Sunsets and Honey
Our companions this month are reminiscent of two very special gifts from Mother Nature – sunsets and honey. Our indigenous Gazanias bloom in bursts of brilliant colours in the shades of a magnificent African sunset. Part of the Asteraceae, or daisy, family they have the common daisy shape, but the petals come in the most intricate colours and detail. Our other little gift, Alyssum, blooms in dainty umbrellas of multiple tiny flowers; scented sweetly with a very real honey-like fragrance. Perhaps the greatest gift of all is that neither of these beauties is particularly fussy, in fact they are pretty hardy and perfect for some of our harsher South African gardens where they do an excellent job of attracting birds, bees, butterflies and other ‘friendly’ insects.
Our proudly South African national treasure even goes by the name ‘Treasure Flower’, and its richness in colours and varietals were clearly the inspiration for its Greek origination of ‘gaza’ meaning ‘riches’. These varietals include single, bi-coloured and even multi colours of orange, yellow, bronze and white that look like an artist has painted them. Petals do close on cloudy days and at dusk; some hybrids will open in low light.
Gazanias prefer full sun and thrive in poor soils and dry climates. Soil must be well-drained, not heavy or clay based. They can tolerate cold temperatures but not severe frost. Planted en masse, they make perfect ground covers in water scarce areas; they also work well in containers due to their trailing nature.
When planting, water well, until the soil is completely moist. Once established, do not over water as this causes rotting as well as big clumps of leaves and no flowers. Being proudly South African, Gazanias can handle drought conditions.
Plant as soon as the danger of frost has passed. Sprinkle a light application of organic fertiliser into the planting hole and set them about 25 cm apart. Add about 8cm of mulch around, not on top, of the plants. Being low maintenance, just remove old foliage in spring, pruning off old stems, and remember to deadhead.
Also known as sweet alyssum or carpet flower, these dainty plants make fantastic groundcovers as they only grow to about 20 cm in height. Plant about 15 cm apart as they are great spreaders, making them perfect for edgings or filling in gaps in pathways. Alyssum also enjoy full sun, but with some afternoon shade. Soil must be well-draining with not too much nitrogen. Like their companion, they only require moderate watering. Alyssum also make for wonderful trailing umbrellas of white, pink, purple or yellow blooms in hanging baskets, wafting their sweet honey scent along your balcony.
Another lovely African indigenous, Pelargonium peltatum, better known as ivy-leafed geranium or cascading geranium are ideal for hanging baskets or pots. They’re also climbers which can reach up to 2 m if encouraged. Their flowers of mauve, pink or white are incredibly rewarding when grown in full sun or filtered shade.