Fynbos and Friends

Did you know? Fynbos is not only reserved for botanical gardeners and coastal landscapes – you can grow our indigenous glory from your backyard, anywhere in SA! Life is a Garden sat down with industry experts to get the full scoop on how to successfully grow fynbos in both summer and winter rainfall regions. Hold on to your hats, we’re about to go on a fynbos frenzy!  

 

How fresh is your fynbos knowledge?  

The word fynbos comes from Old Dutch meaning ‘fine bush’. The word does not only refer to one plant but rather a specific group of vegetation that is known as Proteaceae. Fynbos also includes restio, pelargoniums, vygies, bulbs and selected annuals. Think of using the term fynbos much like we would say savanna or tropical forest.  

For generations, scientists (including Charles Darwin) have been fascinated by this incredible plant species. Over millions of years, fynbos has expertly adapted to some of the harshest landscapes around Africa, resulting in the world’s most diverse plant habitat, even more than a tropical rainforest! The amazement doesn’t stop there, did you know that:  

  • There are more plant species on the 70-kilometre-long Cape Peninsula than in the whole of the British Isles. 
  • Table Mountain alone hosts as many plant species as the whole of the UK. 
  • The Western Cape is more botanically diverse than the richest tropical rainforest in South America (including the Amazon).  
  • Fire is essential for fynbos and needed to complete their life cycle (with frequency of the fire being a crucial component). The accumulated dead plant matter replenishes the soil while the intense heat triggers underground bulb growth.  
  • Fynbos-covered mountains are responsible for delivering 1/5 glasses of water in SA. Some of our country's wettest places are wild, soggy mountain tops covered in essential, gorgeous, rare proteas. Fynbos allows up to 80% of the rainwater to run off and fill our rivers and reservoirs. 
august, fynbos, protea, ericas, king proteas, life is a garden, greenery, colour, plants, diversity
august, fynbos, protea, ericas, king proteas, life is a garden, greenery, colour, plants, diversity

The call of our country  

If fynbos is so abundant, why should you then grow your own? Sadly, 1 700 fynbos plants are threatened by extinction with a large number also in danger of dying out completely, which is why the Kogelberg Nature Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the following protected areas, grouped under the Cape Floral Kingdom: 

  • Table Mountain 
  • De Hoop Nature Reserve 
  • Boland mountain complex 
  • Groot Winterhoek wilderness area 
  • Swartberg mountains 
  • Boosmansbos wilderness area 
  • Cederberg wilderness area 
  • Baviaanskloof 
  • Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden 

The threat to fynbos is not particularly climate change but alien trees. Mediterranean pines, Australian eucalypts and acacias thrive in similar environments and gradually overwhelm our fynbos, transforming landscapes into dark forests.  

You can answer the call of our country and make a difference in your own garden by: 

  • planting fynbos 
  • removing alien trees 
  • investing in a rainwater tank 
  • using biologically friendly pesticides  
  • providing shelter, food, and water for wildlife   

 

august, fynbos, protea, ericas, king proteas, life is a garden, greenery, colour, plants, diversity
august, fynbos, protea, ericas, king proteas, life is a garden, greenery, colour, plants, diversity

Time to get fynbos-fantastic!  

Now that we’re well-educated and inspired, it’s time to get to the juicy part of our adventure – starting a fynbos bed! With over 650 Erica species, 330 proteas, 320 restio varieties, and 137 phylicas – it’s pure paradise for gardeners (although also a tad overwhelming in terms of choice). It is important to plant fynbos according to your region’s rainfall (do you get rain during winter or summer?). This distinction, along with the following top plant picks from our experts, will help you decide on which plants to grow and how to design a glamorous indigenous bed with fynbos.   

Top tip: Fynbos loves organic, rich dirt and thrive in sandstone derived, acidic soil with good drainage, moderate watering, and no manure.    

 

Best bets for summer rain regions  

  1. King protea – is our national flower and available in pinks, reds, and whites.  
  2. Protea ‘Sylvia’ – cold hardy up to -7°C, could flower any time of the year when mature. 
  3. Phylica pubecens ‘Veerkoppie’ – is a texture delight and something different. 
  4. Erica versicolor ‘Sunbird red, pink and white’ – is a sunbird favourite and flowers almost the whole year-round. 
  5. Leucadendron ‘Safari Sunset’ – is an easy growing conebush with beautiful red foliage. 

