I love Durban but have never loved February due to the high humidity that always catches us off guard. On the other hand what I do love about Durban in February is the selection of flowering trees that always turn the green landscape into a mix of pinks, purples, reds and yellows. Tibouchina granulosa (purple Glory Tree) from Brazil, Spathodea campanulata (African tulip tree) and the yellow flowering Cassia are the dominant trees that flower in late summer. It has been particularly warm this past month with intermittent rain to cool things down but with rain comes humidity. Many of the soft textured plants such as the Plectranthus suffer with this heat and need to be watered so keep an eye on those plants.

Durban is renowned for large tropical gardens but there are also many people who live in town houses with very small gardens. This is when you need to be innovative with design and selection of plants. I always love visiting the Chelsea Flower Show as you see designers coming up with very clever ideas on how to take a small area and create maximum use of that space for planting. Here are a few ideas for a small garden.

  1. Flower Beds: These can either be raised beds thus creating height in the garden or beds that are flush with the ground. By creating raised beds this gives you a sense of space with these beds designed at different heights. The selection of bricks for building is also very important as this gives the texture to the garden.
  2. Vertical Garden: This is the new craze in gardening made popular by the French designer Patrick Blanc. A warning is that these gardens are very expensive to install and need constant maintenance. You will also need to replace plants quite often which are a constant expense. If you do install a vertical garden then make sure you use someone who has experience in installing a vertical garden and ensure they use the right plants in the design. If we have a drought like we recently experienced in Kwazulu Natal and you are not allowed to water your garden then this will have a detrimental effect on the garden as they require constant watering. I have seen spectacular vertical garden using Virginia creeper and the small Ficus pumila or ticky creeper which covers walls very quickly and do not require much attention other than clipping a few times a year.
  3. Water features: You can go over board when it comes to water features. The soft trickling of water has a very southing effect on the mind and which creates a tranquil cool feel to the garden. You can go from the basic use of pots where water flows up and out of the top into a water basin below and then circulate back to the top using a submersible pump, or a water feature that includes a rockery with water flowering in a number of directions through the garden. It comes down to what space is available and your budget. Water features are notorious for leaking so make sure you build it properly from day one or else you are always going to have problems. The correct selection of plants for the water feature is also very important as you don’t want the plants to get to big and hide the water feature.
  4. Pots: The use of pots in a small garden is very popular as there are so many different pots type to select from. The selection of different size pots give the gardens some interest and hide ugly areas where plants can’t grow. Many of the classic gardens use terracotta pots but these pots are no favored by everyone. Do not use too many different types of pots as it then becomes untidy and can destroy the feature of the pots.
  5. Pergola: This adds a lovely dimension to a garden as it creates an area to sit and use for meals and evening drinks. It important to build with a material that is long lasting and that allows a creeper to grow on. Depending on where you live in South Africa will determine what creeper to use. Grapes are always every popular but are susceptible to scale insects which secrete a sticky sweet substance that makes all the furniture sticky. Probably the most popular creeper is a Wisteria with its beautiful purple flowers in spring. They need to be pruned twice a year to keep them in shape and to flower.
  6. Garden Furniture: It is very important to get furniture that is comfortable but also can take the harsh conditions of rain and sunshine. Get comfortable furniture that fits into the design of that garden and which is user friendly. Included in the furniture is an all-weather umbrella that keeps the direct sun out and which looks attractive. During the summer months this is imperative.

Selection of plants for a small garden:

Once you have the infrastructure of the garden completed you know have to select the right plants for the right areas. As it is a small area you have to watch the size of trees selected plus there root system. Do you select an evergreen or a deciduous tree? Does it get very cold in winter? If yes then try finding a tree that loses it leaves in winter thus allowing direct sunlight to shine in and warm the garden.


