Get creative in the garden with a teepee trellis

You are never too young to develop your green thumb with a spot of gardening. Inspire your kids to get into the garden this Easter, and start growing their own plants with this nifty teepee trellis project. This project is a great after-school activity for you and your child and can be used to grow a variety of vines, such as the Mandevilla seedlings featured in this activity. The teepee trellis can also be used to grow a number of edible plants, such as runner beans, peas, and tomatoes, depending on the time of the year. Encouraging your children to grow their own vegetables is a fantastic way to teach them about living off the land. They can watch their food grow from a seedling and end up on their plate.

What you will need:

  • Some dowelling rods
  • Some string
  • Mandevilla seedlings
  • Budding tape or cable ties
  • Scissors
  • A spade
  • A rake
  • Some bonemeal, a handful of fertiliser and half a bag of compost, in a Trug or wheelbarrow

Let’s get started:

The day before:

Step 1: The first step is to prepare the soil for planting and this needs to be done the day before the activity. Choose a nice big area where you and your child can plant the Mandevilla seedlings and get it ready together, by aerating the soil and adding compost, fertiliser, and bonemeal. Finish off by raking the soil level and watering it well.

 

  • On the day:

    Step 2: To begin the activity you’ll need to make a teepee trellis in the area that you and your child prepared for planting the day before. Help your little one arrange the dowelling rods into a teepee shape and get them to hold it in place while you tie them together with string.

    Step 3: With the teepee in place, your child can then dig holes just in front of each dowel, providing enough space for the Mandevilla seedlings.

April in the Garden

It’s April gardening – spring bulb planting time, and school holidays again. Put the kids to work and play, with you in the backyard this Easter.

Smart planting!

GCA garden centres across the country report that the following plants are on their top-selling hit parade in autumn. You can’t afford to miss out!April in the Garden

  • Aloe hybrid ‘porcupine’ – a compact aloe with striking bi-coloured flowers in deep rose pink and greenish cream shades, peaking in autumn. Perfect for hot rock gardens or pots. 
  • Abelia x grandiflora ‘Kaleidoscope’ – a compact hybrid of an old favourite with bright variegated foliage. Perfect for low hedging.
  • Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia milii) – spiny succulent with sparse leaves and bright flower bracts. Available in a variety of different colours. Drought tolerant, and perfect for pots too.
  • Angel wings (Gaura ‘Rosy Jane’) – a desirable perennial with delicate, two-tone pink and white flowers. A new form of an old gardening favourite!
  • Horseshoe pelargonium (Pelargonium zonale) – the indigenous specie grows into a wild woody shrub, flowering in pink all the time. Modern hybrids will shower you with  colour in every shade. Great for beds, window boxes, and pots.
  • Ribbon bush (Hypoestes aristata) – masses of attractive lilac pink flowers on an indigenous shrub which likes to grow in the dry shade of trees.
  • Everlasting (Syncarpha argentea) – silvery foliage on a dainty plant, supporting small, paper-like flowers in soft pink and white. Perfect for pots too.
  • Hairawn muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) – grass with spectacular and billowing inflorescences of masses of vibrant pink, airy flowers on tall stems. This grass tolerates poorly drained soil but also drought conditions. Perfect for meadow planting.

A digging patch

If we don’t make time to teach the young folk to love gardening, who is going to plant trees, flowers, fruit and vegetables one day.

Popular Petunias

Surely there’s not a living soul who has not heard of petunias at some time or another in their lives, such has been their popularity since the dawn of time, well almost. The petunias that were first discovered in the mid-1700 to early-1800’s in South America actually looked nothing like the stunners that grace our gardens today. Petunia axillaris and Petunia violacea originally had small white and purple flowers, respectively, which were luckily snatched up by breeders in both Germany and England who began the, eventually successful, search for the large colourful blooms that we can buy from our garden centres today known as Petunia x hybrida.

It’s hard to imagine, when looking at a petunia, that it is actually part of the potato family. It was just short of thirty years ago that a genus name change was strongly suggested to more adequately reflect this connection but luckily the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature decided the damage, commercially, would be too great to make the change. Could you imagine walking into a garden centre and asking where they kept their stimoryne plants?

