Gone are the days when shady means barren! This month, Life is a Garden is shedding light on darker spaces with a little shade-spiration to bring all areas of the garden to life. There are many flower varieties, shrubs, creepers, and even veggies that will flourish in every type of shade. Let’s begin by understanding the different degrees of shade and how these conditions affect the surrounding soil and plants that can grow there.
An area that receives no direct sunlight at all is called full shade, known also as deep shade. Underneath a canopy of large evergreen trees or next to tall buildings or high walls is where you’ll typically find full shade and often barren spaces. The soil in such areas can be classified into these two groups below:
In these deep shade areas, moisture drainage is poor and the soil appears constantly soggy, boggy, and swampy. Try adding coarse compost mixed with gritty river sand to improve the drainage and quality of the soil in these areas.
Plant picks: Hen and chickens (Chlorophytum comosum), holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum), and forest bell bush(Mackaya bella).
Some areas with full shade have dry soil owing to the growth of the trees that once allowed some sunlight in, but have now grown to completely block out direct sunlight. Enrich these areas by loosening the soil, adding nutritious compost, and covering with mulch to assist in retaining moisture.
Plant picks: Bush lily (Clivia miniata), agapanthus, and wild iris (Dietes grandiflora).
Also known as filtered shade, this happens as sunlight filters through openings in tree branches throughout the day, shifting the pattern of sunlight trickling in. In these areas, it’s best to plant in accordance with the trees natural growth and shedding phases. In other words, choose plants that flower during the leafless stages of surrounding trees.
Plant picks: Spring flowering bulbs like daffodils (Narcissus), Lachenalia bulbifera, and freesias.
*Seasonal tip: Visit your local GCA Garden Centre to discover gorgeous shady babies for cool-season planting and sowing. Checkout what seed trays are available to jumpstart your growing adventure. Keep some new arrivals in their pots to assess how they fair in your chosen area before transplanting.
This refers to an area that receives some sun and some shade throughout the day, as shadows are cast on different parts of the garden. Semi-shade plants tend to do better with morning sun, rather than harsh midday or afternoon sun that may scorch leaves. Keep these areas healthy with good compost and generous mulching to retain soil moisture.
Plant picks: Fuchsia, evergreen azalea (Rhododendron indicum), rhubarb, chives, celery, and even carrots.
There is a plant for every shady part of the garden and even some veggies and herbs that can tolerate semi-shade. Remember to visit your GCA Garden Centre to inquire about different shrubs, ferns, and flowers to best suit the area you would like to see flourish. Garden Centre experts are also able to advise which edibles will work well in your desired space. Life is a Garden, even in the shade, so let’s get every bed and pot shining in the absence of sunlight. A gardener maak ‘n plan, or something like that!
Nothing says proudly South African quite like a braai in the bushveld, a couple of cold ones between friends, and a silhouetted Acacia tree at twilight. This May, bring the bush to your own backyard and make every weekend a reason to get out and enjoy the aromatic, African air. Fall in love with a wonderful variety of indigenous plants, which are low maintenance, naturally water saving, and easily accessible for your next gardening project.
Before cutting down that old tree or removing those rocks, why not use the existing landscape and architecture to your advantage? Leafy ferns and trees with bulging roots add a lovely variety of texture to your garden. Indigenous thorn trees may not be the best picnic spot, but a simple pallet pathway leading to a cosy hammock or bench, may just bring out your garden’s natural beauty. Building a fire pit from collected rocks is cost efficient and effortlessly evokes that rustic, unrefined, bushveld feeling. Make the most of uneven areas by surrounding your boma with a sandpit and wood stumps for stools. Using different sands or pebbles bring even more texture into the space, making decorating easy by showcasing bold, dead tree features and a couple of ambient lanterns.
The thing about indigenous plants is that they love space, depth, and lots of ferny friends! Planting “bulking” shrubs, ferns, and creepers together create excellent and easy space fillers, impressive barriers, and even pretty cloaking devices to disguise those dull walls and fences. Including some striking Crane Flowers (Strelitzia reginae), a fragrant Gardenia bush (Gardenia augusta), and a few evergreen Kei-apple shrubs (Dovyalis caffra), will not only fill gaps in your garden, but may well surprise you with their easy to maintain, effortless beauty. A variety of local grasses are also great for adding diversity to your proudly South African garden. Try planting some dreamy Snowflake Grass (Andropogon eucomis) along pathways, surrounding empty tree beds, and even to those areas where nothing else seems to grow.
