Article: Leonie Twentyman-Jones.
Photos: Margaret Richards.
While there is no doubt in my mind that indigenous plants have coped better with our hot, dry summer, I do feel that there is a strong case for combining them with heat-loving plants from other countries – Mediterranean and South American plants in particular.
The intense colours of bougainvillea and hibiscus, for example, create striking backdrops for our tall white elegant agapanthus. Agapanthus have done exceptionally well this summer – there was a garden at Wilderness which must have had over 50 blooms in flower simultaneously. Agapanthus grow from a rhizome with lots of thick fleshy roots which enable the plants to survive without water for some time – a huge advantage at present. As their colours range from white to various shades of blue and purple, they are an asset to the colour schemes of most gardens, particularly grown en masse.
An exotic flowering shrub which is often overlooked nowadays is the rewarding Abelia grandiflora, originally from China. This hardy sun-loving shrub has been covered in its little white trumpet-shaped flowers contrasting with delicate pinkish foliage all summer long. It has provided food for numerous sunbirds, white-eyes and the bar-throated apalis, as well as providing a wonderful support for the indigenous scrambling flame lily (Gloriosa superba). This climber needs support so that the tendrils at the end of its leaves can find numerous branches to cling onto, thus displaying its attractive orangey-red flowers, resembling little flames, to their best advantage.
Another good combination is the dependable daylily planted en masse in front of golden yellow Cape honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) and /or blue plumbago. Both are easy-growing shrubs that do well in dry and windy conditions, like full sun and flower most of the summer. The tecoma should flower mainly in spring and autumn, but ours has seldom been without flowers this summer and has provided welcome food for a variety of birds.
I believe that no garden should be without lavender and rosemary, in spite of once being told that growing borders of lavender is ‘so eighties’! Bees love the flowers and the aromatic leaves have many well-known uses, both medicinal and culinary. Birds have planted the soft grey-leaved Helichrysum petiolare (Kooigoed) amongst the lavender. This hardy sun-loving indigenous plant with its big heads of small creamy flowers looks quite at home with the lavender and is equally enjoyed by the bees.
The birds and I are all in favour of growing low maintenance, hardy plants which need minimal care during the long hot summer. This ensures that I have more time to refill the bird baths several times a day. In spite of adding two additional baths this summer there is a very often a queue of birds waiting their turn. Roll on autumn!