I have been in the UK for the past week with a group of six wonderful ladies enjoying the gardens of England and we finish off the tour today with a visit to the Olympics of gardening, the Chelsea Flower Show which by the time you read this article will nearly be over. It has been refreshing to see the enthusiasm of the English to gardening and to see how passionate they are about plants. In total we visited 10 gardens plus the show which is a lot in 7 days. I am away for another 2 weeks before heading home and hope that whilst I have been away I have not mist one of my favorite times of the year and that is the flowering of Aloes. The theme this year at Chelsea was Safari so all the shops around the Chelsea and Sloane Square part of London have joined in the festivities and decorated there shops with lions and Giraffes made of plants and used so many of the South African plants such as Proteas, Strelitzias and Agapanthus in beautiful arrangements in there shop windows. It feels like I am at home again.

As we move to the end of May winter arrives with little warning and over the next 3 months we will experience short days, cooler evening and very little rain. We did have a lovely downpour a week ago that filled some of the dams and prepared us for the dry season ahead.  It would be helpful if every so often we could turn on the taps in the sky and give our gardens a much needed watering. Short days bring into bud and flower one of South Africa’s most famous plants, Aloes. They have come into and out of favor so many times over the centuries but now back in favor with most landscapers around the world. Most Botanic Gardens with a succulent garden will have a comprehensive collection of Aloes that generally flower in the winter months. With short dry days the plants will stress which will force those plants to produce flower spikes followed by a winter magic of flowering for many months. There are a number of plants that flower in winter that we should all be aware of and add to our gardens. Winter flowering plants are important as birds and butterflies require these winter flowering plants for nectar, food and to assist with pollination for future generations. My garden at home is a winter garden as I have planted mostly for plants that give winter flowers. Fortunately Aloes fit into most landscapes and combine with other succulents and flowering scented plants.  They come in all shapes and sizes, from miniature plants to robust shrubs and eventually large single-stemmed specimen plants and large massive trees. I take tours to Namaqualand every spring to see the flowers and the one place we visit is a forest of Aloe dichotoma or Quiver Tree. These Aloes can live to hundreds of years and have an unusual colored bark that makes these plants so different to other Aloes. If you are looking for a plant that looks prehistoric then this will fit that description. Sadly these don’t grow well in Durban as they require a very hot dry climate to survive. Best to grow this Aloe in a large pot that is under shelter from the rain and preferable full sun.  Aloes have fascinated landscapers and gardeners alike for years due to the variety of their growth forms and magnificent candle- like blooms for centuries. They typically bring out the atmosphere of Africa as most grow on our continent and in Madagascar. They are textured, bold and used in gardens to create features that give such gardens a natural indigenous feel. I have seen roadsides in the Western Cape use Aloes as hedge plants and in particular Aloe arborescens, the Krantz Aloe resulting in spectacular displays for many kilometers. Aloes require very little attention and can survive for many years thus impart a sense of timeless beauty thus giving longevity to your garden.

Aloe arborescens or Krantz Aloe distribution is wide spread from the Cape Peninsula, along the Garden route, through Kwazulu Natal and up into the Mpumalanga. It has the third widest distribution of all the Aloe species found mostly growing in mountainous areas from sea level to 2000m. Its form is multi branched that can either be a shrub or tree of about 2m high with the leaves borne on apical rosettes. Leaf color can vary from greyish green to bright green depending on location and altitude and the length of leaves varying from 500-600mm long. The flowers usually 1-4 in number that appear from each rosette of leaves  with broadly shaped conical racemes that can vary in color from Scarlet, orange, pink to yellow and flower from April to June. They can be propagated easily from taking large stem cuttings known as truncheons and is the most widely cultivated species in the world. Other Aloe species to plant in your garden that will do well in Durban include: Aloe ferox, Aloe chaubaudii, Aloe vanbalenii, Aloe cooperii, Aloe marlothii, Aloe thraskii, Aloe pluridens and the tree Aloe, Aloe barberae. Aloes are available in most nurseries with a number of hybrids that have become very popular. Flowering is from mid-May through late July depending on where you live. If you do want to see Aloes in flower then best to go on the Aloe train from Creighton in July where you travel for a number of hours through the Umgeni Valley and stop amongst thousands of Aloe ferox in full bloom. Go on the website and look up Aloe festival in Creighton.

