Newsletter May 2022

It’s the time of year when our thoughts turn to what we can do in the garden to keep up interest and charm until spring comes round again. If a client asks me for a plant that will flower all year round in the sun or shade, I have one answer - the abutilon.

In South Africa, this hardy evergreen shrub also goes by the name of Chinese lantern, but elsewhere in the world it is known as Indian mallow, Flowering maple, Parlour maple, Velvetleaf, and more. With leaves very like those of the maple, you may be forgiven for thinking that this is dwarf variety of that tree, but it is in fact a member of the Mallow family. That said, with some varieties reaching a height of 2m, they can be used to good effect as a little tree in small gardens.

There is much about the medicinal properties of the Abutilon leaves, flowers and seeds on the internet, but the gorgeous range of colours offered by the delicate pendant flowers is enough reason for me to have (many!) more than one in the garden. The choice of white through shades of yellow and orange to PINK AND deep red make this an agonisingly collectable species. We started our collection by importing from England and Germany many years ago, but have since moved on and are now “growing our own;” getting some wonderful specimens from our homegrown seeds. (Eat your hearts out, Quinton Bean and Andy de Wet!)

Abutilons are not very demanding when it comes to soil type or location, but they do appreciate a nice dose of fertiliser every so often and some full sun in the morning. What is most important to keep them looking their best is regular courageous pruning – courageous because they are essentially always in bloom! This is a notoriously vigorous long-stemmed grower, and the faint-hearted gardener will be left with a lanky, shapeless plant that does its lovely blooms no justice.

See the dedicated Abutilon page on the website if you are interested in finding out more.

IN THE GARDEN

We usually cruise through autumn and only start preparing for winter in mid-June, but there was a sudden turnaround this year. With the late rains and early cold front – snow on the Drakensberg and in the Eastern Cape – we had to rethink our passage into the winter season.  Other than a sudden dash to move all the cold-sensitive plants into warmer areas and hauling out some frost cover, we are waiting to see if “this too shall pass!” 

Not forgetting our lovely Chinese lanterns, the diehards such as the holmskiolias, Black-eyed Susans and beaumontia are still putting on a colourful show. 

Abutilon Annabelle

Holmskioldia sanguinea - the red Chinese hat

Brugmansia maya

Montanoa bippinatifida - the Mexican tree daisy

IN THE NURSERY

Click here to view all the plants in this newsletter on the website.

·        Indigenous plants

If you have a pond or a very wet garden area, consider Berula repanda; a rhizomatous bog plant with simple fernlike leaves and umbels of cream flowers in summer. Evergreen and hardy, it grows about 150cm high and is happy in sun to semi-shade.

The Star of Bethlehem, Ornithogalum juncifolia, is a very underrated plant in my view. Another bog plant, this gorgeous clump-forming evergreen bulb indigenous to the Western Cape will treat you to lovely white starlike flowers all summer long. It grows on average 40cm high and likes sun to semi-shade. It multiplies well.

Talbotia elegans is a slow growing perennial with creeping fibrous rosette-forming leaves and star-shaped coconut-scented white flowers in summer. Indigenous to the Drakensberg, it wants a shady position. Evergreen and hardy, it reaches an average height of 25cm.

Rothmania capensis is our wild gardenia found from the Western Cape to Limpopo Province. This small dense well-shaped tree has lovely glossy foliage and large fragrant bell-shaped cream flowers from summer to autumn, following by rounded fruits. It is evergreen and hardy, and reaches an average height of 4 metres. For those with smaller gardens, it’s good to know that it doesn’t have an aggressive root system. 

·        Exotic plants

There is not much more to add to my “ode” to the abutilon, except to say that we have a good selection of hybrids of this gorgeous evergreen shrub in the nursery.

Another plant that can be relied upon for colour during the colder months is Salvia involucrata - Pink Icicles. This upright approximately 150 cm high shrub has pale green heart-shaped leaves and whorls of tubular pale pink flowers in winter. Evergreen and hardy, it is happy in sun to semi-shade.

Like Chinese lanterns, one can never have too many Salvias in the garden. The evergreen and hardy Salvia purpurea is a large (2 metre high) bushy shrub that has fat panicles of gorgeous purple flowers from winter to spring. Its cascading branches require hard pruning in spring if you don’t want a wispy shrub. It can take sun to semi-shade.

Looking ahead, there is the summer-blooming evergreen Stokesia laevis. This is a mound-shaped clump-forming perennial from the southern parts of the USA which as dark leathery leaves and frilly daisy-like blue flowers that attract butterflies and bees. It grows to an average height of 30cm, and likes full sun and acid soil.

SNIPPETS

Every so often, someone asks me for the name of a good compost supplier. Over the years, the best quality seemed to come from the companies selling a landscape mix, but I have at last once again found a supplier that I can really recommend. Unfortunately, you need to be in my neighbourhood, as the compost is made by the University of Pretoria. It is near perfect and sells for around R30 a bag. Phone Kevin Hodgson on 082 348 3294 for details.

I have meaning to visit Shepstone Gardens in Mount View, Johannesburg for way too long. A favourite wedding venue, the gardens have a sense of theatre and intrigue inspired by the concealed spaces and unexpected levels found in 18th Century English gardens. An added bonus is that their open days are in mid-winter when the aloes put on a splendid display! Do diarise Sunday 10 July and Sunday 17 July; this promises to be an unforgettable experience. For more details, contact Annette on 082 879 8962 or Lynne on 082 689 0930, or click here.

 

Winter is here! Stock up on the gluhwein and soups, and please don’t forget the frost cover. 

Happy gardening!

Leoné

082 482 0257