Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Many of Southern Africa’s Aloe species are about to bloom, attracting bees, butterflies and a vast array of garden birds. Enjoy the spectacle.

Barbara Jeppe described 139 species of Aloe in ‘Aloes of South Africa”. There are aloes flowering somewhere in the region throughout the year. The peak months are June, July and August, the bleakest and driest months for most of southern Africa. In these months the countryside comes alive with thousands of red, orange and yellow blooms of many aloe species, thereby ensuring survival for many bird species.

The larger aloes may have trunks that are partially or fully clothed in old dry leaves. Others are bare and branched like Aloe bainsii, growing to 15m or more in height. The trunk is beautifully striated. The tree aloe makes a handsome garden feature. Aloe arborescens is a dense, many branched shrub aloe. In the Transkei Region of the Eastern Cape province, this aloe has been used to create kraal fence, dense and impenetrable, and an excellent windbreak.

Aloe thraskii is the dune aloe found in KwaZulu-Natal’s dense dune forests, often close to the pounding surf. It is very easy to propagate for seaside homes. Aloe ferox (red aloe) is considered to be a very heavy producer of nectar. An Eastern Cape ornithologist recorded the following bird species visiting Aloe ferox —various sunbirds, black-headed orioles, fork-tailed drongos, weaver birds, pied starlings and  speckled colies. In KwaZulu, Aloe marlothii has been known to attract doves, various tinkers, flycatchers, glossy starlings, canaries, warblers, crombecs, scimitar billed wood hoopoes, babblers, scrub robin, black tit, penduline tit, white-necked raven and yellow throated sparrow.

Aloe candelabrum is a showy aloe in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands. Most of the smaller aloes are stemless and carry less nectar, however, they may be better suited to smaller gardens.  Aloe saponaria, A. chabaudii, and A. pluridens come to mind, the last growing under shade conditions in coastal bush.  A. cooperii, a summer-flowering grass aloe, grows taller under damp conditions. Aloe wickensii, a native of Limpopo Province is possibly one of the most beautiful, which in full bloom appears bi-coloured, the many branched flower spikes like yellow-topped red pyramids.

Many aloe species tolerate a wide range of habitats. Propagation is easy but conditions for their native area should be simulated as much as possible. Grow them from truncheon, cuttings or seed. A branch of A. bainsii, thrust into the ground in situ will take root quickly.


Aloes are protected species and may not be collected from the veld, or sold, without a permit. Offenders face severe fines.

The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) sells seed and publishes a seed catalogue on its website For photos and cultivation information on hundreds of aloes and other indigenous plants, go to SANBI’s plant information website

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Most South Africans plant too early for Spring and many bulbs benefit from late planting due to the drop in ground temperatures. Keep your planting to the important focal points, and containers, for best effects and ease of maintenance.  


Anemone, ranunculus, tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, sparaxis, nemesias, calendulas, Iceland poppies, petunias (in frost free areas) and pansies.

In the shade (with two to three hours of sunshine) plant primulas, cinerarias, treated daffodils, hyacinths and tulips as well as begonias and foxgloves.

Your June Diary (Part 2)

June will bring the first frosts to some parts of the country. If you live in area that has frost water the garden in the morning so that the foliage is dry before sunset. Remember to keep covers handy to protect tender plants.


These need little attention at this time of the year except to be mulched and watered every three or four weeks in the summer rainfall areas. Shrubs established in containers can be planted throughout the year, but if shrubs are to be moved from one part of the garden to another this is best done in July or August but you would be wise to prepare the holes for them this month. Dig large square holes, break up the soil at the bottom and add 500g to one kilogram of superphosphate to the bottom spit. Avoid using fresh manure or immature compost in the holes.

Tender climbers such as sweet peas, bougainvilleas, mandevilla splendens etc should be protected at night by draping them with hessian or commercially available frost protection material. Remove the hessian every morning. In summer rainfall areas water the plants about once a month.

In areas where heavy frost is experienced, use hessian to protect tender young trees until they have grown above frost height (i.e. at least two metres tall).


As the early cabbages and cauliflowers are harvested remove the stumps, chop them up and put them in the compost heap. If left in the ground they will attract pests. Pick broad beans when the pods are well-filled, if left on the plants too long they will become tough. If the plants are attacked by aphids spray them with Kelpak 66 liquid seaweed, this will chase the aphids away and feed the plants at the same time.


The first of the winter/spring flowering bulbs will start opening in June and the main concern is to keep them well watered when the weather is dry. As the beds develop, a fortnightly application of soluble fertiliser with the addition of some liquid seaweed will increase the size of the blooms and improve the colours.  There are several brands of soluble fertiliser on the market.

Remember to check the Gardening is Easy blog regularly as I will continue the Garden Diary as a permanent feature. 

Thursday, May 21, 2009


ANISE (Aniseed) (Pimpinella anisum)

One of the most ancient herbs, indigenous to Egypt, the Levant and eastern parts of the Mediterranean. It was first cultivated by the Egyptians and then by the Greeks and Arabs. It is an annual (height 45cm,  spread 30cm) which looks rather like celery with  deeply cut leaves and numerous small white flowers borne in compound umbels and these are followed by brownish, aromatic ribbed fruits. As they do not transplant easily, sow the seed in situ in spring and thin them out to stand 30cm apart.  The soil should be light, porous, alkaline and not too rich.  Gather the seeds in late summer when ripe.  The seeds can be sprinkled over cakes, pancakes, young carrots and parsnips, or used in salads and stews. 


