Thursday, November 15, 2012

Plant Labels

I think most gardeners like to know the names of the plants in their gardens’, if not the proper botanical name then at least the common name. I suspect I am not alone when I voice my frustration with plant labels. The tags that come with the plant when you buy from a nursery are fairly useless, firstly they are unattractive and secondly they don’t last, they either fade or get detached and blow away. I also don’t really want my home to look like a nursery or botanical garden with labels all over.

Remembering all my plants is never simple. Obviously the unusual or those that I have only one of it’s kind are easy, but I have many plants from the same families and then it starts to get problematic. Take the Genus Pelargonium for example, I currently have over 20 plants of 8 different species and on a recent trip to Harold Porter Botanical Gardens I couldn’t resist adding some more. I came home with another 5 different species. In the past I have tried to convince myself that I will remember the names, but I know now from experience that I just can’t do it. Trying to remember names that you can’t even pronounce is impossible.

Keeping a photographic record is a great solution, posting it on this blog, even better! If I ever lose my computer I will still have an accurate record of all my plants.

Harold Porter had a great selection this time, so I couldn’t resist adding:

Pelargonium radens

 This is a closely branched shrub usually less than 1.5m. Older branches become woody and are covered with hairs. Leaves are fragrant. Prefers moist conditions. Flowering time August to January.

Pelargoium pseudo glutinosum.

Couldn’t find much information on this one. Is it different to P.glutinosum and how? Does anyone know?

Pelargonium citronellum

Reaches almost 2 metres in height. Strong lemon scented leaves like P,crispum but these leaves are much larger.. Flowers from August to January. Can be used to flavour foods and as an insect repellant.

Pelargonium cordifolium

Pretty heart shaped scented leaves, reaches a height of 1.5m and spreading. Flowers from June to January. Found in moist places in fynbos or forest margins.
You can see from the tag that I paid R14.00 for this one, which was about the average price. This translates to roughly £1.00 or $1.60. Buying indigenous plants from our botanical gardens or specialist nurseries is really affordable. These plants if I could find them at a normal nursery would easily have cost three times as much.

Pelargonium exstipulatum

Attractive grey foilage, with a strong scent and sticky to the touch. Grows to about 1m high. Flowers from June to December.

Besides the Pelargoniums, I also bought the following:

Chironia linoides
Low growing shrub to 30cm often falls over. Flowers mid summer. Flowers are similar to Orpheum but the leaves are darker and finer.

Salvia chamelaeagnea

Shrub to about 2 metres. The light green leaves when rubbed between the fingers give off a strong fragrance but also leave a sticky residue behind. Blue flowers in mid to late summer.I already have a number of these in my back garden, but they are one of the few plants to flower in our mid-summer heat, so I just had to add some to the front pavement.

Nerine sarienensis
This one should be familiar to UK gardeners if called by it's common name - Guernsey Lilly. A winter growing bulb originating in the western Cape. Flowers in early Autumn.

Now that I've made a record of the new additions I am tempted to create a few more posts of my existing plants. Watch this space!


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Feast of Flowers

Every year I look forward to spring with great anticipation. There is just so much going on. Almost every day for six to eight weeks I am almost guaranteed to find something new blooming.

Reading  Bernies BlogHere in my north-eastern corner there are not many discernible seasonal changes, and certainly not much of a noticeable change between our Winter and early Spring.” I am reminded once again how fortunate I am to live where I do.

The Western Cape is home to thousands of plants and a great many of them will flower in spring.

In winter I cleared a neglected patch of the garden and filled it with Felicia amelloides, Plectranthus ecklonii, Pelargonium cucullatum, Pelargonium tormentosum, Pelargonium ? (still trying to positively ID), all the Pelargoniums were from cuttings only the Felicias were bought. I dug up some of the Sutera from other parts of the garden to cover the bare patches and in between I planted purple and white Freesias.

I have been justly rewarded, even though the dogs trampled a few Freesias, there were still enough to enjoy in the garden and enough to pick a few for the vase.


Plectranthus neochillus and Pelargonium cucullatum

Felicia and Sutera

Our pavement also got a much needed make over a while ago. Behind the gravel path I have profusion of flowers. Watsonias, pink Freesias, Geranium, Dimorthopeca and more.

