Feb 2024
As pretty, useful and bee-friendly as they are, I have never thought that lavenders qualified as ‘rare’ or ‘unusual’ enough to stock in the Petal Faire nursery. I had to take a different view when Lavendula x allardii ‘meerlo’ recently crossed my path... [more]

Jan 2024
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... [more]

 Nov 2023
The savanna country of the Kruger National Park still fresh in my mind after a recent trip with family visiting from the UK, I have been thinking that there is something very lovely about stretches of uninterrupted grassland. Yes, we still have some savanna up here on the Highveld to give the eye a break between increasing built up areas, but Kruger’s grasses have a different quality, don’t they.... [more]

Oct 2023
Sometime in the winter months I asked Pierre Marais from Growtip to come and have a look at the plants in the nursery which were looking rather poorly. His verdict? They were not getting enough nutrition... [more]

Sep 2023
The botanical naming system offers scientists and botanists worldwide an important universal language, but many new and even not so new gardeners can find it intimidating and will skim past a plant’s scientific name to find its more familiar common one. However – without needing to sign up for a degree in Botany (or Latin) – some of the terms in this scientific name can provide you with useful information when designing a garden, or simply tell you something interesting about a plant’s origins and preferred conditions... [
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Aug 2023
This is our August newsletter (a little late because - well, life happens). Instead of wishing everyone Happy Spring Day, I can only say I hope it was a good one and that you were able to spend time outside enjoying the balmy weather and all the signs of burgeoning new life. One of the highlights of the spring garden is the gorgeous Wisteria, but not many people are aware that there are many different varieties of this climber... [
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Jul 2023
An entertaining and informative blog post by Monique Allen of
The Garden Continuum prompted me to devote this newsletter to one of gardening’s most humble and generally least popular activity – weeding. Let’s face it, even for those who consider rootling around in the soil a pleasant pastime, weeding will at times definitely qualify as a chore... [more]