With the outstanding success that breeders have had over the years, your challenge now lies in the sheer choice you’re faced with not only when choosing colours but also deciding whether you’d like a plant that has fewer but bigger flowers, medium sized but more flowers or small but flowers a plenty. Decisions, decisions. Choosing their home would probably be the easiest way to decide which variety would be most suitable but when all else fails just grab some of each and let them warm up your winter garden en masse.

Petunia grandiflora, as the name suggests, has large flowers requiring regular deadheading to keep the blooms coming and spreads vigorously so would be more suitable for garden beds.

March in the Garden

It’s not really autumn in the garden yet, March in the garden is simply late summer with a ‘day-old beard growth’ – a lovely time of year when there is much to do and to plant in the garden…    

May the forest be with you!

A new trend is called “forest bathing”, and on March 21, (also Human Rights Day in our country), it’s International Day of the Forests too. ‘Forest bathing’ does not entail a tiring hike  through a huge plantation, and nor does it mean standing naked under a tree when it is raining, to save shower water… It means a little bit of quiet “me-time” in the company of green giants, to appreciate their huge value to our planet, and our mental health in general – being in the shade and protection of trees does seem to soothe anxiety!

It is therefore important that we do not allow trees to be chopped down right, left, and centre. It’s equally important that we take time to choose the appropriate tree for different situations, (your local GCA garden centre will know!) and to support all tree-planting initiatives in our communities. Trees are the green lungs of our urban areas and planting them is a symbol of love for future generations to come.

Smart planting – “The golden age”

You may have seen that metallic colours like rose gold and copper are still on-trend. Metallic décor and plants with golden foliage or bright variegation is still very ‘in’ – and they create lightness and bright accents in pots or in a garden.

Plant lots of dwarf Coprosma hybrids with their glowing foliage which will start intensifying as soon as it’s a little cooler. The foliage of a star jasmine called ‘Summer Sunset’ is coppery and gold, and the beautiful new cordyline varieties like ‘Electric Pink’ and ‘Electric Star’ are very ‘in’ too.

Life is like a box of succulents

It is valentine’s day this month, the perfect day to show someone you love that you care about them. There is nothing more special than a gift from the heart, that you made with your own two hands! Today’s activity, our succulent box, is like a tray of chocolates, only so much better because it’s original, and it will last! This is a great activity for tweens wanting to give their parents, teachers or even a special someone a lovely original Valentine’s gift. If you have all the materials you can get started straight away.

All you need to know about succulents

Succulents are fleshy plants that can store a lot of water in their leaves and stems to help them in drought conditions. These plants are often very striking and unusual in their appearance making them a great choice as a gift for a loved one because they are so beautiful to look at, and they are hardy so they will survive being wrapped in a box without breaking or dying. Another nice thing about using succulents for this activity, particularly echeverias, is that they’re more commonly known as “rock roses”, which is great to know if you want to replace the traditional rose and make an extra special impression.

You will need

  • A wooden or cardboard box. Try to find a box that’s just the right size for your seedling tray so that they fit perfectly and don’t slide around when you’re carrying your box.
  • Tissue paper. Pick a pretty piece of tissue paper to decorate the inside of your box, make sure it’s a big piece so you don’t run out.
  • Succulents. Choose a variety of small succulents for the inside of your box.
  • Colour printout of succulents. If you like, make a pretty colour printout of the succulents you’ve chosen to go into your box.

February in the Garden

It’s the month of love! Valentine’s day falls in February and while lovers across the land will spend just one day to romance each other, gardeners will take full advantage of summer’s flowering favourites that GCA nurseries will have on offer, to romance their gardens – not only for a day or a month, but well beyond!

