Dear readers. You are exclusively invited to this month’s super special edition of Life is a Garden. We’re taking you on a journey from nucleus to nursery and sharing some trade secrets about the life of plants. Join us now on a plant pilgrimage and see just how much preparation and planning goes into those adored annuals we love so much.
Our journey begins in the seed vault. This is a specialised environment, much like a womb, and is perfectly harmonised to stimulate new life. The temperature is set at 10°C as the soil awaits its seed. The sowing process varies between product coated and edible seeds. Larger vegetable seeds are sown by hand as well as some flowers such as Marigolds. Coated seeds are sown using a nifty machine, which takes care of the picking up and planting.
Annuals, like our beloved Dianthus, are planned six months in advance using carefully calculated timesheets. The timesheets are planned out on a week to week basis with the aim to sell the plants during week 26, from seed vault to nursery showroom.
Once the seeds are safely tucked in with moisture-retaining soil, the second phase of the plant’s life begins. The germination station is an exciting place – this is where we begin to see the magic happen! The germination room is set between 24 - 25°C and will be the new home of the seeds for 2 – 9 days, depending on the plant. Unlike the conditions in the seed vault, the humidity in the germination room is cranked up to 100%.
Once the plugs are big enough, they get planted out in their eventual packaging, pots, 8-packs or 30-packs. The growing medium is a blend of buffered coir, imported peat moss, possibly a bit of composted bark or river sand and a controlled-release fertiliser.
We’re just over halfway through the plant supply chain and have now reached a pivotal point of the plant pilgrimage. It’s time to see how the little ones do in a real-world setting, outside the comfort of the controlled grow room. The seedlings are moved outside for a period of ‘hardening off’. Annuals like Dianthus will spend about 2 – 3 weeks in the wild for a chance to acclimatise, grow, and learn all they need to know about survival in real-life conditions.
Once planted out and growing on, our small plants need regular feeding. This is generally a fully balanced fertiliser, which is watered on frequently. They are also susceptible to various pests and diseases, so attention must be given to a program of checking and control where needed. Preventative spraying is often the solution (an apple a day, and all that.)
The plants are ready to stand on their own now that they have withstood all that Mother Nature has to teach them. Orders are placed by garden centres and the plants are delivered to their new temporarily homes. Once at your GCA Garden Centre, the plants have 2 weeks in the spotlight where they await their forever home.
As you can see, the journey a little seed goes through to find that perfect pot or spot in your garden is rather inspirational. Much like life, the different phases a seed must go through is both rewarding and challenging. Our annuals are planned half a year in advance before there is even a whisper of a seedling – now that’s something to appreciate. Life is a Garden, let’s grow with it!
Although spring only officially starts on the 1st of September, we don’t need a calendar to see that spring has sprung! For most of the country there is a delightful springiness in the air. For the Free State and Western Cape, your time is soon to come. Although August is warm to even hot in various parts of the country, always apply the following rules when planting or sowing plants that are sensitive to frost damage:
With pruning behind us, there is so much to do in the garden, so push aside the winter chills and spring into action. Your spring bulbs and annuals should be a riot of colour by now, inviting you out onto the patio with family and friends during our balmy, warm August days. The beauty of spring may only be rivalled by the stunning women that surround us. The 9th of August is National Women’s Day and the perfect opportunity to celebrate both Mother Nature and all of womankind!
An African appetite
Have you considered growing an edible local fruit? The following shrubs, trees and ground covers can form an aesthetic part of your garden and become a valuable, unusual food source:
Tip: They attract birds and butterflies and their flowers feed honey bees.
Play & plan with the COLOUR palette
Your spring and summer palette of plants can be a crazy cacophony of colours with a wonderful variety of colour combinations for your consideration. Have fun playing with these flowering plant colours now available in pots:
No wonder, they say Life is a Garden – let’s enjoy it!
Top tip: Improving your SOIL is the priority at this time of year. Before or at the time of planting, add and mix into it plenty of organic matter to the soil such as compost, manure, autumn leaves or other suitable products offered by your local GCA Garden Centre. This will boost soil fertility and ensure healthy plant growth.