Jun 2023
Pierre Marais has been my go-to man for reasonably priced, quality fertilisers for a number of years. Pierre is rather a low key chap who markets himself and his products the old-fashioned way – through word of mouth and giving talks – but I know I am not the only commercial plant grower who trusts his knowledge, advice and products... [
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May 2023
What else could this month’s newsletter lead with but the news from the 2023 Chelsea Flower Show that South Africans Andy de Wet and Quinton Bean had scooped up Plant of the Year for their Agapanthus Blackjack... [
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Apr 2023
I can only recall being flustered to the point of blushing and stuttering on two occasions in my adult life. One was when I had to face a customs official, knowing that I had contraband in my suitcase. The other was my much less forgettable first meeting with Patrick Watson... [
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Mar 2023
Impromptu visits by eminent and interesting people regularly add sparkle to life at Petal Faire. During a recent one, I got to browse through glorious photographs of some of the work my visitor has been doing with world-renowned Dutch garden designer, Piet Oudolf. My enduring love for herbaceous borders was instantly resurrected, and our March newsletter was in the bag... [
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Feb 2023
“Why are you still working at your age? You should be resting and enjoying time with the people who are important to you.” My answer to this well-meant question recently was, “What else would I do? I live my work.” This reminded me of my musings in a previous newsletter; in January 2018, it turned out... [
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Jan 2023
I am so thrilled with the fresh new uncluttered look of our website that I thought I would kick off 2023 with the story of the long journey to get it to this point... [
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Nov 2022
How lucky we are in South Africa to have the glorious blossoms of the hydrangea to bring inside to grace our festive tables! We are even the only country that affectionately refers to these beautiful perennials as ‘krismisrose’ (Christmas roses). Hydrangeas have much to recommend them: a long flowering season, robustness and longevity, old-fashioned charm.... [
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Oct 2022
Among the many gardening books on my bookshelves, there is one by Roger Turner called ‘Design in the Plant Collector’s Garden’. Browsing through it again the other day, I decided I couldn’t resist sharing Roger’s whimsical analogy between a plant collector and a patient suffering from a disease, as I am sure many readers will relate... [
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Sep 2022
Every day feels like garden day at this time of year, doesn’t it, but on Sunday 9 October we officially celebrate national Garden Day! Garden Day was launched seven years ago by a group of enthusiastic gardeners wanting to encourage people to celebrate their green spaces - big or small - together with neighbours, family and friends... [
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Aug 2022
Always a keen gardener, my friend Jennifer is one of the many people who got bitten by the homesteading bug in 2020. As her interests turned to growing vegetables, the ornamental garden – fortunately well established by then –slowly fell victim to some benign neglect, and little by little lawn has been sacrificed to make way for bigger veggie beds... [
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Jul 2022
As the growing season approaches, it is time to tidy up the garden, and a large part of that exercise is pruning. Pruning is about more than just keeping the garden looking neat enough that you can see what’s what and appreciate each plant individually... [
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Jun 2022
This month’s rather grisly story comes courtesy of lepidopterist Steve Woodall who is renowned for his knowledge of butterflies and his wonderful Field Guide to Butterflies of South Africa... [
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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... [
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Apr 2022
After a recent trip out of town, I found myself once again waxing lyrical about the joys of a road trip. Driving past an undeveloped area sprouting hundreds of Brunsvigia orientalis plants in bloom, I stopped, put on the hazard lights, and jumped out of the car to take my time breathing in this beauty. .. [
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Mar 2022
Over the years, we gardeners have embraced (or been talked into) manicuring our gardens to within an inch of their lives, hard landscaping as an absolute must, planting nothing but indigenous or waterwise… the list goes on. The one thing that all these approaches have in common is control - whether just through limiting what we allow into our gardens or through merciless hedging and shaping... [
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Feb 2022
Family members who had the good fortune to be skiing in Italy over New Year (which already seems like a distant memory, doesn’t it!) brought back a story about a quirky Hungarian New Year’s Eve tradition. They were invited to join a group of Hungarians in a midnight meal of lentils and pork sausage, which was laid on specially by the lodge where they were staying... [
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Jan 2022
With the astonishing rainfall we have had this summer, I thought that commiserations were in order when my friend Hester Walters who has a farm near Steytlerville told me they had 30mm of soft rain in December. Not so... [
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Nov 2021
In my younger days, I had visions of becoming a scientist, but as time has passed and I succumbed to the joys of simply experiencing nature, that is now a rather distant memory. I don’t even have a control group when experimenting with new soil mixes or plant treatments! Robert just rolls his eyes... [
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Oct 2021
When I start browsing plant books – or, these days, websites – I am always fascinated and delighted to see who is related to whom in the plant world. Families can be made up of dozens of genera with dozens of species, some of which you would never have thought of as being connected until your attention is drawn to the scientifically defining feature... [
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Sep 2021
I think the nutritional virtues of earthworm castings are almost old news by now. If you haven’t tried some form of vermi-compost and vermi-tea yet, I recommend that you do, but there is more to the value of earthworms than what they produce... [
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Aug 2021
I do appreciate someone who spares a thought for the fact that even so-called garden pests have a place in the ecosystem, even if it is just as food. One such person is Linda Ly who has a lovely gardening blog called
Garden Betty where I recently came across a really interesting article about ladybugs... [More]

Jul 2021
I’m sure any gardener who gets the Sunday Times found Jane Griffiths’ 12 July article on organic fertilising as fascinating as I did. Jane is a well-known writer on the subject of growing vegetables and a regular contributor to the Sunday Times’ Home & Garden section... [Click here to read more]

Jun 2021
At Petal Faire, we sometimes have customers who are no less rare and unusual than the plants we sell. I was recently contacted by someone whose story is just too fascinating not to share (with his permission, of course)... [
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May 2021
Perhaps it was the delightful name of Howard Garrett’s website
www.dirtdoctor.com that made me subscribe to his newsletter which has turned out to be unfailingly interesting and informative. Gardeners are always looking for new and better ways of getting the best out of their plants, so I thought I would share some of his facts and tips about foliar spraying for feeding or pest control purposes... [More]

Apr 2021
Annette Watt recently told me a lovely story about her 91-year-old mom’s quest for a specific almost extinct variety of orange for her marmalade. Along with gardening, Franci Muller’s great passion is making preserves. Starting in Zimbabwe where she was born, and now in Caledon in the Western Cape, wherever Franci has lived, she has always had a variety of fruit trees – but not an orange tree. The Rex Union is the only orange she will use in her marmalade, and no other orange tree will do in her garden!... [
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Mar 2021
Zach Bush is an American medical doctor and global influencer who is advocating for soil health and regenerative agriculture. In this time of doom and gloom, Bush is passionately optimistic about our ability to turn around the damage done to the planet and advance human health and resilience against disease... [
Click here to read more]

