Unique and unusual indigenous plants   Industry Expert Q&A

unique, unusual, indigeous, flowers, greenery, plants, trees, bushes, flowers, life is a garden, biodiversity, Spring, September, Spring Zing

September’s Topic: The local magic spring brings
Theme: Unique and unusual indigenous plants  

Industry Expert: Jonathan Taylor
Garden Centre: Random Harvest Nursery    

 

A hidden gem awaits you in the golden highveld of Muldersdrift, Johannesburg. Random Harvest Nursery specialises in indigenous plants and trees and they also have a lovely tea garden with seasonal homemade goods. Bring the kids and let them enjoy the creature treasure hunt or sandpit play area. Here’s what they had to say about the local magic spring brings this September!  

 1. We love that Random Harvest has such a large variety of indigenous plants to choose from! What are some of your top sellers?

Ornamental veld grass species are always a winner. We have such an array of indigenous grasses to choose from that can be used to create stunning meadow gardens - from small species of 20cm tall like Hartjiegras (Eragrostis capensis) to tall options like Boom grass (Miscanthus junceus), and everything in between! 

Boom grass stands out with lovely soft pink plumes while Snowflake grass (Andropogon eucomis) has fluffy white seed heads. Sickle grass (Pogonarthria squarrosa) has seed plumes that are almost black when the sun catches them. Just in terms of colour and texture, these alone can create an eye-catching display. Clever placement of species, depending on their ultimate growing height and the interplanting of flowering species, creates a rich, seasonally changing garden.  

 Trees for small spaces are also one of our top sellers at the moment. As gardens are decreasing in size, people need to select trees carefully. The need for screening, privacy, shade, and a sense of green in an outdoor area can be achieved by planting the perfect tree. A few great options for a small space are: False olive (Buddleja saligna), Forest lavender (Heteropyxis canescens), Boxwood (Gonioma kamassi), Wild pride-of-India (Galpinia transvaalica), and the Glossy white ash tree (Bersama luscens). 

unique, unusual, indigeous, flowers, greenery, plants, trees, bushes, flowers, life is a garden, biodiversity, Spring, September, Spring Zing
unique, unusual, indigeous, flowers, greenery, plants, trees, bushes, flowers, life is a garden, biodiversity, Spring, September, Spring Zing
 2. How do you guys attract so much wildlife and still keep your pest population under control? Do you have any eco-friendly gogga hacks to share with gardeners?  

We encourage the creation of habitat in a space, be it as small as a balcony or a large landscape. When there is harmony between all the elements in an area, the pests are naturally controlled by other creatures and predators. With a basis of healthy soil, sufficient habitat for birds, insects, lizards, frogs, and other helpful creatures, nature will create Her own balance with minimal intervention needed. The odd use of a bio-friendly pesticide might be necessary if something goes awry but this is done in a responsible manner so as not to kill beneficial creatures. The use of organic slow-release fertiliser is a great way to naturally boost the immune system of a plant, often allowing it to combat attacks on its own. By not using water-soluble chemical fertilisers, the soft almost artificial growth is done away with (this being very lucrative for pests to prey on).

unique, unusual, indigeous, flowers, greenery, plants, trees, bushes, flowers, life is a garden, biodiversity, Spring, September, Spring Zing
unique, unusual, indigeous, flowers, greenery, plants, trees, bushes, flowers, life is a garden, biodiversity, Spring, September, Spring Zing
3. Which of our local lovelies are wildlife must-haves in the garden and what sort of creatures do they attract? Could you also please share some growing tips for these plants?

Aloes are some of your best wildlife attractors. It’s never too late to begin planning for next winter. Spotted aloe (Aloe greatheadii var. Davyana) is an attractive choice that grows in grasslands with salmon to orange-red coloured flowers. The foliage is arranged in a lovely rosette with spotted leaves. Flower stalks are about 50cm tall. These forgiving, tough little aloes are a food source for nectar-feeding birds, bees, and other insects. In dry times, tortoises will feed on the leaves as well. Greathead's spotted leaf aloe (Aloe greatheadii) is an easy garden subject that needs sun or light semi-shade to thrive. Tolerant of drought, frost, and even fire - this plant is difficult to kill and in fact, thrives on a little neglect. Make sure the soil drains well and that there isn’t an abundance of compost around it. These plants will bring in a variety of cheerful local bird species, especially Sunbirds owing to the sweet nectar from flowers. 

unique, unusual, indigeous, flowers, greenery, plants, trees, bushes, flowers, life is a garden, biodiversity, Spring, September, Spring Zing
unique, unusual, indigeous, flowers, greenery, plants, trees, bushes, flowers, life is a garden, biodiversity, Spring, September, Spring Zing
4. Since we are focusing on unique and unusual indigenous plants this month, please share your top tree contenders and what makes them so special? Do they have unique flowers, strange fruit, or special functions?  

