I recently heard about a very exciting project on the go at the University of Pretoria from my friend and fellow plants person Jason Sampson, Curator of the university’s Manie van der Schijff Botanical Garden.
In light of climate change and growing urban populations, food security is becoming a huge buzzword. In 2014, the university decided to focus on finding and revitalising the lost crops of Africa which were the staple diet of people in certain areas for centuries. Since then a species list of over 200 potential crop and forage plants have been identified for planting in the landscaped grounds of UP’s new Future Africa Campus, a centre for research in disciplines as wide ranging as urban agriculture, food science, biotechnology, horticulture and landscape architecture. Jason tells the Future Africa garden is host to a wealth of domesticated and wild food plants that exist in Africa and other parts of the world - from trees, aquatics and groundcovers to creepers, annual crops and even a few novel spices.
With the dearth of good news in the headlines these days, how wonderful to hear about people getting down to earth (literally) and thinking out the box about using what nature so generously offers us!
The garden’s “coming out party” took the form of a banquet hosted by UP’s Department of Consumer & Food Sciences on 7 August. With help from the department’s Dr Hennie Fischer, I will be writing about the fine dining menu in the next newsletter. Whet your appetite with this starter: “Panfried amadumbe gnocchi served on African water chestnut mash, roasted balsamic beetroot and guinea fowl and beetroot extract, with biltong dust.”
IN THE GARDEN
After a long winter - yes I know everybody says it was a mild winter but all my winters are cold - spring is finally here. No more lying in till eight in the morning, we have to be up by 6:30 because there is so much to do.
The frogs are back, the birds are nesting, the branches are sprouting. It’s a joyful time to be gardening. This quote from Charles Hart found in the Aquaflora newsletter says it all – what do you think?
“Slowly, gently spring unfurls its splendour
Grasp it, sense it, tremulous and tender
Turn your face away from the dreary winter days
Turn your thoughts away from cold unfeeling light
And listen to the music of this spring...” (Charles Hart)
A solitary flower on the Magnolia stellata
Beaumontia grandiflora - grand throughout the winter
Selago canescens - the bees love it
And, of course, the clivias
IN THE NURSERY
Click here to view all the plants featured in this newsletter.
· Indigenous plants
The wild pomegranate Burchellia bubalina is an attractive ornamental shrub with glossy dark green leaves and terminal clusters of bright orange flowers that attract birds from spring to summer. It is evergreen and semi hardy and can take sun or shade. It's average height is given as 500 cm but it definitely doesn't grow that tall in my garden.
The very hardy Helichrysum petiolare is one of South Africa’s indigenous medicinal plants, known traditionally as kooigoed. A beautiful soft evergreen shrub that likes full sun and dry sandy soil, it has sprays of insignificant cream flowers in summer but is worth having for its round aromatic silver leaves. It grows about 100 cm high.
No lover of the sweet scent of jasmine should be without our very own Jasminum multipartitum. This is a scrambling approximately 300 cm high climber with glossy linear dark green leaves and waxy white flowers from spring to summer. Evergreen and hardy, it likes semi shade. Attracts insects and birds.
The toothed spotted stinging leaves of Laportea grossa work well for lightening up shady spots in the garden, even deep shade. This is an unusual evergreen semi hardy perennial that grows up to 75 cm high. The upright stems also have stinging hairs so handle with gloves! It flowers in summer but is really a foliage plant.
· Exotic plants
We have Beaumontia grandiflora available in 25 cm pots. This is a robust woody climber from the Himalayan tropics has dark green leaves and spectacular large fragrant white flowers all season. (The vine in our garden actually flowers all year round.) It is evergreen and hardy and reaches an average height of 4 m.
Bletilla striata is a clump forming deciduous terrestrial orchid with sprays of pink/lilac flowers in spring. It is hardy, likes semi shade and grows about 30 cm high. Keep dry in winter and divide in early spring.
Echium candidans (or Pride of Madeira) is a rounded 160 cm high upright shrub with woody stems, hairy whitish leaves and panicles of vibrant blue flowers from spring to summer. It is evergreen and semi-hardy and wants full sun and dry sandy soil so is good for those difficult spots in the garden.
Another lover of dry sandy soil is Oenothera fruticosa Sundrop, a spreading, clump forming deciduous ground cover with dark green lance shaped leaves and gorgeous cup shaped deep yellow flowers in summer. It is very hardy and grows on average 20 cm high.
Our Spring Open Weekend takes place on 7 and 8 September (not 6 and 7 September as per the previous newsletter – apologies). We will be open from 09h00 to 15h00 on Saturday and Sunday. Tea and scones will be served on the verandah!
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