It’s a pet’s life
Dogs will often eat grass blades when they have a stomach ailment. Did you know that there is a plant aptly named dog grass (Elymus caninus) that your dog will simply love to chew on rather than your lawn? You have the ideal excuse to indulge your dog this month since 10 August is Spoil your Dog Day! Why stop there, cats are smitten over catnip (Nepeta cataria) and love to chew and roll all over the plant.
What to sow
Got that green finger tingle? Let’s sow some seeds! Marigolds germinate within a week.
Even the lightest and laziest green finger will have success sowing the following seeds:
Claim to fame: Planted among veggies, marigolds are great companion plants since their scent repels many different pests including Nematodes.
Tip: The cornflower has nectar-rich flowers, which attract many beneficial insects to the garden. These are nature’s helpers and keep unwanted insects away.
Need to know: Bean flowers and leaves are also edible.
Tip: In areas that experience late frosts, hold off sowing beans for a few weeks until frosts are past.
Visit your local GCA Garden Centre to see what else you can sow now!
Plant: Love these locals
Many of the most popular plants in the world are our very own. Here are two local lovelies which you can buy as flowering plants in pots, ready to add colour to the patio or the garden:
Pelargoniums: Bush geraniums (Pelargonium x hortorum) and ivy, or cascading geraniums (Pelargonium peltatum), are some of the most sought after of our indigenous plants. Geraniums are incredibly rewarding as garden plants and do exceptionally well in containers too. They love a sunny to semi-shade position and well-drained soil that should be moist but not wet. Give them a weekly mild liquid feeding for excellent results.
Osteospermums: These are also known as the African daisy. Their masses of gorgeous daisy-like flowers with dark centres come in shades of white, yellow, pink, purple and blue. Their eye-catching, bold coloured flowers make them a fabulous choice for a sunny spot in the garden, tumbling over rocks or spilling down the sides of containers. Osteo’s are water-wise, flower for long periods, and are perennial in areas where frost is not heavy.
Coloured arum lilies: Although hybridised, they stem from our indigenous arums or Zantedeschia’s. Often referred to as Zant’s, they have the most beautiful, elegant vase-like flowers in gorgeous colours. You can buy them already in flower, in a pot, or as bulbs.
Tip: Zant’s are best planted in the sun.
Need to know: There is a whole range of summer bulbs at your local GCA Garden Centre. These include Amaryllis, Eucomis or pineapple lily, flame lilies and more. The flame lily is the most delicate, precious climbing plant with exquisite flowers that is best planted where it can easily be seen and shown off, whether on an arch or frame in a pot. Tip: Wait until next month to plant in very cold areas where late frosts are still expected and areas with winter rainfall.
WOW and water-wise! There are a few different perennial vygies and each is as stunning as the next, especially when in full spring bloom. Their rich, luminous jewel-like colours cover the plant and stand out as a jaw-dropping colour bomb. These sun-worshippers make stunning border plants, are great for rock and succulent gardens, spilling over low walls and pots or hanging baskets too. Your local GCA Garden Centre will be proud to show you their vygies. If you prefer to use vygies as seasonal colour then ask for the annual vygie or Livingstone daisies that are available in seedling trays.
Plant: Fruity fragrance
Lemon-scented verbena: Also known as Aloysia, this is a must-have if you enjoy drinking deliciously refreshing lemony tea. A delightful drink is easily made from the scented leaves or you could use them to add fragrance to the garden. If you locate the plant close to a path, the lemony scent will be released whenever a person brushes past the leaves. This rather wispy looking shrub can reach up to 2m in ideal conditions, but normally about 1m tall in areas of light to moderate frost as it can survive a little icy chill. Prune back every spring if you prefer a dense, bushy plant. It is easy to grow and the sprays of white flowers it bears are a bonus.
Claim to fame: The lemon-scented verbena leaves contain essential oils, which have many culinary and aromatherapy uses.
Choosing Verbena for your warm-season colour would be a wise choice. Their dazzling range of colours will add va-va-voom to the garden. They will cascade over hanging baskets, window boxes or containers. Treat yourself - go and have a look at the Verbenas on offer at your local GCA Garden Centre.
