I suppose every gardener hears it from time to time: ‘Go with South African plants’ they say. Some of us shake our heads and think of the veldt. It seldom looks like anything we’d like in our front yard! We’d far rather think in terms of formal, English country style informal or even Oriental-style gardens. We’ve all seen the pictures and we have a clear idea of what we want.
The good news is, you can create any style of garden you like using indigenous plants, and if you’re smart in your choices, your plants will perform better than anything exotic.
Apart from your gardening success, you will be able to congratulate yourself for helping to preserve our South African Plants and biodiversity. You will also be rewarded by wildlife and birds who will appreciate your efforts by making themselves at home in your yard.
Of course, ‘indigenous’ doesn’t necessarily mean that a plant belongs in your specific area, only that it comes from South Africa . If you’re a Valie with a love for Cape Flora you can create a lovely Fynbos garden, but it will require careful selection of material and site, just as you have to be careful where you plant roses if you want them to thrive.
South African plants, like any other plant, do need a certain level of care if you want a showy specimen. Most of them need less water than their exotic counterparts (unless they are adapted to grow in wet places such as along rivers) but will need extra water during the first few months after planting so that their roots can become established in the soil.
During dry periods, they will also benefit from extra water. Remember, there is a difference between what a plant can tolerate and what it actually likes. You yourself will look and feel at your best when conditions are favorable and tend to look a bit sickly and stressed when they are not. Your plants are no different.
Pruning encourages bushiness, or can be otherwise used to shape a plant to your needs. An unpruned plant will grow any old how, and might not give you the effect you would like. If you are uncertain about how much of a plant should be pruned off, or are afraid of killing it, prune often and lightly. Ericas are a good example of plants that benefit from occasional light prunings. In general, it is safer to leave some leaves and soft growth and prune only the tips, just beware of pruning off the growth that will give you flowers by being as informed as possible regarding flowering season and whether the plant flowers on this year’s or last year’s growth.
Most South African plants are adapted to grow on soils with a low level of nutrition, but they do need some food from the soil, so top dressings of organic or chemical fertilizer will be of benefit. If your plants are growing slowly and tend to have yellowish foliage, give them a good feed. Always follow the instructions on the pack and beware of giving Fynbos too much Phosphates. We usually give Fynbos a little less fertiliser at each dosing than one would give another type of plant.
As for colour:,we have a whole rainbow of South African plants to choose from. Plan perennial beds and borders so that you can take advantage of the different flowering times, shapes, colours and textures.
Does this sound like high maintenance? Well, there’s definitely maintenance involved in any type of garden, even one that is paved over with concrete, but as your garden establishes itself, you will have less and less to do. With good planning you could end up with a really low maintenance garden. The trick is simply not to make the mistake of trying ‘no maintenance’ gardening as this is bound to lead to disappointment.
If you would prefer to stick to South African plants that occur naturally in your area, consult your local garden center, they may not have all the answers, but they will know where to find them. If they are not passionate about indigenous gardening, they are probably not passionate about plants or gardening by definition, and you should try somewhere else.
Planting indigenous is trendy, environment friendly, proudly South African, sensible and, yes, practical! Just remember the rule of thumb: put the plant in the right place and treat it right and you are destined for gardening success!