Summer Gardening Challenges

Posted by on March 1, 2016

Contributor: Leonie Twentyman-Jones.

Photographs: Margaret Richards.

This has been a challenging summer for gardeners, as Esther has discussed in her excellent articles (see ‘Gardening in a Changing World’ and ‘Dealing with drought and heatwaves’). Not only have the excessive heat and very little rain impacted on plant survival, but local wildlife has been short of food and has therefore taken to visiting gardens more often to boost their food supply. Areas on the urban edge like Hunters Home, Rexford and Pezula as well as Eastford and Lake Brenton have been experiencing more garden visits from baboons, porcupines and buck. The only unusual wildlife garden incursion we experienced on Leisure Isle was a brief visit from an Angulate tortoise – not sure if it was searching for food or water (possibly both), but it didn’t appear to stay long. On the other hand our tortoise may still be safely ensconced in one of the ‘exclusion areas’ of our garden – of which there are several.

rowing plants that will not be eaten by four-legged wildlife instead of the usual caterpillars, bugs etc., has therefore become the latest challenge and has led to experimentation with different species. For example, after learning the hard way that buck and porcupine love all sorts of lilies and agapanthus, a gardener at Lake Brenton is now successfully growing bromeliads.  Friends have given us three different species of bromeliad over the years. They have been growing quietly and undemandingly in fairly dense and dry shade, with the Matchstick bromeliad (Aechmea gamosepala) regularly producing flower spikes of thick pink bracts with iridescent blueish purple tips. The bracts retain their colour for ages as do those of the Silver vase plant (Aechmea fasciata).

Billbergia pyramidalis

Billbergia pyramidalis

Suddenly this summer the ‘Flaming torch’ (Billbergia pyramidalis) sprang into action and produced a host of dramatic red blooms with purple tips. The common name of this bromeliad is indeed an accurate description of its dramatic flowers. I then started noticing similar groups of these plants in other gardens throughout the Knysna area – all clearly responding well to the heat. Most bromeliads come from South America, with these three originating in Brazil – the home of the greatest number of bromeliad species. Interestingly the first bromeliad introduced to Europe was the pineapple – brought back from the West Indies by Christopher Columbus in 1493!

Billbegia pyramidalis

Billbegia pyramidalis

Bromeliads are generally easy to grow, require very little care and have brilliant, long lasting flowers and ornamental foliage. Many are perfect for areas where shallow soil and root competition makes growing plants difficult. This is because species that have leaves arranged in spiral – forming an ‘urn’ – collect water and other nutritious debris, thus making it possible for the plants to rely less on their roots for finding nourishment.  After flowering, the mother plant produces new plants known as ‘pups’ from its base. Once the ‘pups’ are well grown they can be separated from the parent plant in spring or early summer.

Vriesea sp.

Vriesea sp.

We have recently added one of the Vriesea bromeliads to our garden and are waiting with interest to see how the flower spike develops. You are sure to find something among the many different species in the Bromeliaceae family that will brighten up a corner of your late summer garden with minimum effort on your part!

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