Isn’t it amazing how a few days of warmer weather and gradual changes in the length of each day can make such a difference to the spring garden? Almost every day there is something new bursting into flower, old favourites putting on their spring finery, more bees and butterflies arriving and the scent of Jasmine everywhere. Not to mention increased bird activity – clouds of seed eaters like the little Cape Canary and Streaky-headed Canary to feast on all the weed seeds, as well as Laughing Doves, Cape Bulbuls and Cape Robins searching for suitable nesting areas, and the Cape Weavers hard at work (and voice) weaving their intricate nests. The Laughing Dove invariably chooses the most inappropriate sites, and is currently sitting proudly in the gutter above our lounge window trying to convince her mate that that is a good spot. Hopefully once the Wisteria has its leaves she will move there, but at the moment only plump buds are forming accompanied by the explosive burst of the pods scattering their seeds far and wide.
Spring foliage is particularly lovely, my favourite being that of the – a delicate pinky bronze – which in summer turns to dark green. Golden yellow flowers set off the foliage perfectly, later forming shiny black fruit with bright red sepals – hence Mickey Mouse – which are dearly loved by the Red-eyed Dove. This lovely small shrub is an asset to any garden.
There is something very special about plants that produce their flowers on bare branches before the leaves arrive, like deciduous species of Magnolia and Tamarisk. Sometimes mistaken for Tamarisk, is the Ginger bush (Tetradenia riparia), an aromatic shrub indigenous to KwaZulu-Natal and further north, that has a spectacular show of pink, white or lilac flowers on bare branches in early spring. This rewarding plant is easy to grow and will flower in its first year. It is best propagated from cuttings.
Spring time is of course Clivia time – so many gardens in Knysna have magnificent displays of this beautiful forest flower. All the species are indigenous to South Africa – four from KwaZulu-Natal, one from the Eastern Cape and one from the Northern Cape. An alarming fact is that the plant is under threat in the wild because of being harvested for the traditional medicine trade. The only species not used for muti is the Clivia mirabilis from the Northern Cape. Look out for the Clivia miniata pollinators – swallowtail butterflies – in your gardens.
Contributor: Leonie Twentyman-Jones
Photographs: Margaret Richards