We are now heading for certainly the best time of the year in Durban for gardening as the heat or summer has finally abated and the cooler shorter days are now upon us. It is the morning and evening light that gives autumn away as you get those lovely colours in the landscape of the autumn foliage and the grasses turning brown. I was walking through the Krantzkloof Nature reserve this past week end with my wife’s family from New Zealand and on many occasion we just sat and watched the butterflies dancing from plant to plant delicately touching each plant to see if that was its food plant to lay its eggs. The growing season will slow down but with that we can look forward to those plants that flower in winter. Shorter cooler days, clear sunny skies and no rain is what we can expect over the next 4 months. I love the change of seasons as it welcomes many other plants to showcase there flowers which flower in winter.

Mother’s Day in May always reminds me of a particular tree that produce flower spikes in early April and by early May is in full bloom. It is a tree that lines many of the well-known streets in Durban and in particular Innes, Florida and Musgrave roads. It is native to Madagascar and was planted to replace the Flamboyant trees that were removed many years ago. Its distinctive clusters of orange hanging flowers always attract the attention of drivers as they move from one side of the city to the next. Colvillea racemosa, also known by its common name Colville’s Glory, was named after Sir Charles Colville, the ex-Governor of Mauritius. It belongs to the legume family which produces long wooden seed pods in late winter. It is grown throughout the tropics but sadly no longer found in many nurseries in South Africa. You need to visit some of the old gardens in Durban to find this tree. It does attract lots of bees so for those of you allergic to bees be careful.

In my garden in Kloof I have a large a large shrub that is very fragrant at night called Dombeya burgessiae or the pink wild Pear with its hanging pinkish-white flowers. In many ways it needs to be on top of a wall so that you can look up and see the flowers as they hang in bunches from the shrub. As evening approaches it gives off a very sweet fragrance that scents the house and outside living space. It does get into a large shrub that can look untidy but once it has finished flowering best to cut it back to about a third of its size. This keeps it in shape and encourages new growth for flowering the following season. Durban is fortunate to have so many interesting flowering trees that we must enjoy them when they flower.

Flowering along the highways to Kloof and Hillcrest and found if the grasslands is a bulb called Gladiolus dalenii with its orange flower spike standing above the grasslands. This bulb is an indicator that winter is on its way and is known as the Natal Lily or African Gladiolus. These bulbs will flower for the next few weeks before going into dormancy for the winter. I was recently in Mozambique and once you go through the border post at Kozi Bay you see in all the grasslands this bulb in flower. It is a very striking bulb that flowers in autumn so if you can visit your nursery and buy some of these bulbs for your garden.

Autumn is also the time to look at making changes or additions to your garden. Gardens are a changing landscape which need to be nurtured and either added too or changed. It is interesting to see new houses that are being built in many of the new developments that have sprung up all over Durban. A new house is the ideal times to either get the help of a landscaper to design and develop your garden or if you are capable of designing your own garden then make sure that you do it properly from day one. It is sad to see people spent so much money on building their houses to then not provide funds to develop their gardens. Gardens enhance the price of your property but also provide beauty to the surrounding landscape. Why pave your entire garden when you could install a garden that will not only provide beauty but also provide a haven for birds and butterflies. If you have the funds then set aside a budget to buy the right plants. It concerns me to see how many people buy the wrong plants for their gardens which down the line create problems. If you need help that is why I write these articles. I am happy to assist you select the right plants for your garden so you don’t have those problems in a few years. Select plants that flower at different times of the year. I know my garden in Kloof has just finished a particular flowering period and now I am waiting for winter to initiate the flowering of all the Aloes and many winter flowering shrubs and trees.

Indigenous grasses have become very popular in the landscape with one grass in particular that many feel is a weed but  probably the best grass for seed eating birds. Setaria megaphylla or broad- leaved thistle grass is an evergreen grass that grows to a height of 1m in wetlands, open grasslands and can grow either in sun or semi shade. It is frost resistant, fast growing, and bears white flowers in summer. It makes a very attractive back drop to a wetland garden as the leaves are a pretty green and interestingly ‘pleated.’ Birds strip the leaves for nest building and the seed eaters enjoy the fruits. It is the larval host plant to the Long-horned Skipper, Lesser-horned Skipper, and Twilight Brown and Gold-spotted Skipper butterflies. Do not remove this from your garden if the birds have dropped the seed in your garden.

Things to do this month:

  • The late summer flowering shrub, Plectranthus ecklonii would have finished flowering in most gardens. Cut this shrub back to a third of its size and compost the soil to provide nutrients for the new growth. If you do not cut it back it becomes very woody and will not flower as well the next season. Pruning has many benefits:  removal of dead wood, reducing the plant to the size of your garden, removal of diseased growth, induce new growth and creating a design form
  • Reduce the cutting cycle of your lawns to every 2 weeks. This allows the surface area of the grass leaves to trap as much light for photosynthesis thus keeping the grass alive. You can water the lawns periodically in winter.
  • Plant groundcovers and shrubs that will do well in winter as well as in the shade. A few good examples are Crassula multicarva,  Plectranthus ciliatus, Asystasia gangetica, Plectranthus zuluensis, Hypoestes aristata, Chlorophytum bowkeri and Dietes grandiflora. These flower in late autumn and early winter. Try and plant them in huge sweeps as they give a dramatic display when in numbers.
  • Many shrubs will be in spike and will flower in winter. Make sure these plants are staked to stabilize them and also to prevent them from breaking. Do not prune these shrubs until they have finished flowering. Examples would be Leonotis leonorus and Hypoestes aristata.
  • Orchids that flower in winter will need to be dried off. By reducing watering this stresses the plant thus initiating flower spikes. Some plants such as Dendrobiums can be dried off completely for the best part of 4 months. Once these orchids have finished flowering decide whether they need repotting.
  • Do not spray your plants for insects as many butterflies will lay their eggs before winter. I have 2 plants that are full of caterpillars which in a few weeks will provide a garden full of butterflies. Xylotheca kraussiana or African Dog Rose attracts the Red Acraea butterfly and Gomphocarpus physocarpus attract the African Monarch. I allow these plants to be eaten by the caterpillars as these are there host food plants.

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