We all admire the magnificent hanging baskets of the UK, the bold colour combinations and the wonderful choice of plant material. You may be interested to know that two of the most popular plants used, originate here in the Garden Route; Lobelia erinus and Pelargonium peltatum.
For the last 8 years I have explored the Garden Route in search of flora specimens for a website which I hope will be launched sometime next year. So far I have over a thousand images, 7 of which are Lobelia species. Some of them like wet, waterlogged ground, others like stony hillsides. One thing they have in common is a love for a sunny position and beautiful azure blue flowers.
While there are numerous varieties of lobelia plants, only a few are commonly seen in the home garden. Although most varieties are compact, growing only 8 – 20cm tall, others will grow up to 75cm. Colours are also variable, with white, pink, red and blue species available. However, violet-blue is probably one of the most commonly seen. These plants make great additions in borders, around ponds, as ground covers, or in containers—especially hanging baskets. Annual lobelia will grow nearly anywhere. Lobelia seeds can be sown directly in the garden or indoors for later transplanting. These plants typically require an area with full sun but will tolerate partial shade. They also prefer moist, rich soil.
Spread the tiny seeds just on top of the soil and water thoroughly. Place them in a warm, well-lit area. The seedlings should pop up within a week or two, at which time you can begin thinning them out. Once the seedlings are established transplant them to the garden—spacing about 10 t0 15cm apart.
The small bedding lobelias all come from the southern and south-eastern Cape. L. erinus was discovered in the Cape by Frances Masson (1714 – 1806), the first officially appointed collector from Kew sent to the Cape of Good Hope. He sailed out to Cape Town with Captain Cook on the Endeavour, Cook’s second great voyage of exploration.
Masson was remarkably enterprising and diligent, sending over 500 new species to Kew after his first tour. Ten years later, after a trip to the Azores, he returned to the Cape and again travelled extensively – on one occasion he made a 300km trip to the Olifants river, also travelling through the Karoo and other remote areas. His important contribution to the world’s knowledge of Cape flora should not be underestimated.
Among the hundreds of plants species discovered by him are no less than eleven lobelia species, one of which was L. erinus. This species is certainly the most well known of the genus and one which together with its cultivars has proved the most popular and useful to gardeners.
It was introduced to the British public in 1759 by Phillip Miller, who cultivated plants and seeds sent by Masson in the famous Chelsea Physic Gardens. It became immensely popular and has remained a garden favourite until today. Lobelia was named in honour of Matthias de L’Obel (1538 – 1616). He was Flemish, and was recognised as one of the finest continental herbal writers of his time.
While here the Blue Lobelia must have spun
Her azure robe from fragments of the skies
Brought by the dew that on her bosom lies!
~ Mary Boyd, The Veld