On Friday the 16th to celebrate Youth Day I took a drive to a nursery in Mid Illovo  called Gwahumbe Nursery that has one of the best collections of Aloes found anywhere in the world. To spend a few hours walking amongst thousands of Aloes of all different sizes and colors has to be one of the best ways to enjoy a holiday. Every morning I wake early and sit outside and watch sunbirds dart between flowers, intoxicated by the abundance of nectar in the flowers.

Whilst walking through my garden I was pleasantly surprised by a bulbous herb that I planted a few years ago. Haemanthus albiflos or better known as the White Paint Brush was in full flower which if planted in mass creates a lovely understory ground cover.  Haemanthus albiflos is a species of flowering plant belonging to the family Amaryllidaceae, native to South Africa. It is an evergreen bulbous perennial geophyte grown for its unusual shape and ability to take extreme conditions and neglect. It is also the only Haemanthus species found in both the summer and winter rainfall regions of South Africa, mainly with a coastal distribution from the Western Cape to Kwazulu Natal, and best grown in cool, shady spots. The Genus Haemanthus gets its name from haima-blood and anthos– flower. In cultivation the upper half of the bulb is usually exposed, bright green and often covered in short, soft hairs with occasional yellow spots on the upper surface. Once a year it produces a pair of new leaves that are evergreen and can have up to three pairs of leaves. In late autumn and winter, brush-like umbels consisting of multiple white florets are borne on longish stems. These last for about a week followed by fleshy white oval fruits once the florets have been pollinated. H.albiflos is not large plant that grows to about 30cm tall and 15cm wide.

It is a plant grown by most nurseries but sadly not used much in the landscape. It comes down to knowing your plants and how best to use it in your garden. I have seen this plant gown by the thousands under a canopy of trees in deep shade and all in flower. Many people use this as an indoor plant grown in a pot in a shady part of the house. It prefers not to grow in full sun, is very tolerant of under-watering and if grown in a pot likes to be restricted in a small pot.

It is easily propagated from offsets, which may be removed once the parent plant has finished flowering. Offsets can be separated from the parent plant which must be done carefully and preferably when they have some roots. Remove the offset and plant in a small pot which must be watered once planted. Do not over water this new offset as it could rot from too much water. Another way to propagate this bulbous herb is by collecting the fresh seed from the seed head but this process will take much longer. If you are looking for an easy growing, shade loving, bulbous herb then you need look no further than this plant.

I have just finished landscaping a garden in the new extension of Umhlanga called Izinga Park where the client was very particular about using lots of indigenous grasses and Aloes in his garden. You just need to drive along the road that leads to this development to see how well one of Durban’s most popular grasses, Aristida junciformis or the Ngongoni grass has been used in the landscape.  It does create an excellent ground cover which prevents soil erosion in the high rainfall areas in which it occurs but sadly is no good as a grazing grass. It requires very little attention or water and once established creates a wave of dancing foliage especially during windy days on the coast. It is so important for home owners to be more vigilant when building a new home that they set aside funds to landscape the garden. Gardens enhance the aesthetics of a home plus provide a haven for insects and birds. It really concerns me when I see a new home that is all paved with no room for a garden.

Winter brings so much color to the landscape. Why plant an Agave from Mexico when you could plant an Aloe. A lot has to do with just not knowing. Here are a few of the top winter flowering trees, shrubs, groundcovers and succulents that you could plant in your garden.

  • Most Aloe species which flower from late May through July
  • Hypoestes aristata-Ribbon Bush with its purple flower
  • Leonotis leonoris-Wild Dagga with its variations of flower colour from orange to white
  • Strelitzia reginae– Bird of Paradise that flower for many months
  • Kniphofia praecox– Red Hot Poker that flowers best in wet areas
  • Tecoma capensis– Cape Honey suckle especially the orange variety
  • Plumbago auriculata– This comes in both blue and white
  • Erythrina species– Coral tree with its red and orange flowers
  • Barleria obtuse– Bush violet with its blue flowers
  • Becium obovatum– Cat’s whiskers with creamy white flowers
  • Crassula multicarva– Fairy Crassula with its pinky red flowers
  • Bulbine natalensis– Broad-leaved Bulbine with its yellow flower
  • Turraea obtusifolia– small honey suckle with white flowers

Things to do this month:

  • Cut back excess foliage from your shrubs as they become too woody during the growing season. This encourages new growth, reduces the space it takes in your garden, and prevents insect and fungal problems. Many of the flowering shrubs in particular Leonotis leonoris and Hypoestes aristata would have finished flowering so cut these back to a third of their size. Mulch with compost after pruning.
  • For those in love with orchids now is the time to stop watering some of the orchids that need a dry stressful period to initiate flower spikes. In particular Dendrobium, Calanthe, Oncidium. If you need to feed use Chemicult 1 Flower boost which will encourage the existing buds to push better flower spikes.
  • If you have rose then prune now. Try and keep about 5 healthy thick canes, remove all the thin canes and prune to a third the size of the rose bush. Always prune to an outside node so that the new growth grows outwards like a vase. Mulch with well decomposed compost and water well.
  • Mulch your flower beds with well decomposed compost or use the leaves that have fallen from your trees. This is very important especially during the dry months as this keeps the roots warm, holds moisture and prevents weed growth.
  • This is the best time to repot your indoor plants. Remove plants from the pots, remove all the old soil from around the roots, wash the roots well in a bucket of water, and remove any diseased or dried roots and using fresh new soil report into the same pot. Remove any dying leaves. You can reduce the surface area of the leaves but cutting some in half. This reduces the surface area of the leaves preventing transpiration thus preventing the plant from losing to much water and wilting. Sprinkle some slow release osmocote on the surface of the soil. This releases a little food each time you water.
  • Good time to plan any restructuring of your garden during the winter months. It is cool, no rain and very little growth. You can use many of the plants in your garden by just lifting, splitting and replanting. It is a cheap way of gardening.

If you need any info or help with any gardening queries please contact me on: cgmdalzell@gmail.com

This article is sponsored by Chris Dalzell Landscapes, specializing in landscaping, consultation and Botanical expeditions