Throughout the winter months there are a number of other trees, shrubs and groundcovers that will produce flowers which we can use in our gardens.  Probably the most famous of the trees will be the local Coral trees or Erythrina species which flower from July for about 2 months, particularly Erythrina caffra and lysistemon. The drier your garden the better they will flower. Colour forms vary from dark red to yellows. These all attract many of the nectar feeding birds such as Sunbirds as well as monkeys that enjoy the juice from the flowers. Erythinas can be pruned quite heavily after flowering to keep the trees to a size that accommodates your garden. They are easily grown from trungeons and seed. Other winter flowering plants include: Crassula multicarva (Fairy Crassula) , Crassula ovata (Kerky bush) , Hypoestes aristata (Ribbon bush), Leonotus leonorus( Wild dagga), Strelitzia reginae (Bird of Paradise), Euryops pectinatus (Daisy bush), Plectranthus zuluensis (zulu spur flower),  Zanthedeschia aethiopicus (Arum lily), Tetradenia ripari (Iboza), Cotyledon orbiculata (Pigs ears),  kniphofia sp (Red Hot Poker) , Barleria obtusifolia (Bush violet) and Stapelia gigantea (Giant Stapelia), Dombaya burgesiae (Pink Wild Pear). Very fragrant at night

All these plants will flower in winter from late May to the end of August.

Keep an eye out for a number of tree and shrubs that are food plants for a number of butterflies. The two in particular are the Milkweed, Gomphocarpus physocarpus which is the food plant for the African Monarch and Xylotheca kraussiana or African Dog rose which is the food plant for the Red Acraea butterfly. My garden at the moment is filled with butterflies which is always a rewarding as you know you are helping keep these butterflies and there larvae in food over the winter months. All these plants are readily available in nurseries but if you do have problems finding these plants please contact me and I will find these plants for you.

Things to do in your garden this month:

  • Reduce your lawn cuts to once every 3-4 weeks. Lawns will go semi dormant in winter due to shorter cooler days and no rain. I would suggest watering once every 3 weeks to just keep the lawn alive. I don’t water my grass verge for the entire winter months and yes it takes a hammering but after the first rain it recovers immediately.
  • This is the ideal time to repot indoor and outdoor pots. Remove the plants from the pots, remove most of the old soil from around the roots, wash any excess soil off the roots and dip in a fungicide. Mix potting soil with a little compost and replant in the same pot making sure that the plant is at the correct depth and in the middle of the pot. Press down the soil once you have potted the plant to stabilise the plant in the pot. Sprinkle a little osmocote on the surface and water well. Place in a shady spot till you see new growth.
  • Cut back a number of your shrubs, in particular Plectranthus ecklonii (Spur flower) which has finished flowering for this year. Reduce to about a third of its size, compost and fertilize well flowed by a good watering
  • Enjoy those plants in flower in particular Kniphofia sp or the Red Hot Poker. This will flower for the next few weeks before the leaves dry and go dormant. Do not remove. Just allow this plant to remain dormant till the first rains in spring when the new leaves will push through the ground and welcome spring.
  • Plan what changes you want to make to your garden such as planting, moving trees and shrubs and adding pathways and water features. It is easy working in winter as the cooler days make gardening fun.
  • Get out in winter and walk through many of the nature reserves that border our City and enjoy the clear winter days and all the flowering trees and Aloes.


This article is sponsored by Chris Dalzell Landscapes, specializing in landscaping, consultation and Botanical expeditions. If you have any questions please contact me on the following email address: cgmdalzell@gmail.com

Happy gardening