Gardening is a fickle occupation. There are so many trends which may influence the spontaneous gardener: we older and wiser gardeners have seen it all before . We all experienced the trendy ‘tropical garden’ trend 40 years ago, a “must have” – even in a frosty Johannesburg garden. Cocus palms and cycads were the order of the day, not forgetting the ambiguous Australian treefern.
We had to have conifer gardens – their demise came swiftly in the form of a fungus that killed them off by the thousands. Then came the Birch forests, dozens of these northern hemisphere trees were grouped in threes or fives to form thickets of white trunks. The fact that they did not particularly like the hot summers and got all sorts of diseases did not deter the passionate follower. However when their competitive root systems made other plant growth virtually impossible, this trend too died an untimely death
The charming cottage style garden will remain a firm favourite with the older generation. This style complements the architectural grandeur of yesteryear – whether it is a small cottage or a stately home. It is never garish or in your face. The same applies to the Mediterranean style garden, very suitable for the modern landscape as it incorporates trendy use of grasses, topiaries, olive trees etc.
With the onset of climate change and shortage of water, we change to indigenous and water-wise gardening. Plant indigenous, was the mantra, again we followed the trend. Never mind planting fynbos species in unsuitable areas, where they dwindled into yellowing, leafless specimens of the fynbos group. We persisted, replacing with the same species, piling on compost and soil conditioner – after all, it has a better home now than before, lots of food and water, why doesn’t it flourish? Fynbos gardening is not as easy as it is made out to be, it has very specific needs and requires regular attention and trimming- back as plants become woody and leggy.
The latest trend is succulent gardens – perhaps the most lasting garden trend ever as they are durable, easy to maintain, relatively disease free, waterwise, fireproof and have interesting leaf forms and textures. Very much the ideal solution to all gardening problems? Not always.
The latest “must have” plant is the tree aloe (Aloe barbaraea) This aloe grows huge, 15 to 18m high. Although the tree has a shallow, spreading root system, care should be taken not to plant it too close to buildings as the ‘foot’ or base of the trunk can grow to huge proportions. So often you see them planted right next to the front door or by swimming pools: watch this space – trouble is coming!
All plants and gardens have specific needs. Be prudent in your choice of style and plants. No matter which trend you are following remember the joy gardening brings. Life in the garden is never boring because something new is always happening every day. A new seedling is sprouting, a shrub is coming into flower, fruit is ripening, or a butterfly is busy sipping nectar – all wonderful reasons to revel in the uniqueness of each gardening day.