Conserving and planting endemic flora is not only a win for the environment, but also a sure victory for our little garden visitors. Bees play a vital role in human existence and crop pollination, so help the little guys out by adding some sweetly scented, Honey Daisy (Euryops virgineus) to your bushveld. And while you’re at it, inviting a kaleidoscope of butterflies is easy too, especially when planting brightly coloured butterfly bushes such as Geraniums (Geranium incanum). Cork Bush (Mundulea sericea) is an excellent choice for Highveld naturescaping with purple flowers providing food to multiple insects and birds, who in turn are sure to bring that all too familiar, bushveld choir to your patio. Hollowed out tree stumps or large rocks with natural indents, make for great bird baths and a welcoming refreshment for all your little bushveld guests.
With a little TLC, a scrap piece of wood can have many uses: a serving slab for bits of biltong, a tray to display your Acacia seeds, or a simple bush inspired centre piece. Take your creativity a step further and add some handmade carvings to your wood, or use red soil to naturally stain lighter, raw wood. Attention to detail can help add that extra veld flavour to your garden. Decorate your old tree stumps, tables, and low walls with Aloe plants in earthy pots. Aloes are avid sun lovers, water wise, hardy, and come in a vibrant variety of sunset hues.
With the beautiful African bushveld as your muse you can create your own bush paradise. Visit your nearest GCA Garden Centre for indigenous plants and the best advice on growing mzanzi magic. When it comes to capturing the essence of a bushveld garden, simple, earthy accents can make all the difference and ensure that your inspiration sings through every part of your garden – from the plants to the pots, and even to that old tree stump!
Hang in there gardeners! Your beloved, outdoor sanctuaries will soon be open. While you wait for your post-pandemic indulgence at favourite GCA Garden Centre, let’s take this time to rejoice in this beautiful and envied continent of ours. May is Africa month with African Day on the 25th of May. We will also celebrate World Bee Day on 20th May, and then the International Day for Biodiversity on May 22nd. Moms are also in the spotlight this month for Mother’s day on Sunday 10th May, and Life is a Garden highly recommends you spoil her with a little green treat.
With so many festivities, let’s revel in our African sunshine and plant some of our spectacular indigenous seeds and bulbs this season!
For kids of all ages: Moms love flowers, especially the hand-picked kind. If you have any of the following good cut-flowers blooming in your garden, they would be perfect as your Mother’s Day gift bouquet:
Tall flowering Dianthus, Carnations, Snapdragons, Larkspur, Alstroemeria or Sunflowers. If you don’t have these in the garden, you could always buy a few plants from your local GCA Garden Centre. The plants and their flowers will last for a long time - even till next year and then they’ll be ready for picking again.
Hot Tip: Pittosporum branches, leather leaf ferns, Aspidistra leaves and a variety of other plants, like those in Autumn berry, such as. the Pyracantha, can be added to your bunch of flowers too.
For the big kids and dads: Our indigenous wild banana plants (Strelitzia nicolai) are trendy additions to the new leafy-look, ideal in high light areas indoors, or as pretty patio plants. This plant is a stunner and even more so when planted in a lovely pot. Make sure mom stays modern and get her some wild bananas.
Hot tip: There are many beautiful orchids, cyclamen and other stunning plants available at your local GCA Garden Centre, just waiting to delight Mom this Mother’s Day.
What would sausage and mash be without peas? Peas are also one of the few veggies that kids enjoy eating, especially when combined with corn. If you love peas, you will love fresh, home-grown peas even more. They are just so easy to grow from seed or seedling. Offer the climbing peas a variety of support to climb up, plant with a little compost, feed regularly, and hey presto, there you have your own home-grown peas.
Hot Tip: Peas are loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients, including vitamin C and vitamin E, and more.
Some of the best seeds that can still be sown are indigenous beauties, which honour our African heritage with a parade of colourful flowers. These are:
Gazanias, Livingstone daisies (Mesembryanthemum), Scabious africana (the indigenous cape scabious or pincushion), and Namaqualand daisies (also called African daisies).
May is also a good time to sow Calendulas. Their perky orange and yellow flowers are great in plant borders and their edible flowers also make them a winner in the herb and veggie garden.