Tip: Verbenas like well-drained soil and prefer not to be watered in the evenings.
Feed and pick
Feed fruit trees and vegetables and reap the rewards of the last of the winter veggie harvest.
Did you know that blueberries should be pruned about every four years? When pruning them, try to prune them into a wine glass shape to encourage good air movement and light penetration.
If you want good quality fruit from your peach, nectarine, apricot and plum tree, it is best to prune them every year (this is also true for most berries). However, if you want your fruit trees to grow tall and provide shade, then only prune to shape it when necessary.
Tip: Pruning is easy if you know how. Call your local GCA Garden Centre or visit them for pruning advice.
If you forgot to prune your roses in July, August is a better time than never! Especially tend to the espaliering of climbing roses. With the rapid increase of new shoots, water at least once a week with a deep drenching.
Repot water lilies and add bone-meal into the soil - it is organic and safe for fish. Make holes in the soil, insert the bone-meal, and then cover it with soil on top so that the fish do not eat it. While you are busy with the pond, maintain and clean the pond and service the UV light if you have one. Clean out the algae and start with algal control.
Lawn: proud or pitiful – what makes the difference?
It’s time to give your Kikuyu lawn a boost with some spring treatment:
Now just watch and wait for your stunning new grass to appear though the lawn dressing. Fertilise monthly for best results and water at least once a week until the rains start.
Lowveld and in warm frost-free coastal regions:
Sow the following vegetables now: asparagus, Capsicum (peppers), carrots, cucumber, bush beans, aubergines (brinjals), all melons, all marrows, parsley, pumpkin, radish, runner beans, Swiss chard.
Western Cape – winter rainfall areas:
Sow the following vegetables now: asparagus, beetroot, broad beans, Capsicum (peppers), carrots, cucumber (under protection), aubergines (brinjals), leeks, lettuce (Cos), all melons, all marrows, onions, parsnip peas, radish, spinach, squash, Swiss chard, tomato, turnip.
Winter has arrived, but luckily our days are still blessed by lovely, lunchtime sunshine in most parts of the country. This is the perfect time for a little midday gardening and a braai with the family. For an enticing entertainment area plant seedlings like fairy Primulas for a dazzling flush of colour. Hanging baskets are back and add a wonderful variety of vibrant texture to your patio. When the party moves indoors, dragon trees and delicious monsters are a great choice.
Friday 5 June is World Environment Day. Celebrate your surroundings by thinking about our feathered garden friends. Birds often find it difficult to source food in the colder months, but we can lovingly assist them by putting out bird feeds. Beautiful seed feeders, suet, fruit feeders and even bird pudding can be found at your nearest GCA Garden Centre. Nesting logs will encourage Barbets to nest in your garden. In addition, any of these would make an ideal gift for Father’s Day on Sunday 21 June. You could also consider a bonsai plant and bonsai accessories as a Father’s Day gift.
It is a good time to sow Dianthus spp. also known as pinks, as their flowers are mostly pink, salmon, dark pink or white with bi-colours of lavender, purple and reds also available. Their flowers have a spicy fragrance and they belong to the same family of plants as carnations. One of the larger Dianthus is the specie we know as Sweet William, (Dianthus barbatus) which has bigger flowers and a spicy fragrance with hints of cinnamon and cloves. Sweet William is available in both single and double blooms and are biennial (flower in the second year) and self-seeding.
Pinks need at least 6 hours of sun per day and prefer to be watered on the soil, as water on the leaves may cause mildew spots. Use a slow-release fertilizer in your bed preparation or fertilise regularly for best results.
Claim to fame: The new-age Dianthus varieties flower for up to 6 months!
Tip: Removing the spent blooms (dead-heading) is very important if you want to encourage further flowering.
Continue sowing leafy greens like spinach, lettuce and beetroot which are all very easy to grow. They are also a great choice for kids to sow as an introduction to the fabulous and fun hobby of gardening.