Designer fynbos beds (summer rain)  

Plant Safari Sunset, protea ‘Sylvia’, Sugardaddy, and Brunia for your high points (2-3m) at the backs of beds. King protea, phylica, Erica, pincussion, and mimetes work well as medium plants (1-1.5m) while vygies will work well as smaller plants for the fronts of beds (border plants).  

Summer rain growing hacks  

Proteas are best planted out immediately after the frost period has passed (in August and September) while the air is still cool. Proteas like to be planted in groups providing mutual support during strong winds. Keep the soil cool with mulch such as pine needles that will add to the acidity of your soil. 

 

august, fynbos, protea, ericas, king proteas, life is a garden, greenery, colour, plants, diversity
august, fynbos, protea, ericas, king proteas, life is a garden, greenery, colour, plants, diversity

Best bets for winter rain regions  

  1. Leucadendron Harlequin – is perfect as a low-growing, bright hedge/shrub.
  2. Protea Little Prince – is a dwarfed stunner, ideal for smaller gardens.
  3. Leucospermum High Gold – is a flashy yellow shrub for the patio and beds.
  4. Aulux Bronze Haze - blossoms in summer and turns a deep bronze in winter.
  5. Agathosmas (Buchu) – a super medicinal plant, great for tees, and low maintenance.

  

Designer fynbos beds (winter rain)  

Plant Leucadendron Safari Sunset and Burgundy Sunset at the back of beds (2-3m). Bring in Leucospermum Ayoba Pink, Calypso Red and Ayoba Red for a middle burst of colour (1-1.5m). Filler plants such as Erica abietina, sparmanii, and cerinthoides will bring it all together perfectly.  

 

Winter rain growing hacks  

Proteas are best planted out into beds and permanent containers in autumn (April and May). Before planting, the chosen site should be cleared of all growth and individual holes (at least 40cm deep) prepared for each plant. At planting, do not add any bone meal or other forms of phosphorous or compost to the planting hole.  

 

Did you know? Proteas are social plants growing in close-knit communities that help to protect one another from harsh climates and wind.  

august, fynbos, protea, ericas, king proteas, life is a garden, greenery, colour, plants, diversity
august, fynbos, protea, ericas, king proteas, life is a garden, greenery, colour, plants, diversity

Friends of fynbos to look forward to  

Colourful sunbirds in masses, bees lured in by lekker local pollen, and cute rhino beetles that love a good compost heap – just some of the garden visitors to get excited about. Planting a variety of different fynbos will attract a multitude of incredible natural predators that all help keep your garden’s ecosystem and food chain intact and balanced. Your secret weapon with pest control is Mother Nature – if you plant it, the good guys will come!  

 

Top tip: Mulch your plants with acid compost once a year and remember to prune your fynbos after flowering or before spring for nice full growth.  

 

Best fynbos for containers  

Leucospermums: Ayoba Red, Ayoba Pink, Calypso Red, and Sweet Lucy 

Proteas: Little Prince and Roupe 

Leucadendrons: Senorita, Red Devil, Harvest, Harlequin, and Amy 

Ericas: Abietina, Fairy Bells, Cerenthoides, Sparmanii, and Serruiras (Blushing Brides) 

august, fynbos, protea, ericas, king proteas, life is a garden, greenery, colour, plants, diversity
august, fynbos, protea, ericas, king proteas, life is a garden, greenery, colour, plants, diversity

Fynbos secrets for success  

Our experts have shared the following advice to help you grow fabulous fynbos successfully.  

  • Always plant your fynbos in full sun. Most varieties, especially Leucospermum, will not flower otherwise.  
  • Fynbos in winter rainfall areas require excellent air circulation, cool nights, and low humidity in summer. 
  • Fynbos will not survive in heavy clay soils. In such conditions, plant on slopes or create soil mounds into which acid compost has been thoroughly mixed.  
  • Proteaceae take about 18 months to establish during which time they need regular deep watering according to your region’s rainfall.  
  • Always sterilise your secateurs and sheers, especially when cutting a sick plant as this will spread disease to the other plants.  
  • Proteas like cool soil, so plant these groundcovers around their stems: Dymondia, margareteae, Othonna capensis, and Carpobrotus edulis.  
august, fynbos, protea, ericas, king proteas, life is a garden, greenery, colour, plants, diversity
august, fynbos, protea, ericas, king proteas, life is a garden, greenery, colour, plants, diversity

With so much insight, your fynbos growing journey is sure to be simple and splendid. Remember to visit your GCA Garden Centre when you can find a collection of fynbos to adopt. Enjoy answering the call of our country and connecting with our wildlife like never before. Life is a Garden, let’s fill it with fantastic fynbos!  

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