Feb 2021
A delighted Tiliana du Preez told me recently that the management of the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria has given the Cycad Society permission to establish a cycad botanical garden around the monument... [
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Jan 2021
By now, I suppose we are all addicted to social media to some extent, but every so often it channels something extraordinary our way to quieten those pricks of conscience. I had one such case recently, when Trees in Africa (one of my favourite pages) posted information about and a link to an astounding body of root system illustrations, analyses and descriptions. The seven volumes of the Wurzel Atlas are the culmination of 40 years of painstaking work by a group of German researchers under one Prof. Dr Lore Kutschera, and the illustrations struck me for a few different reasons... [
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Nov 2020
When I started serious gardening sometime around 1990, I was told by the people who know that to plant a tree or shrub, one had to dig a hole of around one cubic metre and fill it with compost before planting. Double digging is another age-old recommendation but one I chose to ignore - too much hard work! And time has proved me right. A core garden practice that I was slave to for many years was cutting plants back by a third when transplanting them... [
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Oct 2020
I seemed to get an unusual number of queries about waterlilies and their availability over the lockdown period. Some of our newsletters in recent months have tended to the philosophical, so I thought I would spare you a “treatise” on the possible reasons for this and just give some interesting information and tips about these rather special plants whose long flowering season and glorious variety of colours are not easily matched... [
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Sep 2020
Recently, a client sent me a photograph of a gorgeous flowering tree in her garden that had me mystified. When she told me it was the syringa I sourced for her about ten years ago, the penny dropped. No, I am not in the habit of supplying clients with the invasive syringa tree (Melia azedarach) that is such a blight in many of our gardens. This was the lovely Syringa vulgaris, or Common Lilac. She told me that after years of being treated to only a very few blooms, she was thrilled to have an absolute riot of sweet smelling lilac blossoms this spring... [
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Aug 2020
Now that it looks like there might actually be some light at the end of this tunnel we have been crawling through for the past few months (and I don’t mean winter!), I find myself contemplating the many positive shifts that have come about from having what the Americans call their “civil liberties” restricted... [
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Jul 2020
We do make an effort to run an eco-friendly, sustainable home and business at Petal Faire. One component of this is using bath and shower water to irrigate the garden. For me, this has always been about using municipal water sparingly in our drought-ridden country, but it appears there may be more advantages to grey water than meet the eye... [
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Jun 2020
I wrote at some length about bees in the October newsletter last year, but couldn’t resist sharing some interesting information I came across recently, especially for people who are keen to attract these important little creatures to their gardens... [
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May 2020
Lockdown certainly seems to have put many of us in touch with DIY and self-reliance. Stories abound on social media about people experimenting with bread making or beer brewing and tackling their own home maintenance. I am sure that without the luxury of being able to pop round to the garden centre to buy plants, gardeners have also changed their strategies... [
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Apr 2020
Reminding clients of our mail order service in the March (read: Lockdown Phase 1) newsletter got me reminiscing... [
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Mar 2020
“In a leafy suburb” is a popular tag used by estate agents in pursuit of a sale. After all, who doesn’t find an established verdant neighbourhood attractive – even people who are not keen gardeners themselves? It conjures up images of cool and shady tracts of green that can be enjoyed in the heat of the day... [
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Feb 2020
My belief – some would say stubborn insistence - that there is a place for exotics in the South African garden is no secret. Despite the growing push to go indigenous, Petal Faire Nursery has continued to stock exotics and feature them in this newsletter... [
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Jan 2020
It’s a new year and with that often come a range of New Year resolutions. Maybe we should all make it one of our resolutions this year to take action against any invasive aliens that might be lurking in or taking over in our gardens? [
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Nov 2019
It’s hard to believe that only a month ago I spoke about our waiting with bated breath for the summer rains. They have arrived in spades and it is so gratifying to hear how widespread they have been, even if some parts of the country are still suffering... [
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Oct 2019
Perhaps you know that in July of this year, bees were declared the most important living beings on the planet by the Earthwatch Institute. Sciencetimes gives the scary statistic that 70% of the world’s agriculture depends exclusively on bees!... [
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Sep 2019
In our August newsletter, I talked about the wild food gardens that have been established at the University of Pretoria’s Future Africa Campus and promised more about the delectable edibles it yields up... [