  • Heteropyxis natalensis Lavender tree. This tree is evergreen and has very fragrant leaves. It also has a very attractive bark which improves as the tree gets matures.
  • Croton gratissimus Lavender croton. 3-5 meters in height and with a spread of 4-6 meters. It has leaves that are silvery white below with scattered rusty spots.
  • Craibia zimmermannii 3-6 meters under ideal conditions. Flower white and extremely fragrant.
  • Diospyros whyteana bladder nut. It is densely evergreen with exquisite leaves that are small and brilliantly glossy with a heart shaped base. 2-3 meters under ideal conditions. Foliage and beauty of the tree maintained throughout the year.
  • Tabernaemontana ventricosa Toad tree. Evergreen tree that grows to 6 meters in height. Produces flower within 2-3 years that are white and very fragrant.
  • Gardenia thunbergia forest Gardenia. Small compact tree with fragrant white flowers in spring. Interesting seed pod that stays on the tree for 2-4 years. Grows in shade.


  • Dracaena aletriformis (large leaved Dragon tree), Psychotria capensis (cream Psychotria), Plectranthus zuluensis, Mackaya bella (River Bells), Ochna natalitia (coast Boxwood), Pavetta lanceolata (Forest Brides Bush), Carissa bispinosa (Num-Num), Peddiea Africana (Green flower tree), Turraea obtusifolia (small Honeysuckle tree), Calpurnea aurea, Bauhinia natalensis, Coddia rudis, Croton pseudopulchellus, Erythrina humeana (Dwarf Coral tree), Hibiscus pedunculatus, Leonotis leonoris (Wild Dagga), Rothmannia fischeri, Strelitzia reginae (Bird of Paradise), crassula ovate, Justicea capensis, Plectranthus ecklonii

Groundcovers: Dietes grandiflora (wild iris), Chlorophytum bowkeri (hen & chicken), Chlorophytum krookianum, Agapanthus praecox, Anthericum saundersiae, Ornithogalum saundersiae, Bulbine natalensis, Crassula multicarva, Juncus effesus, Chondropetalum tectorum, Clivia miniata, Crocosmia aurea, Plectranthus ciliatus, Oplismensus hirtellus (forest grass), Asystasia gangetica (creeping foxglove), Crinum macowanii (Marsh lily), Tulbaghia violaceae (sweet garlic).

In the next few weeks the beautiful shrub Plectranthus ecklonii (large spur flower) will be in full bloom. These flowers last for at least 3 weeks with 3 different colours available from purple to pink to white.

Things to do this month:

  • With the relentless heat we have been experiencing it is best to put some water on the more sensitive plants such as the Plectranthus. If not they will wilt to a point of no return which means they need to be cut back and wait for the next season to flower. Pit as this is there flowering period.
  • Continue fertilizing for the next 3 months. With lots of rain, heat and long days still around till late march there is still lots of growth. Wait will it rains before putting fertilizer on your garden. This allows the fertilizer to be evenly distributed throughout the soil and to the root system of the plants.
  • Remove any dead or diseased leaves and branches. This is where most of your decay happens in your plants and can result in your losing the plants. Use a sharp pair of secateurs to prune your plants.
  • Continue cutting your lawns at least once a week. Leave as much growth on your lawns and just remove to tops of the grass. Continue feeding at least once a month with a high nitrogen fertilizer such as 5.1.5. Apply a handful per m2.
  • Mulch flower beds with leaves that have fallen from the trees or buy well decomposed compost from your nurseries and apply a thin layer over the root base of the shrubs.
  • Lift groundcovers such as Agapanthus, Tulbaghia and Dietes, Prepare the soil with lots of compost. Split the groundcover and replant. Water well for the first few weeks. The new growth will be much
  • Watch for fungal and insect infestation on your plants during the hot humid days. This is when plants are most vulnerable to such an attack. Watch your plants carefully and treat according to the problems you encounter.
  • Check for invasive aliens in your garden. I will write next month on the most common alien weeds in your garden and how to eradicate them.

This article is sponsored by Christopher Dalzell from Chris Dalzell Landscapes. If you have any questions please email me on: cgmdalzell@gmail.com

Happy gardening