It’s a New Year, a new dawn and surely there is no more appropriate way to see it in than with an annual whose flowers open and shut with the rising and setting of the sun; portulaca. Since South Africa has yet to have decent rainfall across the country and January being typically one of our hottest times, we’re sticking to hardy, more tenacious options. Renowned for their vigorous growth and charming diversity, our companion this month, gazania, also boasts the interesting characteristic of flowers that play peek-a-boo with the sun.
Native to the hot, dry plains of southern Brazil, Uruguay and northern Argentina, portulacas are now grown throughout the world as a favourite summer bedding plant. Its popularity, especially in South Africa, is hardly surprising, as this tough little bedding plant rewards the garden with masses of brightly coloured blooms all summer and into autumn.
Portulacas, commonly known as ‘Vygies’ or moss roses, takes the heat better than most – in fact, the hotter it gets, the better they like it. Being a relatively low growing plant, portulacas are best used as a groundcover in front of other foliage type plants, especially succulents. They are also ideal for edging sunny borders, rockeries, driveways or pavements. Because they don’t require a lot of water and have no real pest problems so they would work really well in a xeriscape or water wise garden. Being that they do like it hot, try planting them in a container or hanging basket on a sunny patio or balcony. Their trailing habit will soon push the stems over the edge of the pot with a cascade of eye-catching blooms.
They grow well in poor, sandy or gravelly soils, as long as it drains well. Most importantly they need a sunny home. Dead-heading is not required, but when your moss roses become leggy in the late summer, cut them back a few inches to get another burst of blooms in autumn. Fortunately, while they are attractive to our eye, pests find them quite unappealing.
Gazanias, members of the Daisy family, are extremely rewarding annuals. The plants offer delicious, long-flowering variety, and require minimal care. Native to South Africa, they are particularly striking in indigenous gardens. Gazanias are very versatile, growing cheerfully as bedding plants, decorative edging and ground cover. They have both clump-forming and trailing growth habits, so also show to great effect in rockeries, borders, pots and window boxes.
Plant your seedlings in warm, sunny positions, and these enduring delights will liven up the garden landscape throughout the year. Really only requiring good drainage and minimal water, Gazanias are hard to beat for vibrant, enduring colour in any sunny, South African garden.
Quite the paradox, chilli heat, isn’t it? January is a wonderful time for growing chillies as they thrive in the heat and need a large amount of direct sun if you’re to get the bumper crop you’re hoping for. Since they need a fair amount of water to get started it’s advisable to buy a few already established seedlings from a local garden centre to avoid any wastage.
Be sure to ask what chilli you’re buying, not only for the heat factor, but also so you know what the fruit will look like. They come in so many shapes and sizes you’ll want to know when it’s time to harvest. Most often though, they will start off green turning more red and grow hotter as they ripen.
Petunia Cascades, the perfect annual that produces blooms on long pendulous stems that can overflow hanging baskets or drape over the edges of patio or balcony containers, with ease. Petunias do best in full sun, but can handle partial shade, especially in hotter areas, as long as they’re given at least six hours of full sun every day. Requiring less watering than most annuals, petunias also do not like wet feet so make sure that you plant them in well-drained soil.