Geranium incanum, Watsonia bobonica, Salvia africana-lutea

Freesias, Dimorthopeca, Geranium incanum, 

My final reward for Spring – Guinea fowl chicks. We have always had Guinea fowl in the neighbourhood and this year they laid their eggs across the road in my neighbours garden, but when the chicks hatched they brought them across the road to me. It is great fun watching them run about and they are doing a sterling job of keeping my snail population down. The dogs of course are confined to the back and are not impressed.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Arum Lily

In response to Diana's question - “What is your big-leaved plant?” Mine would have to be the White Arum Lily.

Zantedeschia aethiopica, commonly known as Arum Lily in South Africa, Calla Lily in many places and sometimes Easter Lily in England and Ireland. It is however not a lily but comes from the Aracaea family which also includes Anthuriums, Philodendrons and delicious monsters.

Common to most members of this family is a modified leaf known as a spathe. This is the part that most us would think of as the flower petal.

Beautiful white spathe

Unopened spathes are pale green

The actual flower is a cluster of minute flowers on a central column known as a spadix. On Zantedeschia aethiopica the top part bears male flowers and the bottom carries the female flowers. About ¾ of this spadix carries male flowers.

Yellow spadix on Zantedeschia aethiopica

The common Arum originates from South Africa and is found from the Western Cape all along the coast, even spreading as far as the Northern Province. This vast range covers a wide variety of climatic conditions, from salty coastal air to chilly high altitude mountains. It will grow and flower in winter and summer rainfall areas. If it remains moist all year it will remain green, yet if it naturally receives no water in the dry period it will die back. It's large underground rhizome allows it to spring back to life as soon as the rainy season begins. Being tolerant of so many growing conditions makes Zantadeschia a very obliging garden specimen. They tend to grow taller and carry larger leaves in shady conditions, in sun the leaves are smaller but they flower more prolifically.

Typical large leaf in shady conditions

I have them in a number of different areas in my garden and those that receive water from my rainwater tanks in summer remain evergreen and flower sporadically throughout the year. The others disappear and remain dormant in our hot, dry and summer but grow incredibly fast as soon as the winter rains begin.

It is also a great plant for wildlife, attracting numerous flying and crawling insects, including bees and my favourite crab spider. In the wild the rhizome is eaten by pigs and porcupines, luckily none of those in my garden, but the snails do have a feast. The berries which turn yellow when ripe are eaten by birds which aid seed dispersal.

Unripe fruit 

The leaf on the right almost totally demolished by snails.

Definitely worth planting if you live in it's natural range. Although popular in many parts of the world, plant with caution, in Western Australia it has become a weed.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Winter Blues

This winter has definitely convinced me - I am a summer girl! The last 4 weekends prior to this have been cold and rainy, forcing me to spend most of my time indoors. I say most of my time because when the rain backed off to a light drizzle I would dash outside to pull a few weeds and take quick garden tour. My children made me laugh “ Come inside Mom you will catch cold!” I thought it was Mothers that intoned that phrase. But I can't, I work 5½ days a week and the weekend is the only time to restore my soul.

I know we need the rain and I do enjoy it, I just wish it would confine itself to weekdays or night time, if it must rain on weekends. We have had over 100mm of rain this month and I am sure most of it fell on weekends. I may complain about the heat occasionally in summer as well as the lack of rain, but it definitely gives me more time to spend outdoors, I feel like a caged lion, pacing up and down in front our sliding door waiting for a gap in the clouds so that I can head outside.

Fortunately this past Sunday was lovely and sunny, so I went on the rampage. The ivy covering our back wall in our bedroom garden had grown top heavy and fallen away from the wall, so that was cut back severely, leaving a rather bare wall. It had damaged a few shrubs when it fell over, but since they were exotics I didn't mind. So out went the Nandina domestica and the Plumera rubra and in their place I have planted the following:
Metalasia muricata
Agathosma capensis
Acmadenia heterophylla
Pelargonium crispum
Very bare walls after removing the Ivy

I will post more about these later when they have settled in and look like they will survive – they were rather pot bound so I am not sure of their chances.

