Parent Category: Buzz
Category: 2015 - June/July
Hits: 1677
A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot! — Thomas Edward Brown 1830–1897.

Gardening in Betty’s Bay should be a breeze. After all, we live in what is probably the richest pocket of the richest floral kingdom of the world, where “richness” refers to the huge variety of flowering plants occurring naturally in our indigenous vegetation. But gardening here is not easy. In fact, it is “vrot” with disappointment and despair. Seemingly healthy plants up and die on us for no apparent reason and, more often than not, plants refuse to behave as the books tell us they should.

An example: In 1988 I planted a Milkwood tree. It was at least a metre tall at the time and was as healthy as could be, with fabulous shiny foliage and lots of promising new growth. Over the years, I have loved and nurtured it. I have regularly fed it with compost and Seagro. I have religiously watered it in the dry season. I have whispered words of encouragement into its leaves and have even sung to it. But latterly these loving words have been replaced by less salubrious diatribes. The damn thing continues to cling to life but appears to grow down instead of up. After 27 years, my Milkwood is 1/2m tall and has a quarter of the leaves it once had. I wish it would curl up its toes once and for all, but no, it battles on, a constant reminder of my failure as a gardener.

But at last my [and your] gardening attempts could enjoy more success. I now realise that ignorance has been at the root of most of my personal failures. And I use the word “root” quite intentionally. It turns out that I have been trying to grow plants in soil conditions for which they are not suited. [My failure with the Milkwood is testament to this.] Two recently-published books have unscrambled the mysteries of gardening in the Kogel- berg.

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The first is Your Place in the Kogelberg, by Tim Atwell [reviewed in last month’s Buzz] and the second is Indigenous Plant Palettes, An Essential Guide to Plant Selection, by Marijke Honig. It appears that there are no fewer than seven local ecosystems within the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, each with its own “geological and soil features and special and endemic plants” [Attwell, p32]. One’s success in cultivating particular plants in one’s garden is dependent on the soil type and conditions of the immediate area and it is advisable to choose the plants that would naturally thrive there.

The Attwell book outlines the actual areas in the Kogelberg that fall into the different categories and gives an overview of the plants that thrive in each. The Honig book deals with the specifics of gardening in these different conditions and her “palettes – groups of plants for a specific purpose or situation” – provide a very useful guide as to what to plant where, depending on the effect that you want to achieve. Ernst van Jaarsveld, in his introduction to the book, explains that “Marijke simplifies plant choice in a step by step approach and describes 24 plant palettes which cover a wide range of needs from security, screening, fragrance and architectural plants to attracting birds. For each palette she has chosen 30 of the best plants available – taking into consideration our regional diversity of climate and landscape.” Once you have identified the local ecosystem into which your garden falls, you can find out what to plant in it and how to achieve the best results by altering your gardening techniques to suit the environment. Then by a process of cross referencing you can go a step further. You can choose plants for a particular purpose, like attracting birds or creating a screen, while at the same time ensuring that these plants are suited to your particular gardening conditions.

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According to Tim Attwell, I am to be congratulated! This is because my garden is situated in the heart of the Cape flora. It appears that I, in gardening terms at least, am privileged to live on the slopes of the mountain as opposed to the flatter section between the mountain and sea. My property is part of the Kogelberg Sandstone Fynbos and, as such, can support a huge variety of endemic plants that do not occur naturally in any other part of the world. The fact that the garden is on a slope is another plus. This ensures good drainage, an important factor in the successful cultivation of fynbos. So, even though the soil conditions appear unpromising – sandy, nutrient-poor and acidic – I should enjoy many gardening triumphs if I choose my plants wisely, using the rich natural vegetation around me as my guide.

But do not despair if your garden is situated in one of the other ecosystems in the Betty’s Bay area. You may not have such a large selection of plants suited to your conditions, but there are easily enough to create a lovely garden. Again use the naturally-occurring vegetation as your guide. A good idea is to base your garden plan on the local vegetation, using the plants found around your property as the skeleton of the garden. You can then enhance the overall effect by introducing colourful and interesting additions. Both books are very helpful as to what plants grow best in the different conditions. Also, you can consult the people who work in the Harold Porter nursery. They are very knowledgeable about what grows best where. [And you’ll probably be able to grow milkwoods!]

Marijke Honig provides practical gardening advice to fynbos gardeners. Here are some of her suggestions:

It is never too late to get your garden into shape. Arm yourself with these two books and be guided by them. The results should make all your efforts worthwhile.

[from a very enthusiastic amateur]