Romancing the patio and balcony

Why settle for one short-lived, long-stemmed red rose when you can rather go for intense gardening pleasure in a small space filled with ravishing potted roses? Miniature rose varieties collectively known as ‘patio roses’ are freely available in warm seasons. They flower profusely if kept in a sunny spot for a few hours and are protected at root level with a layer of organic mulch to keep their roots cool and moist. There are also top selling garden roses like ‘Little Red Hedge’ which one can plant in large containers to add a splash of bright colour on a patio. Rose grower Ludwig Taschner describes ‘Little Red Hedge’ as follows: “Imagine a deep red delphinium spike and you have the best description of this rose. The small, pointed buds of clear carmine-red are produced on rigid little side-stems and open into firm, double blooms which seem to last forever. The bush continues to produce basal flower spikes in the shortest time and will form a dense ‘little red hedge’.”

Double up on patio or balcony romance by adding pots and tubs filled with dreamy hibiscus with flower colours so bright, it will feel like you have been carried off to a far-away tropical island paradise! The latest ranges of hibiscus sold includes compact and very floriferous plants especially bred for container growing (although they will do well in the garden too!) They like full sun, do well in semi-shade too and can even be kept indoors as flowering house plants for short periods.

Perfect for the Patio: Heavenly Hibiscus

Heavenly Hibiscus

February is the month of love and what better way to say a long and lasting “I love you” than with the gift of a plant for the patio. The hibiscus makes a lovely addition to any patio and is a subdivision of flowering plants that is made up of around 220 different species that are quite diverse, including hot-climate evergreen shrubs and small trees, as well as seasonal temperature-zone shrubs, and some annuals and perennials. The most recognisable of these is the Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, otherwise known as the Chinese Rose, Red Hibiscus or Shoeflower.

The Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, or Shoeflower, is characterised by its blood-red flowers, and while red might be the romantic colour of love, the name Shoeflower comes from the rather unromantic Jamaican use of crushing the flowers to polish black shoes. This species of hibiscus originated from an ancient hybrid from the Indian Ocean region and can be identified as a glossy evergreen shrub that can sometimes be as much as 4,5m high and wide. Its red flowers are the characteristic funnel shape with 5 overlapping petals and a central column of fused stamens. Each flower only lasts a day, opening in the morning and withering by evening, but they appear in long succession, as long as the weather is warm. They prefer a frost-free environment.

Caring for your potted hibiscus

Hibiscus plants are easy to grow and they thrive in sunlight and well-drained soil. They are versatile and can be grown outdoors or indoors. They make beautiful flowering plant bushes and perform best when their roots are slightly crowded, so pay attention to the size of the pot you get for your hibiscus. Read below for details on caring for your patio hibiscus.

Light:

Hibiscus thrives in full to partial sunlight, although in hot climates like ours, you might want to opt for partial sunlight rather, which makes these plants perfect for your patio.

January in the Garden

The new year has arrived with a bang! There are 365 days ahead to grow something, which makes every day a gardening day!

Flex your gardening muscles

Giving yourself a good workout in the privacy of your own backyard is much nicer than going to a gym and you don’t have to force your ‘love handles’ into unbecoming lycra!

While you are getting fitter and trimmer with pruning, weeding, composting, raking, digging, planting and mowing, your garden will reward your time and spent perspiration with lush growth and great harvests of flowers and edibles. Another advantage is that garden gym, which means spending time outside in the sunshine and fresh air, has a positive influence on your psychological health as well – it relieves stress and helps with depression. Regular hours spent in the garden will work out the muscles in your legs, back, stomach and will also give you a healthy cardiovascular buzz while the calories slowly melt away.       

Before starting your garden gym session, warm up those cold muscles by stretching a bit – it gives you time to decide what you are going to tackle first. Vary your garden workout with different actions like pruning, raking, mowing, digging and weeding, and spend about 15 minutes on each activity to work out different muscles. Do some stretching and releasing exercises before moving on to the next action. If you stick to this regime regularly, everything which needs to be done in the garden will be done, and you will become trim and fit!

Plant smart… “Verdure” smart!

Be on trend with one of the Pantone colour group for 2018 called “verdure”. Complementing shades in this group include “celery green”, “berry-infused purple” and “egg shell blue”. It is said that these colours are “symbolic of health”.