In our back garden my beautiful Coleonema had died, so out it came too. I also had a volunteer white stinkwood that had grown too close to the wall, these trees can get rather large so I had no choice but to remove it. Ripping out all these plants made the garden feel rather bare but at least I have some stalwarts that can always be relied on. Polygala myrtifolia also known as September bush is one of these.

The September bush, a large shrub or small tree widespread in South Africa and found in a variety of growing conditions. It does well in full sun or semi shade. It grows in the Western Cape where we have winter rainfall as well as in the eastern parts of the country where they have mostly summer rains. This highly adaptable plant thrives in forests, grasslands and can even be found on sand dunes. In my garden it flowers almost all year round, but puts on an especially dazzling display in spring. The flowers in varying shades of mauve, purple and pink and occasionally white are clustered at the tips of branches. They resemble pea flowers but have a distinct tufted keel.
Beautiful flower showing off the fuzzy keel

One of the reasons I fell in love with this house 6 years ago, was the large almost 4 metre high Polygala in the backyard. Sadly it had been planted too close to the wall, causing it to grow skew and eventually fall over. It is fortunately one of those pioneer plants that self seeds with ease and I now have about 6 specimens of varying size around the garden.
In it's prime - I do miss it.

Polygala myrtifolia is great for attracting wildlife. In my garden there are always carpenter bees buzzing around the flowers and before my large tree fell down it attracted many double collared sunbirds and a family of white eyes.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Crab Spider

Oh no! Not another boring Bulbinella.

No there's something else there - can you see it?

There she is Thomisus onustus.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

True Blue

Nature is always full of surprises, I guess that is why I love gardening, there is always something new and unplanned happening.

I spend a lot of time researching the plants that I add to my garden, but sometimes it's the unexpected gifts that turn out to be best. Some time ago I bought an Indigofera frutescens from the nursery at Helderberg Nature Reserve. In the pot was another tiny seedling of something. Not knowing what it was I planted it any way.

My free gift has turned out to be Felicia echinata. It has grown so well that it is almost as high as the tree I bought it with, in fact you can barely see the Indigofera between the leaves. I am sure this will change but in the meantime it is providing some lovely colour.

There are about 84 species of Felicia of which 79 are found in Southern Africa.

Felicia echinata has long stems branching out from ground level. These stems reach a height of about 60cm and are covered with small glossy green leaves with prickly toothed margins. Two to three beautiful blue daisy type flowers are found at the tips of these branches. Mine only ever seem to get one flower per branch. The flowers are about 20mm in diameter and occur between April and October.

Some of the branches first grow along the ground before turning upwards and occasionally these ground hugging parts will send out roots.

Felicia echinata is a really worthwhile addition to any garden , growing well in a sunny position and adding interest even when not flowering.

Another one of these blue daisies I have growing is Felicia amelloides. This is a small shrub, reaching a height of about 60cm (mine are lower) with almost equal spread. The oval leaves are covered with very tiny hairs giving it a sandpapery feel. This Felicia will tolerate light shade. The characteristic blue daisy type flowers stand out above the leaves, borne on stalks about 180mm long. It occurs naturally in the southern and eastern Cape, but is often confused with Felicia aethiopica which is found on the Peninsula. I am not entirely sure that I have F. amelloides although this was what the label said when I bought them.

Regardless of the name, these are really lovely fillers to a shrub border and mine are seldom without flowers. Unlike most other Felicias the flowers on these remain open even at night.

Finally made it to join Wildflower Wednesday -by the skin of my teeth.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Rain Spider Babies

Great excitement in the garden on Thursday evening. 
My daughter spotted this rain spider nest about 10 days ago and has been keeping a watchful eye on it ever since.

Thursday evening just before 7p.m. she went to have a look, an ear-piercing squeal told us something was happening.

Yes! The spiderlings were emerging from their nest.

Hundreds of the little things climbing out and heading off into the safety of the thick ivy.

The nest is against our boundary wall with quite dense shrubbery in front of it.
Getting these photo graphs meant climbing through this heavy plant growth and getting quite close, all the while wondering where Mommy spider is. Female rain spiders can be quite aggressive when they have babies to protect.

