Gardening in winter is not for sissies, particularly in the icy weather combined with wild winter storms we have been experiencing lately. Not since 2009 has the spring tide combined with very strong westerly winds leaving Leisure Isle rather battered round the edges and branches broken everywhere. The sea encroaches on pavement gardens killing the grass and exotic plants. Indigenous plants like restios, Strelizia regina and the hardy sour fig (Carpobrotus deliciosus) don’t seem to mind the salt. It will be interesting to see how recently planted succulents survive.
Winter is usually a time when the structure of one’s garden can be altered as the deciduous plants show their true shape after rather too much abundant summer growth. Plans for summer planting can be made, while watching the bulbs planted at the end of April bravely emerge from cold, damp earth.
However, every now and then a jewel winter day appears – clear, crisp, no wind and no rain – which tempts one to inspect the garden more closely. How exciting to find mid-winter flowers like dainty snowflakes, which I used to call snowdrops, but have now learnt are completely different, although they both come from the cold northern hemisphere! Apparently the taller snowflake (Leucojum aestivum) is better suited to our warmer winter gardens. Buds are already opening on the Cyrtanthus mackenii var. cooperi with its narrow yellowtubular flowers and the pink Veltheimia bracteata, purchased at last year’s Steenbok Park plant sale, are forming buds. Clusters of white, pink and purple flowers can be seen on the Buchu (Agathosma) shrubs, much to the delight of the nectar-starved bees.
These little gems add some variety to the usual winter palette of orange and red – aloes, red hot pokers and strelizia as well as the flamboyant red poinsettias. How lovely it is to see large poinsettia shrubs covered in flowers in some older Island gardens instead of the tiny pot plants that we now see at Christmas time. This is a northern hemisphere tradition, particularly popular in North America. I have heard that if planted out these miniature poinsettias soon grow into proper shrubs, once the dwarfing hormones they were treated with have been leached out of the soil – worth a try.
Text: Leonie Twentyman-Jones
Photos: Margaret Richards