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Gardening: 6 must-do’s for a beautiful garden

A floral spectacle from the karomia speciosa or southern Chinese hats.

A floral spectacle from the karomia speciosa or southern Chinese hats.

Published Jan 22, 2022



Durban - Firstly, a very happy 2022 to all readers of the ’Independent on Saturday’.

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January is a lovely time of the year for flowers. Three special summer-flowering plants are gardenia thunbergia trees and shrubs orthosiphon labiatus or shell bush with its pink flowers that stand up above the foliage and karomia speciosa or southern Chinese hats with its mauve flowers. Both attract butterflies that feed on the flower nectar plus bees involved in pollination. The shrubs need to be cut back once a year after flowering to keep the plants in shape and size.

In planning and maintaining your garden, there are at least six points you must be aware of to ensure that you get the best out of your garden.

Site selection: Sadly, when you buy a house, you don’t have much choice on the garden, its soil type and what exists on the land. First, identify what you want to keep and what you want to remove. Take soil samples from different parts of the garden to assess what type of soil you have. This will tell you what you need to add to improve it and what type of plants you can plant. Is it a sandy or clay? Does it lack macro and micro elements that you will need to add? Does it drain quickly when you add water or does it hold the water? Is it rocky or sandy? All these elements are important when you select your plants.

Hard landscaping: This includes all elements such as pathways, driveways, staircases, swimming pool, fencing, security, drainage, soak pits, lawn and entertainment areas. This makes up the structure of your garden that will determine what plants go where. It is vital to get this right from the beginning because you don’t want to establish a garden and then have to dig it up to put in a fence or driveway. This is often one of the most difficult areas to sort out when buying a home with an established garden.

The aloe cooperi flowers in summer.

Landscape plan: If you don’t know what you want, call an expert. A landscape designer will study the layout of the house and your property, assess the topography of the land and the hard landscape areas. Next will be identifying planting zones such as forest areas, the selection of plants to hide neighbours or ugly walls and building for privacy, sunny and shade areas, colourful areas near the house for beautification, herb and veggie gardens, installation of water tanks to capture the water off the roofs, irrigation points and retaining walls to stabilise steep banks.

Once this is done, here is an important consideration: the designer should not bully you into a design if you have ideas of your own, but should guide you to establishing a garden that will tick all the boxes.

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Plant selection: I cannot emphasise how important it is to select the right plants for your garden. Your garden will be divided into different themes which include herb and veggie gardens, flowering garden, shade and sunny areas, forest areas and natural areas. Enthusiastic but inexperienced gardeners can make very expensive mistakes because plants are generally not cheap and if you spend thousands of rand on plants you know nothing about, you can lose them quickly.

The erythrina lysistemon flowers in winter.

Does the plant grow in the shade or in full sun? Does it require water or dry conditions? How big does it grow and when does it flower? Try to select plants that flower at different times so you have flowers throughout the year. Most aloes flower in winter, although you do have a few that flower in summer such as aloe cooperi and aloe greenii. Select trees that flower at different times of the year. Erythrina lysistemon flowers in winter and gardenia thunbergia flowers in summer. Select shrubs that flower in summer and winter. Orthosiphon labiatus flowers in summer and leonotis leonurus flowers in winter.

The leonotis leonurus flowers in winter.

Make sure you understand plants’ growing conditions, especially its root system. I see too many trees and plants with root systems that will in a short time damage walls, pools, soak pits and other structures. Figs are a prime example of a very invasive root system. Often, plants will germinate through seed dropped by birds or monkeys. Remove these as soon as you see them, before they become too big.

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This is why I write these monthly articles: to help you select the right plants. We have such a huge diversity of plants in South Africa. Do you want to go local indigenous or add some exotics? Water-wise plants that require very little water or maintenance; shade or sun-loving plants; indigenous or exotic; plants to attract birds and butterflies; flowering plants throughout the year; trees depending on the size of your garden; lawn area and which is the best lawn for your garden; selection of pots for placement around the house to create interest. All are important when selecting plants for your garden.

The “I don’t have green fingers” expression is a fallacy. Everyone can grow plants. Often it is up to you. Select the right plants for the right part of your garden. If you have a wet bog area, you obviously won’t grow succulents there. You will put in plants that like wet feet and generally grow in wet areas. Conversely, you wouldn’t put plants that like water in a succulent garden.

Soil improvement: If you have poor soil and you don’t improve the quality, you will always struggle. Remove weeds, most gardeners’ nightmare. Try not to turn the flower beds because the roots that have established provide carbon for the soil, hold it in place in heavy rain and protect it from eroding. There is a huge drive world-wide to encourage farmers to not till their land before planting as the roots that have established from the previous year’s crop provide carbon for the soil and prevent wind and rain erosion. Add organic matter in the form of compost or decomposed organic matter to help rejuvenate the soil, allow good drainage, and improve the quality of the roots. Once you have planted your garden, mulch all your flower beds with leaves that have fallen from your trees or decomposed bark which you can buy from most nurseries. This provides soil nutrients, prevents water loss and controls weed growth. This is one of the most important aspects of creating a healthy garden. If you do this, you probably won’t have to fertilise your garden as mother nature will do this for you.

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Maintenance: This is the part most gardeners hate as it requires manual labour to remove weeds. Any exposed part of your garden will let in sunlight and allow weed seeds to germinate. That is why mulching is so important because it prevents the sun from reaching the dormant seeds and allowing them to germinate and grow. Remove weeds before the roots get too big and become competition for nutrients and space your plants need. Weed seed comes in the compost you buy from suppliers which is very difficult to prevent. When you prepare a new flower bed for planting and you turn the soil, this allows dormant seed to come to the surface and for the sunlight and water to allow these seeds to germinate. That is why new flower beds fill with weeds so quickly. So, mulch them as often as possible, remove weeds physically before they get too big, monitor the growth of your plants and ask advice for help if stuck.

Happy gardening!

  • This article is sponsored by Chris Dalzell Landscapes, specialising in landscaping, consultation, plant broking and botanical tours. If you have any questions, email [email protected]

The Independent on Saturday

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