The month of May is an ideal time to sow shade grass and cool season seeds. They can provide the following solutions and more:
There are beautiful indigenous bulbs that rival the Ranunculus, Daffodils and Hyacinths, [M1] especially once you take the time to get to know them:
Sparaxis or harlequin flowers prefer well-drained, composted soil in the sun or partial shade. Striking flowers that are often marked with a contrasting colour in their centre are good cut-flowers. These plants do well in the garden but are also excellent container plants.
Tritonia, also called blazing stars, offer a lovely range of spring-flowering colours - from bright orange to salmon, cream and white, and are also great cut-flowers. Make sure that you plant them in very well-drained soil, positioned in the sun or in semi-shade.
Lachenalias have cheeky and brightly colourful hyacinth-like flowers. Most hybrids have sweetly scented flowers that start flowering in winter. Good drainage is essential, so add some sand to poorly drained soil to increase the drainage. Their flowers are also great in vases.
Hot Tip: Don’t complete your bulb shopping before you’ve purchased bulb food. Before you go, take peek at the following other indigenous bulbs that are really something special and worth looking at:
Ixia’s star-shaped flowers produce a riot of colour in spring, flourishing in a sunny or semi-shaded bed or container, especially when mass planted
It’s time to plant in the cool season with the 4 P’s. P is for princess and poppies, pansies, petunias and primulas - the royalty of our winter and spring annuals, which are now available as seedlings at your local GCA Garden Centre:
Hot Tip: Regularly remove spent blooms from winter annuals, especially Iceland poppies, pansies and violas, to encourage more flowers.
Hot Tip: Tie sweet peas to their supports and remove tendrils or side shoots to encourage the nutrients in the plant to be used on necessary growth, and later, flowering.
Clean up perennials by removing any brown or dead leaves. Remove flower stalks from the summer and autumn flowering ones. Mulch them up with a little compost and water regularly.
The following Summer flowering bulbs require a little TLC at this time of year:
Do you eat in winter? We sure hope so! And we hope that you remember your winter and spring-flowering bulbs and annuals need food too! After all, they’re growing furiously at this time of year and need a little extra nourishment. Use a fertilizer that is rich in potassium since this will not only promote flowering or fruiting, but also make the plants healthier and stronger against the cold, pests, and diseases. A selection of liquid and granular/pelleted fertilizers are available to choose from at your local GCA Garden Centre.
TIP: The annual stocks and larkspurs benefit from extra nitrogen for growing and flowering through winter. Ask your local GCA Garden Centre for advice on a liquid fertilizer that will do the trick over the next month or two.
Have you planted water-loving starlet (Spiloxene aquatica) in your water-feature? If you have, you would notice that from May, this indigenous “star” is peppered with little white, twinkly star-like flowers with bright yellow centres. Its spiky dark green, needle-shaped leaves grow up to 30cm long, making it a dazzling plant for a sunny spot in the pond, or water-feature.
Tip: If you have limited outdoor space, any waterproof pot can be turned into an exciting water feature for the patio, balcony or garden.
Rose blooms may be picked with long stems. If the plants are in full leaf, continue to adhere to a spraying programme where watering may be reduced. It is a good time to plant winter flowering annuals like pansies, poppies, or compact snapdragons, on the edges of rose beds.
Hot Tip: If the following perennials have stopped flowering, now is a good time to split or divide them.
Michaelmas daisies (Symphyotrichum novi-belgii formerly known as Aster novi-belgii, have fine foliage and tiny daisy flowers borne on long stems. They are great cut-flowers and available in a range of purples, pinks, and white.
In frosty areas, it is best to water between 10 am and before 2 pm. If you keep the roots of roses and many other plants moist, they are able to withstand light frost much better than dry plants.
Jack Frost will soon surprise you in frosty regions, especially the very cold Free State areas, closely followed by the Highveld, so start protecting your susceptible plants with frost cover. Frost cover allows the light in, while protecting the plants at the same time. Ask for it at your local GCA Garden Centre.
Hot Tip: To add gorgeous Autumn colours to a medium or large garden, consider planting a Liquidamber (Liquidamber styraciflua), or some of the smaller Maples in modest gardens.
If you’re in the Cape, make the most of your abundant winter rainfall by harvesting water from the roof. Check and clean your gutters, which may be clogged up with leaves.
Hot Tip: In coastal and lowveld areas, feed granadillas with a nitrogen and potassium combination fertilizer. You can ask for advice at your local GCA Garden Centre.