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Aug 2019
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... [
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Jul 2019
When I opened the gate for a client a few weeks ago, little did I know that I was about to meet one of the most interesting people ever to visit Petal Faire. Expecting someone asking their way to the nursery, I was confronted instead by a smiling gentleman with a camera, a book under his arm – and a request to photograph some of the plants in the garden and nursery... [
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Jun 2019
I have always had a “thing” for forests and big trees. Walking in the forests of Limpopo Province, the forest at Mphelane near St Lucia and many others simply lifts my soul. People have been taking walks through woodlands and forests for centuries but, according to a recent article in the Guardian, scientific evidence now seems to be suggesting that there is more to this pleasurable activity than just relaxing and unwinding... [
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May 2019
The annual Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show takes place over five days in May in the grounds of theRoyal Hospital Chelsea, London. Launched in 1912, it is the most famous flower and landscape garden show in the United Kingdom and perhaps the world, drawing plant collectors, nurserymen and gardeners from across the globe... [
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Apr 2019
Robert and I recently accompanied family from England on a trip to the Kruger National Park. What a wonderful restorative experience that always is... I suppose it is almost inevitable for sightings of the Big Five to get ticked off when people are there, especially if overseas visitors are with them. [
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Mar 2019
Gerald Durrell’s book “My family and other animals” was one that I loved and read over and over as a child so I was thrilled when it popped up as a series on BBC recently to be enjoyed all over again... [
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Feb 2019
In last month’s newsletter I commented that there seemed to have been fewer flowers in the garden this summer. The November and December heat waves were almost a distant memory after the arrival of the rains in January but then I started wondering about a possible connection between the hot dry conditions and flowering... [
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Jan 2019
The Petal Faire Nursery website has come a long way since its first rather disastrous incarnation in 2002. It was a time when every second person with access to a computer was claiming to be a web designer and I was one of the many who fell prey to their empty promises. I am eternally grateful to Talana and Nadia from AltEnter who came across my path, very fortuitously, in 2008 and developed the wonderfully interactive website that has served the nursery and our clients so well for the past 10 years... [
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Nov 2018
We have such wonderful weather these days and in spite of heat waves and hail storms, our garden is so beautiful at night and in the early morning hours. White flowers always take pride of place with the way they seem to light up the garden and glow in the dark so I decided to do a little research to see what tips the experts have on using white to enhance the garden... [
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Oct 2018
Sunday 21 October is Garden Day! And with the gorgeous rain last weekend (and the chance of more tomorrow) I'm sure that like me you are more than ready to go all out to celebrate the occasion... [
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Sep 2018
I have to admit that I roll my eyes at some of the plants on the official list of alien invasive plants in South Africa but the cat’s claw creeper (Dolichandra unguis-cati, formerly Macfadyena unguis-cati) is not one of them... [
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Aug 2018
When I was much younger, along with having lots of children and a dishwasher, I dreamed of having a pond with water lilies. Perhaps this came from Claude Monet’s paintings because I certainly knew no one with such a romantic garden feature when I was growing up... [
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Jul 2018
I first ventured into keeping chickens about 20 years ago when I responded to a Junkmail ad and bought a few Sebright bantams. Unusually for Sebrights, they bred and bred with the result that we eventually had in the region of 30. They were the bane of Robert’s life, particularly when the hens decided that the facilities inside the house were most suitable for egg laying... [
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Jun 2018
Land expropriation is a very hot topic these days, with some of the arguments for and against focusing on the point of how redistributed land will be utilised. This got me to thinking about how people are already working with the idea at - well, grassroots level... [
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May 2018
I am a fan of the Jeremy Maggs show on DSTV and recently watched a program on Checkers and their “Little Garden” promotional campaign. With my little nephew in mind, I regretted not taking advantage of the previous “Little Shop” campaign as I remember how much I loved playing with my Oumie’s collection of mini boxes of Kellogg’s Cornflakes, Omo, Silvo etc. as a child. But I have to confess I thought the new idea of mini seedling kits was a little silly and that even people with only a passing interest in gardening wouldn’t be captivated by the thought of raising tiny samples of seeds into plants... [
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April 2018