Another gardening trend is to plant veggies in between flowers in garden beds and containers, flying the old fashioned idea of traditional vegetable gardens hidden away in an unseen corner of the garden.

Holiday activity: Make a beautiful upcycled chair planter!

With the holidays stretching out before us, it is definitely time to get those little hands busy, and what better way to keep busy, than to make something out of nothing, that everyone will enjoy. A chair planter is a creative and easy-to-make decoration that can liven up any patio or quiet corner. It doesn’t require much in terms of tools, and the task is straightforward.

Why renew, reuse, recycle?

By upcycling an old chair, we are adding value to the garden, creating a beautiful gift, or simply keeping busy. At the same time, it prevents an old chair going to waste. Keeping our landfill sites as empty as possible is extremely important for our natural environment and for the wildlife in those areas. We can minimise the amount of rubbish that goes to a landfill site by renewing, reusing and recycling as much as possible at home. That is why we are going to take an old chair and create something fresh, new, and beautiful.

You will need 

  • An old, unused chair. The best chair to use would be a wooden one, but the most important chair to use is one that is not being used already. If your chair is slightly weathered and damaged, it’s absolutely perfect!
  • A hanging basket with the hooks and chains removed. You can use a wire basket from your local GCA, or find an old one at home. For this project, rustic items will work perfectly.
  • Flowering plants. It is a good idea to plan ahead and decide whether your chair planter will be placed outside, inside, in sun or shade. That will help you to choose flowers that will happily live in those conditions. Begonia boliviensis is a great plant to put into your hanging baskets, so is the classic and cute Petunia plant, or New Guinea Impatiens which we used.

Basil on the Balcony

Basil is one of the most versatile herbs, with different varieties that each offer unique properties and uses. Not only is Basil a useful herb, but it is beautiful too. Some varieties have broad leaves, while others have petite leaves. Add this incredible herb to your balcony garden for a fresh, lush look, or grow it as a handy, ready-to-reach-for, addition to your cooking. Here are a few species that are easy to grow and offer an incredible range of different textures and scents.  

Aristotle Basil

This species of basil offers a great number of uses, first and foremost in the kitchen. It gives a delightful flavour to fresh salads, Greek and Italian cooking, while the small leaves make it an attractive and aromatic plant for the balcony. It is a dense, compact bush that grows to around 25cm in height. You can grow it in its own planter, or add it to mixed planters.

You can harvest leaves fairly regularly provided you do it in a balanced method. Try to pick leaves in such a way that it is not noticeable. Give them lots of light, shelter from the wind, and they will reward you with a nutritious addition to recipes, being jam-packed with vitamin K, vitamin A, copper, iron, and manganese.  

 

This beautiful purple variety of basil is a great ornamental plant. Their leaves are larger, around 2-3cm at full size, with variegated green elements. These aromatic leaves are also fantastic in pasta, stews, and vegetable dishes. Companion them with cherry tomatoes on your balcony for a power team, because they naturally repel tomato hornworms, aphids, and mites.

They enjoy a sterile soil that is kept moist, especially for the first 2 or 3 weeks if you are growing them from seed, to facilitate their germination process.  They like small pots in sunny places with rich, well-drained soil.

A Very Merry DIY: Festive Ornaments for Your Tree

The holiday season is here, and it’s time for fun, festivities and lots of crafts.

Keep the kids busy and laughing with a little happy activity. It’s the season of cheer, after all, so add a little to your trees with this easy peasy bird seed ornament DIY. The kids will love getting their hands dirty, the trees will look peppy, the birds will chirp happily, and they make great festive gifts too. Let’s make it a December to remember.

