Friday, June 26, 2009


So many gardeners who are successful flower gardeners seem reluctant to test their skills at growing herbs. I believe strongly that every garden needs a herb section, even if it is a few containers in a sunny courtyard.

Mediterranean herbs are some of the most rewarding plants you can grow. Their leaves flavour everything from meats, soups, and stews to pizza and spaghetti. And the plants add beauty to kitchen gardens — many are evergreen in temperate climates. Most tolerate drought and less than perfect soil (though they prefer excellent drainage).

My own herb garden contains some old favourites such as rosemary, parsley, sage and thyme, as well as newer introductions, such as conehead thyme (whose flavour is similar to winter savoury) and Italian oregano thyme (which true to its name is a thyme with oregano overtones).

Most herbs are tough, wild plants that have changed remarkably little despite centuries of cultivation. Almost all of them do best in sunny locations and fertile, well-drained soil, but some will survive in partial shade and poor soil.

Herbs can occupy their own part of the garden or they can be grown with other plants. Herb gardens are often arranged in intricate patterns to accentuate the contrasting colours and textures of their foliage.

To avoid confusion when sprouts come up, label each bed carefully. Better still, draw a precise map of your planting pattern. Plan the beds so that the taller plants do not cast shade on the low-growing ones.

I am currently working on plant profiles for a whole range of popular herbs that I will be adding to my website. In the meantime I will, this weekend, add a Herb Growing Basics feature to the site. Go to

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

ARUM LILIES — Plant some!

While you are planning what you are going to change for your summer garden this year, give some thought to including Arum Lilies

The familiar Arum Lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica), with its opulent and sophisticated pure white spathes which brighten up watercourses and wetlands throughout the region in spring and summer, belong to an indigenous genus which is restricted to the African continent. Seven species are recognised: Zantedeschia aethiopica, Z. albomaculata, Z. elliottiana, Z. jucunda, Z. odoratum, Z. pentlandii (Golden Arum) and Z. rehmannii (Pink Arum). The common arum is found from the Western Cape through the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and into Limpopo Province. It is evergreen or deciduous depending on the habitat and rainfall regime. In the Western Cape it is dormant in summer and in the summer rainfall areas it is dormant in winter. It will remain evergreen in both areas if growing in marshy conditions which remain wet all year around.

The white arum forms large colonies in marshy areas ranging from the coast to an altitude of 2,250m. Thus one will find them contending with humid, salt laden air at the coast and freezing, misty mountain grasslands at high altitudes. They are very versatile in the garden as a result.

For a much more in-depth look at Arums visit

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Although it is only mid-June I am busy developing the planting scheme for my summer annuals.  

I realised that I have not planted phlox (phlox drummondii) for the past two years. As I am looking for a brightly coloured display of profusely blooming flowers in a sunny area that has arisen because I had to remove an old tree, I am going to go crazy with phlox.

This is an old fashioned annual that deserves more recognition than it gets. The large clusters of flowers are very showy on compact plants. Compact is an understatement, as these plants grow only 15-45 cm tall. The most common Phlox is annual. There are also perennial varieties.

Phlox are great in containers or window boxes. A native of North America, the jewel-like flowers grow in clusters at the top of the stems. These bright coloured blossoms include shades of red, purple, scarlet, yellow, and white. Many new hybrids include striped petals.

Phlox are easily grown from seeds. Phlox seeds can be directly seeded into your flower garden or seeded under cover for transplanting later. For spring blooms, start indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost. Young seedlings will transplant well into their permanent home.

A more comprehensive profile of Phlox  can be found in the Annuals category of my website. Check it out at


Basil (Sweet Basil) (ocimum basilicum)

I am just crazy about sweet basil. I use it all the time in soups, pasta and salads and enjoy using basil pesto. I grow my basil in big, round, fairly shallow containers in a sheltered, sunny courtyard. I also grow parsley, rocket and mint in similar containers.

Basil germinates easily from seeds and these can be sown in trays in August and kept protected until all danger of frost is past. Once the seedlings reach the four‑leaf stage they can be transplanted easily into well-drained fairly rich soil. Place them 50 cm apart and keep them shaded for a day or two. If planted in situ, sow seeds in early summer when the danger of frost is past. Newly planted out seedlings do well with a little extra compost to keep the roots cool. They also need to be watered regularly to ensure lush succu­lent growth. Basil makes an easy pot‑plant for a sunny window‑sill in winter.

A full profile of sweet basil can be found in the herb category of my website. Check it out at Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Colourful Zinnias

For brilliant colour in the hottest, sunniest part of the garden, zinnias are ideal.

Zinnias are available in almost every shade except the blues, and in a range of sizes from tiny dwarf plants with charming miniature flowers to large plants with ruffled and curly petals (yes, the hybridists have been very busy, much to the advantage of this popular flower).

