Happy new year to everyone in the Petal Faire community! May it be a year of quiet moments in the garden and many plant growing successes.

I’m afraid vegetables seem to be one of our gardening failures. Try as we may, we just cannot get them to grow with the same ‘enthusiasm’ as all the other plants in the garden. We have tried different spots, planted in the ground and in wheelbarrows, and made sure we buy good quality seedlings – all to no avail. The tomatoes are spindly and the spinach meagre – even before the birds get to it.

I don’t think we have been alone with our homesteading struggles this season given the all-or-nothing variations in temperature and precipitation, but this is not the first time we have had dismal results.

To add to our frustration and mystification, the volunteers – tomatoes in particular – that cheerily (and inconveniently!) report for duty on the compost heap are healthy and productive.

Compost bin tomatoes...

And their produce!


What could we be doing wrong that nature handles so effortlessly? It’s not as though the very compost in which our volunteers thrive is not also spread through the garden on a regular basis!

Is there anyone who has had the same experience or can offer some possible theories?


Without wanting this newsletter to deteriorate into gloom, I have to mention how many favourite trees we lost in 2023 or are on their last legs (or should I say roots). All our garden trees are favourites but some are more favourite than others. There was our Calodendrum capense, Dombeya cacuminumin and Catalpa bignoniodes, and then the very sad passing of the Cassia fistula. Reuben Heydenrich suggests that some kind of fungus is the problem.

With all the rain we have had in Gauteng, I can’t say I am surprised that there is a change in the growing patterns of our trees. It would be interesting to know if other gardeners have had similar experiences. I know that Robin Berry almost lost a thumb propping up one of his trees that seemed to be sagging over and leaning towards the ground!

Other than that, we have started off the year with a glut of weeds in the wake of limited staff over the holiday season, and an overgrown garden ready for the mid-season prune.

Lathyrus - pale pink

 Thunbergia battiscombe

A gorgeous tangle of Hamelia patens and Bauhinia yunnamensis



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

Indigenous plants

Ansellia Africana is an interesting clump-forming terrestrial orchid indigenous to KwaZulu-Natal to Limpopo, with spikes of yellow flowers that appear from winter to spring. This is an evergreen, very hardy perennial which grows about 1m high and wants semi-shade.

One wouldn’t think it from the delicate appearance of its flowers, but Clematopsis scabiosifolia (common name feather duster) thrives in full sun and hot, dry, sandy conditions. A rare well-shaped deciduous shrub, it has lovely fernlike greyish foliage, and drooping pink clematis-like flowers in summer that then produce lovely seedheads. It grows about 1m high.

Another rare specimen is the indigenous tree fuchsia, Halleria elliptica. This is a fast growing evergreen upright shrub that reaches a height of about 1.5m and has pendulous tubular orange flowers that attract bees, birds and butterflies from winter to spring. Although indigenous to the Western Cape, it does well in our garden. Happy in sun to semi-shade.

Last but not least is the beautiful Pavetta lanceolata (weeping bride’s bush). This is an approximately four metre high evergreen shrub with grey bark, dark green elliptical leaves and sprays of scented white flowers in summer that attract birds, bees and other insects. It wants semi-shade and moist soil.

Exotic plants

Acanthus mollis – Whitewater is a gorgeous perennial with pink and white funnel-shaped flowers in spring, and large lobed dark green leaves with splashes of white. The flowers attract butterflies and are good in the vase. Evergreen and very hardy, it grows on average 90cm high and is happy in sun or semi-shade. We have plants in 20cm pots.

The blue ginger, Dichorisandra thyrsiflora, is a 1.5m high upright shrub with lance-shaped leaves on cane-like stems and clusters of spectacular deep violet blue flowers in autumn. It is evergreen and semi-hardy, and likes a semi-shaded position. Plants are now in bud.

Fuchsia arborescens  is a fast-growing shrub that reaches an average height of 2m. Evergreen and hardy, it has bright green lance-shaped leaves and panicles of small rose to magenta flowers from winter to summer followed by edible purple berries. Plant in semi-shade and acid soil.  We have some huge plants for sale!

Iochroma grandiflora is a rare 2m high shrub with lax branches, large leaves and clusters of long blue flowers from spring to autumn. It is evergreen and hardy, and happiest in semi-shade.


Plantlife featured in recent newsletters when Kate Grieve asked for the help of our readers in identifying Wisteria varieties that are growing in South Africa. I highly recommend that you subscribe (for free!) to this online magazine which has really interesting articles. Anyone who is interested can contact the editor at plantlife.editor@gmail.com. The last issue came out in December. 


Happy gardening!


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