What you will need: 

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 ½ tsp. unflavored gelatin
  • 3 tbsp. golden syrup
  • A whisk
  • 4 cups birdseed
  • Molds (muffin tin, cookie cutters, etc.)
  • Baking tray
  • Nonstick spray
  • Drinking straws
  • Waxed paper
  • Ribbon/twine

Let’s get creative:

  • First, get your little ones to mix the flour, water, gelatin and syrup together in a large mixing bowl - using the whisk to stir. Stir until was well-combined.
  • Add the birdseed to the mixture, and stir until completely coated.
  • Kiddies, put your gloves on now!
  • Place the wax paper on the baking tray and spray with nonstick spray. Spray the molds after.
  • Lay handfuls of the mixture on the wax paper, flattening them out and then placing the molds over each merry mound of mixture.
  • Poke a hole through top of each birdseed mold using drinking straws. Make sure the hole has gone through all the way, to make it easy for you to thread your ribbon or twine.
  • Leave them to dry while you get a good night’s sleep.
  • The next day, remove the straws.
  • Adults, we may need your skills here. Help your kids cut the ribbon and thread it through the hole. Tie knots in the ribbon so that the ornaments can hang on a tree.
  • It’s time to decorate! Hang up these festive ornaments in a tree and watch as the birds enjoy them.

December in the Garden

Do dream of a ‘green’ festive season, as your nearest GCA garden centre will have everything in stock to make your dreams a reality, with festive gifting ideas and foolproof plants to smarten up your yard.

Smart planting – Foolproof greenery

If the idea of planting lovely texture in all the shades of green like lime green, spring green, apple green, bright green, dark and olive green appeals to you, then pick from this list of delightful plants which are also top sellers:

Japanese sago palm (Cycas revoluta) is a very sculptural palm-like plant growing up to about 1,5m in height. It has dark green feathery leaves shaped in a wide rosette. Evergreen and suitable to full sun or shade, semi-hardy and requires medium to low water usage.

Bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae) is a dense, clump-forming indigenous species with dark green, spear-shaped leaves on sturdy stems. Both the flowers (which appear from autumn and stay throughout the winter months) as well as the leaves are very popular with floral artists. Strelitzias prefer temperate to subtropical climates and have a very low water usage when properly established.

Cape box (Buxus microphylla ‘Faulkner’) is a tough, evergreen shrub. It is compact and upright growing, with a dense coat of oval-shaped, bright green leaves. It can be pruned into any topiary shape and is suitable as a hedging plant (and also as a small festive tree!). Cold hardy and frost resistant, requiring medium water use.

Lilyturf (Liriope muscari ‘Evergreen Giant’) has dark green leaves reaching nearly 1m long. This is a lovely accent plant for sun or deep shade, in pots and near the swimming pool. It is semi-hardy and has medium water usage requirements.

Dwarf mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Kyoto’) has dark green leaves and is a very compact size (10 x 30cm).

Festive Ideal for Indoors: Ravishing Festive Amaryllis Bulbs

Of all flowering bulbs, Amaryllis are amongst the easiest and most rewarding to grow and flower – whether indoors or out. Amaryllis bulbs produce incredibly showy, trumpet-shaped blooms that add a flamboyant and bold statement to gardens and homes throughout South Africa.

The Amaryllis’ flowering period extends from spring through to autumn; conveniently coinciding with the festive and holiday season. Poinsettias are the traditional holiday flower – but Amaryllis bulbs have to be close on their heels!

The wide range of spectacular double and single red blooms, make this plant a festive winner over the holidays. Potted plants can be used as décor items, but also make long-lasting and stunning gifts for festive gifts and year-end gifts of appreciation.

There are several good reasons why you should give Amaryllis bulbs a try:

Like with all bulbs, Amaryllis store all they need to ‘bloom’ in their enlarged bulb. All that’s required is for you to plant the bulb and add water – then sit back and enjoy! For instant beauty, visit your local GCA garden centre and purchase a potted amaryllis.

Whether indoors or out, their key requirements are drainage and a sunny location.

Mixed colours and varieties in abundance – choose from an endless range of mini, medium or large flowering blooms in an endless range of colours – including whites, pinks, orange, red and more.

Longevity… Amaryllis bulbs flower within 4–6 weeks of planting. Most plants will produce flowering stems, which easily extends the growing period to 6–8 weeks.

The true ‘BONUS’ with Amaryllis bulbs is that they grow for many years. Bulbs can be stored in a dark, dry cupboard and replanted next season, or if planted into the garden – the bulbs will naturally regrow and flower, provided they receive enough sun and are watered regularly enough.

