘fatten’  up, ballooning to encase up to 10 or 11  peas in the pod. This ‘pea patch’ is next to my washing line – every morning results in a treasure hunt for pods ready to harvest.  There is nothing more satisfying than to snap the pods off the bush, opening them up, and popping  the sweet deliciousness  in the mouth. Memories came back of me as a little girl sitting in the ‘pea patch’ (not pee patch!) in our Sabie garden.  Accompanied by my little dog we feasted on what was on offer – one pod for me, one for her.  Don’t know if that was the cause of her early death, but at least she had a happy life! Back to Rue –   the smell of rue brings back another childhood memory – that of my Granny’s garden on a farm near Louis Trichardt (Makhado).  Just as well the smell was so off-putting that I never picked the pretty flowers,  as rue is known to cause skin rashes. She most probably grew it for medicinal purposes, or who knows she may have used it in cooking, or heaven forbid witchcraft! The rue herb (Ruta graveolens) commonly known herb-of-grace, is considered to be an old fashioned garden plant.  In the ancient Roman world, the naturalists Pedanius Dioscorides and Pliny the Elder recommended that rue be combined with the poisonous shrub Oleander to be drunk as an antidote to poisonous snake bites. I do wonder if anyone survived that concoction! I think the patients ‘ chance of survival was better with snake bite alone! Rue is also a common ingredient in witchcraft and spell making. During the Middle Ages it was a symbol of recognition between witches. The Catholic Church also used a branch of rue to sprinkle holy water on its followers during this time known...

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A Magical Plant

A Magical Plant

We have all heard about plants with medicinal properties, some of us have experienced them.  A very simple one, for example is the sap of the bulbinella, which when squeezed onto an insect bite has an almost instantaneous soothing effect. There are many others – some need to be boiled, others need to be chopped or rubbed, or made into a poultice etc. etc. But what do you know about plants with magical properties?  (I’m not referring to mushrooms).  I am sure we all know of plants which can instantly change one’s mood. You don’t have to eat them, you just have to look at their perfect shape or colour or smell their wonderful scent. Each of us will have different reactions to particular plants.  Wandering into your garden clutching your first cup of tea, and seeing a newly-opened perfect rose, can make the whole day feel special and somehow lift your spirits. The heady scent from the Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Brunfelsia pauciflora) bush takes me back instantly to the first time I encountered the shrub many years ago in the Johannesburg garden of my great-aunt. I feel again the amazement and delight I felt as a small child to see one shrub with three different coloured flowers, all flowering at the same time, and with such a gorgeous scent! So although its home is in the Brazilian rainforests, and it doesn’t really fit into a Southern Cape largely indigenous garden, this shrub will always be welcome in our garden. What a lovely surprise it was to find a little old Brunfelsia quietly growing at the back of the garden – in spite of being totally smothered by a rampant bougainvillea. All it needed to start a new lease of life was some light and air, as well as some nourishing compost and a good mulch in summer to protect its roots and retain moisture. These shrubs are fairly hardy as long as they are in a warm and sheltered position and are happy to grow in sun as well as in semi-shade. If their leaves become pale and yellow they need a foliar feed of iron chelate and 2-3 tablespoons of Epsom salts watered in around the roots to correct the pH of the soil.  They can also be grown in pots near an open window so that their delectable scent floats into your home. Just remember that not all Brunfelsia species are scented, so do smell the flowers before buying. Leonie Twentyman-Jones Photographs: Margaret Richards   Share this:Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter...

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Stop the Illegal trade in protected plants in Knysna

Stop the Illegal trade in protected plants in Knysna

Vendors at the municipal dump are illegally selling Satyrium orchids to the public. Some of these orchids have a vulnerable status (meaning they are on the brink of extinction).  The likelihood that these plants will survive replanting is very low, as the environmental factors where they occur in the wild are hard to replicate in domestic gardens. It is appalling that gardeners can place orders for these plants and pay a pittance to these vendors,  who have no idea about  protected status or vulnerable plant species.  Furthermore, all the parties involved can be fined, because  ALL orchids are protected by law. So, anyone out there who has committed this ‘crime’ –  SHAME ON YOU. Share this:Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new...

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