Down Many Garden Paths


In the Garden with Anna
Recently, while visiting open gardens and garden shows, and judging gardening competitions, I met up with ‘long-time-no-see’ plants and learned new tricks. I returned inspired and ready to plant up a storm!

This tree casting the dappled shade so necessary to protect flowering perennials and roses from the midday sun is Acer Negundo ‘Flamingo’, a deciduous, variegated Acer that produces its new growth in soft pink.  At one stage this variety was grown by specialist plants men using grafting techniques. Sadly these trees have since disappeared from our nurseries. Some old gardens in cool climes might still have a specimen or two to say hello to…

Pergola Chic
Enclosing an area or a walkway with a large pergola is a quick way to create shade and some privacy. Placing a pergola at the entrance to a dwelling or garden ‘room’ and covering it with blooms turns it into a dramatic focal point.  Allow free flowering white Iceberg roses, and their cousins, the very beautiful Burgundy Iceberg™ to climb over it and surround it and it will always be a winner. It was great to see these two roses performing so well together in the rose garden at Duncan’s Roses in Elgin.

Penstemons are so Easy to Grow
A few years ago Duncan and Liz Henderson started a small wholesale nursery that sold Penstemons and other perennials. I asked Duncan to tell us a bit about the Penstemons and he had this to say: “Penstemons are easy plants to grow. They are semi-woody and reach a height of about 75 cm. They flower almost continuously from the end of October until April and as soon as a flower flush is over the plants are cut back to about half their height. I do this once or twice during summer. They can be cut back rather hard – to about 20 cm above ground level – in winter. My plants are sometimes bothered by a yellow slimy slug, which causes an amount of die-back. These slugs can be controlled with a contact insecticide.” Contact Duncan, of Fairholme Plants, via e-mail: duncan@mweb.co.za.
Creative Kitchen Gardening
Annalise Retief of Onrus River uses every nook and cranny in her small coastal garden to plant vegetables, herbs and flowers. She shared some clever tricks with me.

Granadillas, green beans and broad beans are trained over simple wire supports fixed to a wall of the house, while a mix of leafy vegetables, salad greens and luscious herbs fill small beds in front of them. Inexpensive plastic bowls with holes drilled in their bases are used to house courgettes that will be provided with a support system of twigs as they grow.

Dense barriers of loosely woven twigs are placed around beds and floppy vegetables to protect them from the two small dogs and, more importantly, to protect them from wind damage. It is amazing how strong a twig system can be!

Annalise grows potatoes in large plastic washing baskets. To prevent the soil and water from escaping through the openings in the sides of the basket she lines the baskets with black refuse bags (cut open at the bottom).  A thick inner layer of newspaper stops the soil from heating up too much and prevents the potatoes taking on the taste of the plastic.

To start the plants off a little compost-enriched soil mixed with bone meal and general fertiliser is placed in the bottom of the basket and the seed potatoes are planted.  As the plants grow, more soil is added to the basket until it is full and the potatoes are ready to be harvested. These baskets are used over and over again.

Every year in June Annalise ‘plants’ some whole carrots with a few leaves still attached in between her garden flowers. By summer, she is rewarded with tall multi-stemmed carrot plants that are covered in beautiful, softly fragrant, lace-like flowers.

She uses some as cut flowers and lets others produce seed for harvesting.  Annalise says it is simply astounding to see the masses of bees and butterflies that the carrot flowers attract every morning and they, of course, help to fertilise the other vegetables that are in flower.
A Sense of Belonging
The rusty strength and grace of cast iron garden ornaments suits the texture and colours of some plants. The tough but very beautiful grey foliage of Rhagodia Hastata will soon fill this cast iron angel, which is surrounded lovingly by the warm colours of Carex ‘Autumn Gold’. Pure gardening mastery!  

A Well-Travelled Bromeliad!
I bought a lovely Bromeliad from a collector in Pretoria and it traveled with me, all over Gauteng in a plastic bag, for a whole week. It then flew in my bag to Cape Town, but I forgot to unpack it… It thus accidentally went with me to KZN a few days later. On arrival I found it – all shrivelled up – and placed it overnight in my friend’s water feature. That revived it marvellously!

The next day I planted it, temporarily, in a hypertufa (homemade by the editor!) for use as a table centre piece for a Christmas photo shoot. To accompany it, I added some old Echeveria rosettes that had previously been used as ‘flowers’ in an arrangement for another function (the poor things had had their centres callously pierced by skewers to keep them in place).
After the shoot I extricated the Bromeliad from the hypertufa and it once again flew back to Cape Town, safely wrapped in plastic and packed away amongst my clothes.

There was no time to plant it before my next trip and on my return from the Boland and the Overberg, I found it shrivelled up and totally deprived of light and fresh air. There was still no time to plant it because I needed to be in Port Elizabeth fast, so I laid it tenderly under an old avocado tree outside the back door of my temporary abode in Stellenbosch.

There it languished (revived by the rain from the heavy Cape storms) and awaited my attention. By the time you read this, it will probably have made its final trip and will be home at last – flourishing in my own garden.

The Points of my Story are that…
•  Many plants are much tougher than we think. The Bromeliad bounced back from all its journeys in my suitcase and even the stabbed Echeverias produced new roots and are now happily growing in a garden.
•  The next time you need to arrange ‘flowers’ to impress your guests look no further than your garden beds.

The Gardener