Zinnias are best used in massed garden displays. Dwarf forms grow to 20cm in height while large forms can reach 70cm or more. They prefer full sun with protection from very strong wind. They are best grown in warm or tropical areas but may not do well at the coast as they are prone to mildew in humid or damp environments.

For sowing and growing tips visit my website Check out the Annuals category for a whole lot of information about zinnias.


Annuals and the Flower Garden

Many Southern Hemisphere gardeners are fortunate as the mild climate allows them to have both summer and winter gardens. 

Annuals give life and sparkle to the garden, providing a change of scene from season to season and tear to year. It pays handsomely to take pencil to paper and plan the summer and winter bedding schemes before the sowing seasons. Use foliage plants such as euphorbia marginata, ornamental basil and grey leaved plants to tone down and blend bright colours.

For bright contrasting colours annual plants have no match. They can be used in massed beds, for filling in gaps between perennials and shrubs, and for an attractive show of flowers in tubs and hanging baskets. In most cases they are economical plants and need only a little time and attention from a gardener before producing results. Find a lot more about the flower garden on my website

Shrub gardens need planning

Whether your garden is a tiny subur­ban plot or several thousand square metres in extent, you can have year‑round interest and beauty by growing shrubs. But do the planning!

There are so many new housing estates, exclusive clusters and so on being developed around all our cities. What an opportunity for new home owners to lay out a great garden from the get go. Sadly, I have seen so many new gardens where the intrepid owner has laid out some flower beds, planted lawn, placed a few containers near the new pool and then . . .  stuck a few shrubs almost randomly around the garden without any thought to spatial relationship, height, texture, colour or anything else. 

Planted in good soil, shrubs require little or no fer­tiliser, very little pruning and seldom any spraying against pests or diseases. They will reward you in many different ways — by providing colour in the garden each month of the year and sprays of leaves, flowers or berries for indoor arrangements; by sheltering your home from wind; by creating a screen to ensure privacy; by introduc­ing variety in form and foliage texture, and a perpendicular line or mass; and by hiding an ugly view or framing a good one.

You do not have to be a highly skilled gardener to make a charming shrub garden. You need to know something about the kind of cli­mate they prefer, their height and spread, the season of the year when they are at their best, any special characteristics of their foliage, whether they are deciduous or evergreen, what soil they like, and what situation they prefer — sun or shade.

Every garden needs a master plan that will guide the long-term development of the garden, especially where trees and shrubs are concerned. Plan care­fully before planting because, once planted, shrubs should not be moved. Transplanting at a later date may not kill them if it is carefully done, but it entails a good deal of unnecessary work and may slow down the growth of the shrubs for a time.

I have just written a post for my website on planning a shrub garden. The article also deals with soil preparation so please check it out. Feel free to post your comments at the foot of the website page.


Hi everyone.  

I finally have my new website up and running so check it out at My plan is to eventually have a central reference point for plant information, gardening news, events, tips and ideas and more. It will be written in easy to read and understandable English and will hopefully become a great resource, especially for new or inexperienced gardeners. I’ll be adding to the site all the time so if you have ideas and suggestions they would be very welcome. Your criticism or any suggestions regarding factual information will also be welcome.


Friday, June 5, 2009


Red Hot Poker is the common name for Kniphofia (nee-FOF-ee-a). Not all ‘Red Hot Pokers’ are of that colour, for nowadays there are hybrids in white, yellow, pale orange and many shades in between.  

The true Kniphofia are indigenous to Africa  — there are approximately 70 species in Africa, and of these 47 occur in the eastern parts of South Africa.  One will often find them growing in places as far flung as the Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga provinces of South Africa. The one thing many have in common, even though some are 45 cm high and others are a massive 2 m is the need for good drainage.

Their roots penetrate to a great depth to find all they need even in poor soil. I have seen plants killed by kindness by applying manure and compost in the hope of feeding them well. One exception is Kniphofia ensipholia also known as Torch Lily. This white flowering plant is found growing naturally along watercourses, usually on marshy soil where water is abundant. It enjoys wet feet though in cultivation it can be grown in normal garden soil if enough water is provided.

Red Hot Pokers also prefer to be left alone for several years at a stretch and if planting or dividing one must be careful to avoid roots becoming dry through exposure, and by making a good deep hole so they are not bent or bunched after insertion. Spring is the best time for moving these plants.

Having an overall stately appearance, the taller growing kinds especially, are best grown in some isolation or with very much smaller plants in front so as not to detract from their impressive display.

Two of the most popular indigenous species growing in South African gardens are Kniphofia gracilis and Kniphofia linearrifolia.

K. gracilis is particularly useful when planted winter / spring flowering Watsonias that become dormant in summer.  The plant is easily grown from seed and will flower in the second year. Sow the seeds in a seed tray filled with a commercial seedling mixture and cover with with about 2mm of the mixture. Water well and keep the seeds in a shady spot until the seeds germinate in about two weeks. When the plants have about three leaves transfer them to bags to grow until they are sturdy. They can then be planted into the garden in a sunny, well drained position.