Pilea peperomioides found its way into my home a number of years ago when my friend Mike pinched a steggie at a home office. We propagated it and had plants in the nursery for a while but nobody seemed very interested despite the attractive bright green disk shaped leaves and the added advantages that the plant is very easy to grow and makes a good indoor plant. At some stage the stock was sent to the compost bin with a few “mother plants” left in the garden...
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Mar 2018
We often have clients in the nursery from so-called “eco estates” where they insist they are only allowed to have indigenous plants in their gardens. Since I have sometimes wondered about the reasoning behind this, I was interested to come across an article by Dr Johan Wentzel of Wildflower Nursery on the very subject... [
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Jan 2018
A nursery, like any other retail business, calls for regular restocking. Perhaps this is a chore for other business owners, but I must confess that my regular expeditions to stock up on plants are one of my favourite parts of the job... [
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Nov 2017
" An acquaintance merely enjoys your company, a fair-weather companion flatters when all is well, a true friend has your best interests at heart and the pluck to tell you what you need to hear.” (E.A. Bucchianeri: Brushstrokes of a Gadfly). I met Francis Thompson at a Rare Plant Fair in Stellenbosch many years ago. He lives in Cape Town and I visit him whenever I am there and vice versa... [
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Oct 2017
My good friend and fellow no-holds-barred plant enthusiast Jason Sampson of Pretoria University recently said, “My favourite colour is October.” I couldn’t agree more. All but the most neglected gardens are a riot of flowers at this time of year and I for one have fallen in love with my garden again – as I do every Spring! [
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Aug 2017
Now that an early spring seems to be upon us and I’m sure people’s minds are starting to turn to stocking up the garden, I thought I would remind those of you who don’t live in the vicinity of Pretoria of our online mail order service. It is actually a thriving “division” of the nursery and has had faithful followers for years, but I suspect that some people are hesitant about putting plants through the stress of being packed up in a box and thrown around for a few days! Let me put your minds at ease... [
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Jul 2017
One of the fun things about thinking up stories for the newsletters is the opportunity to reminisce. I recently remembered one of my favourite nursery “encounters” which was with someone who wasn’t even in the country!... [
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May 2017
Robert and I were recently in the Cape for a family wedding where the venue, décor and floral arrangements were quite a breath of fresh air. The bride’s bouquet was simply made up of leaves and flowers from the garden, and you could hardly call the flowers on the tables “arrangements” - random sprigs of plectranthus, salvias and other bits and pieces popped into glass beakers... [
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Mar 2017
It was with great sadness that we all heard of the passing of Margaret Roberts on 4 March. A great plant lover and hands-on grower, Margaret was as passionate about sharing her wealth of knowledge through books and talks as she was about the plants themselves. She became such a household name in South Africa that even my non-gardening friends speak as though they knew her personally... [
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Feb 2017
One of my pet peeves is how people in the plant world, gardeners and even experts, seem to be under the impression that South Africa’s indigenous flora begins and ends in the Western Cape... [
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Jan 2017
In my November newsletter I confessed that I had sold all the Thunbergia erecta shrubs in the nursery and failed to keep one for myself. What a response to my appeal to gardeners for a few cuttings so I could propagate again!... [
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Nov 2016
With our second Summer Rare Plant Fair on the horizon (see below) I’ve been wondering whether an email received from Jenny McKeown after our spring fair in September is cause for concern... [
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Oct 2016
The Sunday Times Careers Section of 9 October featured a heart-warming interview with Gundula Deutschlander, Master Gardener at Babylonstoren in the Western Cape... [
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Sep 2016
We all know that 1 January is New Year, but for us gardeners there is a bonus New Year every spring time. It’s the time of year when deciduous plants in particular really come into their own... [
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Aug 2016
Like many of my generation I did not embrace the arrival of social media with much interest or enthusiasm, and when a friend eventually persuaded me to join Facebook I was certainly not one of its most sophisticated users. I once tried unsuccessfully to send a friend a birthday message and a year later when she was visiting I showed her where the stuck message was still sitting. She pressed Enter and off it went!... [
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Jun 2016
Curious about the reason for a mealy bug infestation in the garden this summer, I consulted a number of my colleagues but no one could give an explanation. Then in the latest Ludwig’s Roses newsletter I read that Ludwig Taschner had noticed the same thing, and all was revealed... [
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Apr 2016
I grew up on a farm so water supply was not a given and we had to be quite inventive about accessing it. Water was pumped up from the “sproet” (i.e. spruit) into tanks (proudly emblazoned with “Pennels from Louis Trichardt”) and then channelled into the house. Drinking water