indigenous flowers

Indigenous Flowers for Petite Gardens

Is it possible to use entirely indigenous flowers in a very small garden, to feel part of the ‘proudly South African’ crowd?

We often feature beautiful gardens filled to the brim with indigenous plants, but most of these gardens are fairly large and have ample space to include huge specimen trees, dramatic focal plants, great swathes of veld grasses, tall clumping perennials and billowing carpets of spreading groundcovers.

Can we adapt the ‘indigenous only’ theme to a small garden where space is at a premium? The answer is a resounding yes, if you are willing to use ‘domesticated’ hybrids of indigenous flowers bred from their wild ancestors. There is a whole treasure chest of them available to us, as local plant breeders as well as those of other countries have wholeheartedly embraced our plants and turned them into compact, free-flowering beauties that will supply texture and colour even in a pint-sized plot.

Hello, little sweet pea!

Botanical name: Polygala fruticosa ‘Petite Butterflies’

Its big sister, the September bush, grows into a large shrub but the dwarf form ‘Petite Butterflies’ (called ‘Sugar Baby’ too) is a neat, rounded little evergreen cutie with small, green and somewhat heart-shaped leaves and dainty mauve flowers with a distinctive white tuft. They appear on and off all year long and are loved by bees, butterflies and birds. This little shrub (50 x 40cm) will grow everywhere except in very cold areas with severe frost. Naturally neat, so no pruning except light trimming if necessary is required. Heavy pruning can kill it off. These are beautiful indigenous flowers to have in your petite garden.

Add a little confetti!

Botanical name: Coleonema pulchellum ‘Sunset Gold’

This is a compact hybrid of the pink confetti bush (50cm x 30cm) with needle-like foliage that turns gold when mature and small pink flowers from late winter to spring. The yellow foliage can be sensitive and burn in very hot climates, but it is in general a tough little shrub to supply lovely foliage contrast amongst other plants. It responds well to pruning if it needs to be kept in check.

We have our own fuchsias

Botanical name: Phygelius aequalis ‘Candydrops’

The Cape fuchsia is a fast-growing, multi-branching plant with soft oval, dark green leaves and weeping tube-like flowers that are loved by sugarbirds and sunbirds. In nature it grows naturally near water in sun to light shade. ‘Candydrops’ is a range of very free-flowering and bushy plants available in red, cream and deep rose. (40cm x 90cm)

Honey come home

Botanical name: Freylinia tropica

The blue honey-bell has small and delicate mauve flowers and glossy leaves on a slender shrub of about 1.5m x 75cm. Suitable as a background plant for full sun or light shade, or as a low hedge if trimmed formally.

Golden daisy days

Botanical name: Euryops pectinatus

On a sunny summer’s day, a mass of bright yellow daisy flowers smothering the soft silvery-grey foliage will catch your eye, along with those of bees and other pollinators. The golden daisy bush will flower intermittently throughout the year. Size only 1m x 1m.

Tougher than the rest

The neat, strap-like foliage and beautiful round flower heads of agapanthus are invaluable in any size garden, and modern hybrids now flower repeatedly and for longer. These plants are very floriferous and tough, withstanding frost and long periods of drought, and will flower in full sun or light shade.

‘Lapis Lazuli’ is a free-flowering dwarf hybrid with intense-blue flowers that appear intermittently in summer. Plant size about 60 x 40cm. ‘Buccaneer’ is medium size, about 30 x 30cm. It produces dark blue, umbrella-shaped flowers with deep purple veins from early to mid-summer. ‘Bingo Blue’ has dark blue flowers from late winter to mid-summer, and sporadically at other times of the year, on semi-dwarf plants (20 x 30cm). ‘Bingo White’ has pure white flowers from late winter through mid-summer with sporadic blooms at other times as well (25 x 25cm). ‘Zambezi’ features broad, strappy green leaves that are streaked with a creamy yellow variegation and framed by a broad golden yellow margin. This variegation means year-round colour along with the bonus of tall and strong flower spikes above the foliage. The open-faced violet flowers appear in the high summer months.

Homefront snapdragons

Botanical name: Nemesia fruticans ‘Nesia’

Two lips and a spur with a soft fragrance is how you could describe our very own Cape snapdragon. The world went berserk with this cheerful little plant and created wonderful, very floriferous hybrids like ‘Nesia’, which features large blooms in striking colours topping healthy, shining green foliage.

Daisies for Africa!

Botanical name: Dimorphotheca ecklonis (formerly Osteospermum)

Name a colour and there will be an osteospermum daisy (also called Cape daisy) to match your wish. The latest hybrids are compact plants seldom growing more than 50cm high. They flower in early summer, and if cared for will do so again in autumn. There is a great variation in flower colour (including bi-colours) and shapes (single, double and those with spoon-shaped petals). Great for sunny borders, pots, window boxes and hanging baskets. Good ranges to try include ‘Serenity’ and ‘Flower Power’.

Painted regality

Botanical name: Pelargonium grandiflorum

Grant a little territorial jurisdiction in your garden to a powerful type of pelargonium that is so often overlooked amongst all the other hybrids. The regal pelargoniums or king pelargoniums are erect bushy perennials with smooth, shiny stems and coarsely toothed leaf margins. The large flowers in shades of white, soft pink, dark pink, purple and deep velvety red have gaudily painted faces – the top petals are all splotched artfully in deep purple. Check out the ‘Elegance’ and ‘Aristo’ ranges.

Indigenous lavender?

Botanical name: Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’

‘Mona Lavender’ is a locally bred, compact and upright plectranthus hybrid (60 x 60cm) with dark, greyish-green leaves. New growth and the undersides of mature leaves are dark purple. A mass of lilac flower sprays appear from spring to autumn.

No social distancing needed!

Botanical name: Tulbaghia violacea

Add some lilac to you garden with social or wild garlic. It is hardy and easy-to-grow with bountiful mauve flower clusters on tall stems above clumps of grey-green, strap-like leaves with a garlicky scent. Great hybrids to try are ‘Ashanti’ and ‘Kilimanjaro’.

Care notes for indigenous flowers

Be aware that indigenous does not mean plant and forget. Remember to:

  • Prepare the soil with ample compost and bonemeal.
  • Water regularly when the soil feels dry.
  • Remove spent flowers to encourage more and cut back when a flower flush is over and pamper a bit to encourage another one.
  • Feed throughout the flowering season and beyond.
The Gardener