Contributor: Leonie Twentyman-Jones.
Photographs: Margaret Richards.
Nemesias are one of our most beautiful annual indigenous spring flowers and deserve a place in every garden. In the wild they grow on the sandy flats of the West Coast, appearing in a variety of colours – white, yellow, red, orange, light blue and mauve. The flower has a similar shape to a snapdragon, no surprise that their Afrikaans name is Leeubekkie.
It is thanks to Hildagonda Duckitt, who sent seeds of the Nemesia strumosa to Suttons Seeds in England in 1890, that seeds of these little jewels are available throughout the world. Suttons soon hybridised the plant and created even more colour combinations. In those days the Duckitt family lived in the Groote Post homestead near Darling. In her classic ‘Hilda’s Diary of a Cape Housekeeper’ Miss Duckitt described the area she grew up in as ‘a flower-garden’ in September and October. She quotes a friend, newly-arrived from England as saying, ‘One cannot believe that all these flowers are wild, but think they must have strayed out of someone’s conservatory’. Today Nemesia strumosa’s conservation status is listed as Near Threatened. It has been estimated that over 80% of its habitat has been lost to wheat cultivation and their decline is continuing because of alien plant invasion and coastal development.
Nemesias are extremely rewarding and easy to grow on sandy Leisure Isle. Sow the seed in early autumn in a sunny position, water gently and cover with a layer of sand. The seeds germinate in two to three weeks. Seedlings can be moved as soon as they are large enough to handle, but they create a lovely show if they are planted close together, either in the ground or in pots. They flower from August to October. Seed can be collected from September onwards to make sure that you have a similar show next year. Even if you don’t collect the seed you will be delighted to find some plants coming up by themselves