Herewith a few useful tips when growing Amaryllis bulbs indoors:  

 

Top heavy: Amaryllis blooms can be spectacularly large (and heavy).

Healthy Herb for November: Flavourful fennel

Spicy and sweet, fennel is a cook’s dream and a delight for gardeners who love its striking foliage and flowers.

As a herb, fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a citizen of the world, like so many other Mediterranean exports. It still grows wild along the coast and on dry sunny Mediterranean slopes, but from there it has spread throughout the world because it has such simple requirements: plenty of sun and ordinary garden soil.

Bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Rubrum Purpureum’), in particular, is a beautiful foliage plant (with all the herbal uses) that is more often found in flower gardens, especially mixed borders where it is used as a tall, striking foliage plant.

In addition to its good looks, fennel has many culinary and healing properties. The leaves and seeds are strongly aromatic, adding a subtle aniseed flavour to fish, poultry and vegetable, as well as spicy Indian and Italian dishes. The bulb of Florence fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce) has a milder taste.

The seeds and leaves of fennel are indispensable as part of the home pharmacy, soothing red eyes, alleviating indigestion and colic in infants, reducing nausea, acting as a mild laxative and even helping new mothers to produce milk.

Growing fennel

Ordinary fennel and bronze fennel grow up to 2m high, with fine, feathery green or bronze leaves and umbels of yellow flowers the size of dinner plates. Their preference for sandy soil suits coastal gardens, but they grow easily just about everywhere. Plants in heavier soil may die in very wet or cold winters. Both plants are perennials and can be cut back when the leaves start to fade. They will shoot up again.

Florence fennel requires richer soil, which should still drain well, and more regular watering to ensure swollen bulbs, which are shaved into salads or roasted.

November in the Garden

Summer’s all about colour… Everywhere! The all-time favourites are in full bloom and you need more of them. The best news is the availability of modern varieties of many perennials and edibles which can be planted and enjoyed in the smallest of spaces. You can also plant future health today!

Petite, but powerful

The new-age dwarf Inca lilies are magnificent for the garden and suitable to grow in containers too, as they reach a height of only 30-35cm. They flower profusely from spring to autumn and can be found in a wide range of bright colours. These shorty’s can, just like their taller family members, be picked as long-lasting cut flowers.    

Growth in a nutshell

  • Good for sun or light shade.
  • Plant in well-aerated soil, enriched with compost.
  • Water and feed regularly in the summer months with fertiliser for flower production

Queen Hydrangea

Brighten up shady areas with glorious hydrangeas, which will now be available in flower. Colour in between them with impatiens, begonias and browallia.

Remember that: Hydrangeas love dappled shade, well-aerated soil and lots of water. If you want to grow them in pots, place them on the Southern side of the house for early morning sun and afternoon shade. They need to be fed monthly from August to March with a balanced combination fertiliser.

More smart planting…  

The Pondo Waterwood (Syzygium pondoense) is a perfectly sphere-shaped shrub to add structure or formality to any garden setting, and is known as an absolute bird magnet. It is indigenous and endemic to the Northern Eastern Cape and the Southern Kwa-Zulu Natal area, where it grows along the rocky beds of streams. It is evergreen and can reach a height and diameter of 3m. The new shoots and leaves are reddish in colour but as they mature, become shiny and dark green with a leathery feel.

Round Up Summer Colour

Ask any experienced gardener and they’ll tell you that no garden bed is complete without a representative of this group of annuals bringing their particular brand of hardy good cheer. Dianthus is one of those all-rounder’s that satisfies, no matter your priorities. If it’s a colourful show you’re after these little stunners can be coaxed into flowering throughout the year!

If you’re looking for something different this summer, look no further than a globe amaranth, aka Gomphrena. You’ll be forgiven for the “what?” expression since these lovely globe like flowers are not very well known, at least not yet. Their intense purple blooms are an eye catching addition to any garden though and will no doubt have your guests asking about them before the drinks are even served.