Herb gardens look as good as they smell and its worth a little planning to achieve a fine show of shape and colour.

The history of herbs and herbalism dates back a long time. There is a tablet (a record of herbs used for medicinal purposes) in the British Museum, which was at one time in the library of Ashurbanipal, King of Assyria 668-626 BC, stating at the end that it was copied from a much earlier tablet which was written in about 2200 BC. Among the plants identified in this are figs, dates, caraway, coriander, anise and willow. Chinese and Indian records indicate that opium, ginseng, rhubarb, garlic and birch bark were among plants used long ago. And so, down through the ages herbs have played an important part in both medicines and cooking.

Gardeners are often advised to grow their herbs outside the kitchen door where they will be handy. Foolish advice here in the southern Hemisphere where the kItchen often faces south and offers a shady, cold situation, quite unsuitable for herbs which must have sun and warmth to thrive.

When laying out a herb garden, whether formal or utilitarian, divide the plants into two groups, those that enjoy very well-drained alkaline soil and those which do best in good, moist soil.  Make sure the tall-growing plants will not overshadow  smaller ones and plant the rows running north to south. In small gardens, grow a few herbs among the flowers where they will not be out of place.

Over the next few weeks I will deal with a wide range of interesting and popular herbs. The type of soil and growing conditions for each herb will be described. Never over-water those which need well-drained soil and a sunny position, many of which come from the Mediterranean region.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Brighten up your home during the bleak winter months with window boxes, containers and pots filled with colourful plants — and pretend that Spring is already here.

The range of plants that will bloom indoors in the Winter months is surprising.

Some are genuine winter-flowering plants, others are really spring-flowering plants which are encouraged to bloom half a season early, either by the warmer conditions indoors or by controlling the number of daylight hours.

I have focused on a few plants that will flower during the Winter, and listed several more, so fill your windowsills with bright blooms at a time when cheerful colour has the most impact.

AZALEA (Azalea indica)

These beautiful plants are available in a wide range of colours. They normally flower from May to July, provided they have the light location that all flowering plants relish. Their second most important requirement is that roots should never be without water.  Keep thoroughly wet by plunging the pot into a tub of water at room temperature, whenever the base of the main stem turns brown, which should be every two or three days. The pot should be immersed until all the air bubbles from the soil have escaped.

The plants should be placed in a good position away from direct heat. The best room temperature is between 10 degC and 15 degC.

Maintain a humid atmosphere around the opening flower buds by spraying regularly with clean water. Once the cold months have passed azaleas can be left out in the garden in partial shade. They should be watered and fed regularly with a weak feed.  In colder climates they should be brought indoors in about mid-April and should never be left outdoors in frosty weather.

CINERAREA (Senecia Hybrida / Senecia cruenta)

These bold winter flowering annuals are usually sold in pots ready to bloom. The daisy –shaped blooms are in dazzling colours which include red, blue, mauve and purple.

They need regular feeding from mid-Autumn, and flower best in a position where they get morning sun. They are one of the very few plants that do best if they are watered every day. Cinerarias should never be allowed to become dry at the roots, for once these plants wilt they rarely revive completely. If they wilt soak the pot and contents in a basin of water for 30 minutes.

Give occasional weak feeds during the flowering season and plants should continue to flower for several weeks. Humidity will help to prolong the flowering period.  Discard the plants after flowering.


  • Daffodil (Narcissus)
  • Cyclamen (Primulaceae)
  • Begonias (Begonia Elatior)
  •  African violets (Saintpaulia)
  • Camellias (Theaceae)
  • Crocus (Iridaceae)
  • Blue sage (Eranthemum pulchellum)
  • Slipper orchids (Paphiopedilum insigne)
  • Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima)
  • Kalanchoe (Blossfeldiana)

Your June Diary

During the cold winter months here in the southern hemisphere plants still require watering and feeding. Now is the time to attend to all those maintenance chores which have been neglected and by July the winter annuals and early spring flowering bulbs should provide a riot of colour in the garden.


The first of the winter/early spring flowering bulbs will start opening this month and the main concern is to keep them well watered when the weather is dry. As the buds develop a fortnightly application of soluble fertiliser with the addition of some liquid seaweed will increase the size of the blooms and increase the size. Not only does liquid seaweed have trace elements in it but it also helps plants to absorb other nutrients.


Winter flowering pot plants such as cinerarias, primroses, hyacinths an cyclamens must be watered regularly and fed using Multifeed every two weeks or  plant sticks as directed on the containers. Other pot plants such as ficus, peperomias, rex begonias and dieffenbachia can be watered less frequently but the soil must not be allowed to dry out completely.


As the winter/spring annuals start blooming remove the faded flowers promptly, this not only encourages the plants to produce more flowers but also keeps the garden looking tidy and fresh.  Feed the plants regularly. Pansies are gross feeders and to produce larger blooms they must be fed every two weeks. Feed sweetpeas with special sweetpea fertiliser or 3.1.5 once a week. Dissolve a tablespoon of 3.1.5 in 5 litres (household bucket) of water and apply this to a running metre of row.  Rwmove the tendrils and side shoots from the plants regularly and tie them to the trellis as they grow.

If you are going to propagate your own seedlings rather than buying seedlings fro nurseries, prepare the seed pans for sowing bedding begonias and petunias next month. Put a layer of finely sifted soil on top and level carefully.


In the warm coastal areas the lawn can be mown if it is necessary. In dry inland areas water the lawn occasionally but thoroughly.

Check this blog regularly as we will continue the Garden Diary as a permanent feature