The toad tree (Tabernaemontana elegans) is truly an unusual beauty with a unique umbrella-shaped growth habit. It doesn’t grow too tall, making it ideal as a tree for shading a patio, planting in an atrium, or even a large pot. The large glossy green leaves turn slightly yellow in the colder months, adding further colour to a winter landscape. The toad tree is named so because of its unique seed pods. A pair of grey-green seeds develop that look like two little frogs perching between the foliage. Inside, there are seeds surrounded by bright orange flesh that is relished by birds and happens to be edible to humans too. On top of these interesting fruits, the tree bears sweetly scented, white flower clusters. The toad tree needs a semi-shade to sunny position, good quality soil, and prefers to not be heavily frosted.  

 I would also recommend Erythrina zeyherii, aptly named Plough breaker or Ploegbreker in Afrikaans. This is a rare underground tree and a cousin of the large Coral trees, Erythrina varieties. Being found in grasslands where fire would naturally damage trees (hence the need to regularly prune them), this tree has developed a fascinating defence strategy by drawing its stem underground where it is safe from any harm. It develops a surprisingly large underground tuber that sends up rounded dinnerplate sized leaves in spring. These are followed by the most amazingly red coral-like flowers. These beauties are surprisingly well-suited to container growing as the large tubers can be partly exposed above ground, making them stand out features even when dormant in winter. Make sure the pot is large so that the plant can really develop well and enhance a space with its striking flowers and booty. Keep the pots un-watered during winter.  

unique, unusual, indigeous, flowers, greenery, plants, trees, bushes, flowers, life is a garden, biodiversity, Spring, September, Spring Zing
unique, unusual, indigeous, flowers, greenery, plants, trees, bushes, flowers, life is a garden, biodiversity, Spring, September, Spring Zing
5. Are there any funky-looking locals that would add some personality to the patio? Please also spill the beans on their ideal growing conditions.

Lion's Spoor (Euphorbia clavaroides) is an unusual, mound-forming variety that produces a perfectly rounded mound of succulent stems over time. It almost looks like a cushion when one encounters a mature specimen. The tiny leaves are carried in rosettes at the tip of finger-like individual stems. Bright yellow flowers add to the overall interesting nature of this species. Make sure it receives full sun, has free-draining soil, and does not get overwatered in winter. 

unique, unusual, indigeous, flowers, greenery, plants, trees, bushes, flowers, life is a garden, biodiversity, Spring, September, Spring Zing
unique, unusual, indigeous, flowers, greenery, plants, trees, bushes, flowers, life is a garden, biodiversity, Spring, September, Spring Zing
6. If you had to design the ultimate indigenous spring bed for (a) shade and (b) full sun, which plants would you suggest and how would you arrange them?

(a) For shaded beds, a rather uncommon grass called Bushman’s grass (Stipa dregeana) is a lovely choice. The actual clumps of leaves are about 25cm tall, bright green and basically evergreen. What makes this grass so endearing is the tall spikes of seed heads that are developed. They are a light golden hue when mature and are never dense, rather wispy and very delicate looking when the light plays on them. What makes this grass ideal for more widespread use is its ease of growth and low maintenance. A hard prune right down to the ground once or twice a year will increase height without adding denseness to a space. Planted between this grass, go for African blood lily (Scadoxus puniceus) bulbs that are simply striking. These robust oddities will add bold colour when they flower. The bulb lies dormant during winter cold and then bursts forth as an unusually large, blood-red powderpuff flower in spring. This is followed by red berries that are loved by birds. The foliage of the bulb is lush and almost tropical looking. 

 

(b) For sunny beds, go for the always cheerful Blue felicia bush (Felecia amelliodes) combined with gloriously bold Bushy bulbine (Bulbine abbysinica). The bulbine has intense yellow spikes of flowers carried above cylindrical succulent like stems. It is not uncommon for a happy plant to have more than 10 flower stalks at a time! The lower growth habit of the Felecia, more like a groundcover, hugs the soil and is almost always covered in deep blue daisy flowers. Both love full sun and are not overly thirsty garden partners. For a touch of foliage contrast, try Tulbaghia violacea 'Silver Lace' which adds a mysterious grey to the landscape. The variegated upright foliage adds a colour of its own, even when not in flower, and favours the same growing conditions. 

unique, unusual, indigeous, flowers, greenery, plants, trees, bushes, flowers, life is a garden, biodiversity, Spring, September, Spring Zing
unique, unusual, indigeous, flowers, greenery, plants, trees, bushes, flowers, life is a garden, biodiversity, Spring, September, Spring Zing

Grab these extraordinary plants and any products or tools you may need at your favourite GCA Garden Centre. With so many unique indigenous varieties, it really becomes easy to marvel at all the local magic spring brings this month. Enjoy the stunning birds and surprise garden visitors as we co-create a sanctuary for South African wildlife!  

unique, unusual, indigeous, flowers, greenery, plants, trees, bushes, flowers, life is a garden, biodiversity, Spring, September, Spring Zing
unique, unusual, indigeous, flowers, greenery, plants, trees, bushes, flowers, life is a garden, biodiversity, Spring, September, Spring Zing

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