Dianthus

The delicately fringed blooms, typical of many of the dianthus, lend form and texture to borders, rockeries, small flower beds and balconies while their generosity of flowers, with a little coaxing, promise a bright splash of year-round colour. Plant your seedlings 15cm apart, with a thick layer of mulch between the plants, in a sunny position (although they will tolerate some shade in summer) in compost enriched soil and give them a fortnightly booster of a well-balanced fertiliser to ensure a bumper crop of blooms. Being “Water-Wise” Dianthus prefer infrequent but deep watering- another plus for this family of favourites.

Restricted to pots or simply yearning to bring your garden closer to your home? All of the dianthus group adapt exceptionally well to pots. Once in full bloom Dianthus can be brought inside as a living bouquet. Pay pots on sunny patios a little closer attention than you do the Dianthus in your garden by being more generous and frequent with your watering.

Gomphrena

Gomphrena, aka globe amaranth, is a bushy, hairy leaf annual with globe-like purple flower bracts that sit atop thick stems.

Blazing Colour Spots

Get ready to set your beds alight this November with blazes of pinks, reds, oranges, purples and white with this month’s toughest little bloomer, Vinca. With its shiny green leaves and amazing blooming beauty, this annual will liven up your garden a treat. Vincas make lovely companions in containers as well as brightening up your beds. This happy plant will give you months of colour. When not in bloom, it offers a neat green edge to your beds and paths.

Native to Madagascar, Hypoestes, our November companion plant, is a bushy tropical plant with pointed oval leaves covered in soft down. The plant produces small spiky clusters of pink or blue flowers, but these are not particularly extravagant or showy and it is for their colourful leaves that Hypoestes phyllostachya tend to be cultivated.

Vinca

Vincas are tough little plants and actually flourish under our conditions although they are native to Madagascar. They like it hot and sunny with dry feet. Plant your seedlings in a full sun position, approximately 20cm apart. Remember to plant your Vinca seedlings in the early morning or late afternoon when the heat of the day is not too intense. Vincas prefer a slightly acid soil that drains well, but not one that is particularly rich or fertile. Dig the bed to a depth of about 30cm and incorporate a 10cm layer of compost or dry manure before planting. Apply a general fertilizer once or twice a season.

Once they are established, do not spoil them with too much water as they are very drought tolerant. Vincas are an excellent “water wise” choice. During times of drought the leaves may curl up but they’ll un-curl again at night or when the plant receives water. Don’t over water; you will do more harm than good.

 

Hypoestes

The Polka Dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya) is well known as a novelty indoor plant, but it has also emerged as a striking outdoor bedding plant that can be used to brighten borders or containers in those difficult shaded areas.

Vital Veggie for October: Squashes

Growing perfect squash

Squash and pumpkins have been enjoyed on South African dinner tables for centuries. This is not surprising considering how delicious they are and the ease with which they grow.

Starting Off

Most squash varieties need quite a bit of space in which to grow and have historically only been grown by gardeners with large vegetable gardens. Fortunately, through modern hybridising techniques, new cultivars have been developed that will not take over large areas and can be grown in most gardens. A quick look on the back of the seed packet will tell you if the cultivar is suitable for your garden.

It is advisable to plant your squash seed as soon as all danger of frost has passed. Alternatively, they can be started off early in pots kept in a sheltered, frost-free environment and planted out once the weather has warmed up. If you live in the Lowveld, you can plant throughout the year. Squash perform at their best in a deeply dug bed that has had plenty of compost and well-rotted manure turned into it. Plant the seed in stations of about 450mm in diameter and 1m apart (less for bush varieties) and grow 3 to 5 seed per planting station.

General Care

Keep the soil constantly moist until the seedlings are established, and then water deeply whenever the soil starts to dry out. If possible, water by flood irrigation as this reduces the chances of fungal attack. Feeding the plants with a balanced fertiliser or liquid manure every few weeks will give you the best results. Because of their trailing habit, most varieties can be trained up trellises to help conserve space. When the fruit gets bigger, give it some support so that it does not snap off prematurely.

Harvesting

You can look forward to picking your first fruit in as little as three months, less if you are growing baby varieties.