All these photo's were taken by my son, which finally gave Mom the opportunity to get her own back. He has always been the practical joker in the family and has been the cause of more than one heart stopping moment. It was getting dark when the last few photo's were taken and I was standing behind him holding a torch. Then I saw my chance – I tapped him lightly on the shoulder and yelled. The reaction was perfect! He jumped back almost dropping the camera, ready to run but almost fell over me who by then was rolling on the ground with laughter.

Rain spiders lay between 50 and 300 eggs. I don't know how many babies came out of this nest but it was a lot. There were at least 30 visible on the nest at any time, with a continual mass exodus lasting almost half an hour.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Bugs in my Garden

Most of my garden is dedicated to indigenous plants, but I have reserved a small area for food plants. We have a little lemon tree “growing” in a pot. “Growing “ because in the 3 years we have had it I don't think it has gained even 1cm. Every year it gets attacked by caterpillars that strip it bare of all it's leaves and the poor thing then expends all it's energy just trying to survive. This year when the caterpillars appeared I was armed with my camera.

They start off looking like this, and are known as Orange dogs, they are meant to resemble bird droppings and thus not look like a tasty meal to any hungry birds.

As they grow they change into these big fat green ones with beautiful markings. If you touch one it rears up and 2 “horns” protrude out of it's head, again a defence mechanism meant to ward off birds. Besides birds these caterpillars also fall prey to wasps, who lay their eggs inside the caterpillar to provide food for their young when they hatch.

The few that manage to survive all these perils eventually emerge from their pupa as the beautiful Citrus swallowtail butterfly.

Knowing this would be my reward I think will justify my recent crazy behaviour. As I mentioned I was keeping a close eye on the caterpillars and before work one morning I could see that almost all the leaves were demolished on my little tree. I had been browsing my books and the internet to find suitable indigenous plant hosts, having identified a few I tried to find some at our local nurseries – no luck. In desperation I sent my son to buy another lemon tree, with instructions to carefully transplant the hungry caterpillars. He told me that the nursery had offered to sell him pesticide to control caterpillars – he wisely declined! The next morning however when I went to look at their progress I could only find 1 of the original 6. I found 2 lying dead on the ground – then it struck me, the nursery must have treated the tree with their terrible poison. I hastily washed off the leaves in an effort to save the remaining caterpillar and I also found one starving little one on the original tree. It has been fun and enlightening to watch their progress, but alas both have since fallen prey to birds. With all these natural predators I hardly think gardeners need to kill them also, in most cases if your trees and shrubs are large and healthy then most insect attacks will not cause any lasting damage, even my little lemon is already sprouting new leaves.

Gardening to me is more than just healthy looking plants, it's about a healthy ecosystem. that means that caterpillars are important as they eventually become butterflies. Even the spiders that venture into my house and have occasionally joined me in the shower are carefully removed and returned to the garden where they aid in the control of pests.
Rain Spider
Rain Spider nest

My daughter spotted this nest hanging in the garden, a quick Google search identified it as the nest of the rain spider. (Palystes castaneus) It takes the female about 3-5 hours to construct this nest which is a little larger than a tennis ball, she stays close to the nest until the spiderlings emerge about 3 weeks later. Although rather large and scary looking these spiders are quite harmless. Mostly they confine themselves to the garden where they go unnoticed, but occasionally in the rainy season they will venture into the house. They do a wonderful job controlling insects including cockroaches but they do unfortunately include the occasional lizard or gecko in their diet as well.

Next time you spot one of these don't swat it, stop and look. It belongs to the family Mecoptera (Hanging flies) and mosquitoes form a large part of their diet.

Another useful mosquito predator is the dragonfly.

I think this one is known as a Blue Emperor (Anax imperator) belonging to the Hawker (Aeshnidae) family of dragonflies. This is the female busy laying eggs which are actually inserted into aquatic plants.

I believe that every creature in my garden serves a purpose and that if you destroy even one then you upset the balance of nature and will ultimately pay the price. Taking the time to learn about the creatures in the garden just adds to the pleasure of gardening and also provides an invaluable learning experience for my children.