Tip: 16 June is Youth Day – share your gardening wisdom and enthusiasm by inspiring new, little green fingers. This is your opportunity to show children how to plant these easy-to grow veggies.
Reap your rewards by picking the veggies that you sowed or planted a few months back:
Ranunculus, or Ranunc’sas they are fondly referred to, can be planted from pots if you forgot to buy the claws/bulbs when they were on the shelves with the rest of the Spring flowering bulbs.. Phew… we seldom get a fantastic second chance like this! The brilliantly coloured flowers of ranunculus are often compared with looking like a crepe-paper, origami masterpiece.
Tip: How marvellous for us that they are long-lasting cut flowers too.
Primulas are the queens of the winter and spring shaded garden. Lucky for us, there are three stunning types of Primula to choose from:
If you have trees and shrubs that need moving, this is the best time to do so. You may want to open your view or separate plants that were planted too close together. Plants need adequate light and air circulation for good growth. Palms, Cycas, cycads and small to medium-sized conifers, deciduous shrubs and trees will have the best chance of success. Visit your local GCA Garden Centre to get the correct advice, tools and products that are necessary to maximise your transplanting success.
Indoor plants are high fashion and are being used to decorate all rooms in the house, especially the living areas and kitchens. Score some points on the trend barometer by going leafy indoors. Large leaf plants are trending in large and medium-sized pots. Here are some hot favourites:
Tip: Indoor plants will all benefit from regular feeding – consult your local GCA Garden Centre.
Feed your winter and spring flowering annuals and bulbs while they are actively growing. Visit your local GCA Garden Centre for a recommended fertilizer that will promote both growth and flowering.
As large shrubs and trees mature, they might start shading your roses too much. Their roots can also start robbing nutrients and water from your roses. June is the best month to move threatened roses to a new, prepared bed in a more sunny spot.
Set your garden alight with a Fire Sticks plant (Euphorbia tirucalli). It resembles sea coral with pencil-like upright leaves. They are very noticeable in winter when they change from lime green and yellow colour to having flaming red and orange tips.
Tip: If you need to cut or prune this plant, take care to not let the milky latex-like plant sap touch your skin, and especially do not get it into your eyes as it can be very harmful. All parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested.
Paving the way - Winter is a great time to get creative with pathways and paved or gravelled areas. Now is the time for you to put in practice what you have seen and longed to have – like a beautiful pathway or extend an entertainment area. Your local GCA garden centre has a range of pavers, pebbles, gravels and plants that can allow your dream garden to become a reality. Remember to use a weed-suppressing fabric under paved areas and to set the pavers on a cushion of river sand so that it is stable.
Tip: It is also the best time to do maintenance in the garden. If its cold outside, put your jumper on and jump to it!
Hot trend alert: Gabion landscaping is all the rage. This makes use of wire and steel gabions, mostly filled with river pebbles or dump rock as the structural, hip element. They allow for exciting height changes in the landscape, as well as being a fashionable bold feature to contrast soft plantings.
Hot tip: To celebrate and tie in with World Day of Desertification and Drought on Wednesday 17 June, plan to plant waterwise succulents around your fire pit. Fire pits are fast becoming a regular feature in suburban gardens.
Pruning your Hydrangea macrophylla, the regular mophead hydrangea, will increase its vigour and increase the size of the blooms, especially if you have not pruned for many years.
Traditionally, most deciduous fruit trees and berries were planted in early spring as open-ground plants (i.e. with their bare roots wrapped in newspaper). Because we now buy them in pots or bags, it is not necessary to plant them as early. However, old habits die hard and these plants are ready for sale in spring. It is always a good idea to get in first and buy your berries as soon as you can.
Most berries like well-drained, well-composted soil in a sunny area of the garden. This means that if you have clay soil, you will need to amend it with lots of compost turned into the soil, or simply make raised beds for your berries. You can choose to add a general fertilizer into the soil now, or after planting. Don’t forget to add superphosphate or bone-meal into the planting holes, water regularly and remove weeds between the plants as they grow.
Tip: Add plenty of acid-compost or peat moss to your soil in the area you want to plant blueberries as they are acid-loving plants.