K. linearifolia grows well in rich soil in an open, sunny position or partial shade. It may be grown from seeds, which may take up to six weeks to germinate. Seeds may be sown in trays at anytime from spring to autumn. The seedlings may then be planted into the garden when they are 5-6 months old or 150 mm high and should be kept moist at all times.

The marsh poker can also be propagated from dividing large clumps, which spread by means of rhizomes. They may be lifted from the soil and divided with a sharp spade. Plant them in a well-composted growing mix (in a pot or straight into the ground) and water well. They should be kept moist until they are well established. The younger rhizomes respond well to division, whereas the older ones might struggle a bit, but can establish themselves.

Kniphofia linearifolia makes a brilliant display in a garden and the flowers last for a long time. The showy, bright-coloured flowers are ideal for adding a splash of colour to an area or making a bold statement. This plant can be used at the back of a mixed flower border, in groups in the front of a shrub border, or lining a long driveway. Flowers of this species also make excellent cut flowers.

Red Hot Pokers attract nectar feeding birds such as sugarbirds and sunbirds to the garden. They also attract bees and other insects which pollinate the flowers.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


The genus Helleborus covers a group of perennial plants from Europe and Asia. Virtually all are garden worthy, though the acaulescent (stemless) hybrids have become the most popular forms found in gardens.


The hellebores form by far the largest and most handsome group of winter flowering herbaceous plants. Throughout the genus there is a wonderful quality of sculptured perfection and classic poise, both of leaf and flower. They are conveniently grouped into two main sections, the ones whose flowers and leaves grow annually from the base, and the other in which they are borne from a woody stem produced the previous summer. All kinds like a little shade and shelter from he wind


Hellebores are gross feeders and amply repay a generous dressing of old manure in late spring to help them build up again for the next flowering season, for in the southern hemisphere they all flower from late June to early September.


Nearly every garden has a spot for hellebores, and the plants will thrive in many different environments. Still, they remain unknown to many gardeners despite their toughness, beauty, hardiness, and wonderful habit of blooming in winter when most other plants remain dormant.  The majority of hellebores are deep-rooted, stout plants. Once established, most hellebores make drought- tolerant plants, particularly if given some dappled shade in areas of long, hot and/or dry summers. Yet, despite the fact hellebores are almost invariably sold as shade plants, in most garden conditions they will perform their best if given some sun. Many species grow wild in open meadows with only short grasses to shade the earth around them.  


Most hellebores are relatively carefree plants. As with many ornamental perennials, adequate soil preparation is the key to long-term health and vigour. Though hellebores will grow in a great variety of soil conditions, a well-drained base containing plenty of organic matter suits them. Preparing deep beds will provide the extensive root systems plenty of growing room and potentially many decades of healthy growth. Ideally, the soil should receive regular moisture without being waterlogged. However, the plants are surprisingly drought-tolerant once established and can survive in less than optimum conditions.


One exciting way to grow hellebores is by sowing seed. Though it is nice to purchase a beautiful plant and put it in the ground, growing from seed can also be an enjoyable experience. Germinating seed is quite easy so long as you give them the conditions they need and exhibit a little patience (well, maybe a lot of patience is more accurate). Most plants will bloom in their third or fourth year.


Stemless hellebores divide fairly easily. Simply make sure to choose an established clump and dig up as much of the root-ball as possible.  Hellebores have extensive root systems, often deeper than the height of the plant.  Gently shaking or washing off the excess soil allows for better viewing. Though it is possible to divide at almost any time of the year in some climates, late spring and early fall generally provide the most opportune times for many gardeners.  Dividing hellebores is the only simple way to produce more of a special plant.  Careful hand pollination can result in many similar (or even superior) specimens, but seed-grown plants in many cases will differ significantly from the parent. Starting from seed is often the most efficient way to raise a healthy plant, however, given care and a mild environment, divided plants will also thrive.


BALM (Lemon Balm) (malissa officinalis - labiatae)

Comes from central and southern Europe. A perennial mint-like plant, it grows to between 60cm and 90cm high with a similar spread. The heart-shaped leave have a lemon scent when bruised. The tiny white flowers borne in scanty axillary clusters are not spectacular.

Balm grows well throughout South Africa, provided it can be watered throughout the year. It may die down during winter in very cold regions, but the root reshoots vigorously in Spring. Plants can be raised from seed (which is slow to germinate) or from division which is quicker and more reliable. The plants do best in rich moist soil where they get some shade in hot areas. The delicate lemon flavour of the leaves is appetising in cold drinks, salads, sauces and so on. It is a useful ingredient for potpourri, herb pillows and in herb mixtures for baths. Useful near fruit trees as it attracts bees, which helps pollination.