I first ventured into keeping chickens about 20 years ago when I responded to a Junkmail ad and bought a few Sebright bantams.
Unusually for Sebrights, they bred and bred with the result that we eventually had in the region of 30. They were the bane of Robert’s life, particularly when the hens decided that the facilities inside the house were most suitable for egg laying. One lady deposited hers in an English porcelain bowl on the coffee table while others took a fancy to the snug environment of our wardrobe. They would climb through the bedroom window to take up residence among the shoes or – even better! – in my underwear drawer. I made a feeble attempt to keep their presence in the bedroom a secret (coughing loudly to cover up rustling sounds during the night), but I doubt that Robert was ever fooled.
These pretty birds are really such a joy and not destructive in the garden like some of the bigger fowls can be. However, don’t consider acquiring them for the purposes of insect control! This lot like their home comforts and food on demand. Anything caught in the garden is just for a little variety.
I have managed to track down a supplier and can offer them for sale once again. Email me if you are interested in buying a pair (no single purchases). There are show quality Silver and Golden varieties.
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IN THE GARDEN
The pretty white, pink and mauve flowers of the undemanding Primula malacoides or Fairy Primrose are a real blessing at this time of year when not much else is going on in the garden. The plants self-seed so efficiently that if you plant them once, you will pretty much have them forever. Although officially plants for the semi shade, I have found that they do perfectly well in full sun since the winter rays are relatively mild. Leave the plants in the ground until the seed pods are well developed, give them a good shake when pulling up and you will be rewarded with a lovely new crop next year.
Cobeae still in bloom
Our Cyrtanthus mackennii
Winter colour in the Dombeya burgessaie
IN THE NURSERY
I have selected plants for this month’s newsletter that are either looking good right now or will give a fabulous display in the season if planted now.
Click here to view all the plants featured in this newsletter.
· Indigenous plants
We haven’t featured Cyrtanthus mackennii for years but this winter the plants that were popped into the cottage driveway and left to their own devices are a sight to behold. Masses of beautiful blooms despite receiving no attention! An evergreen hardy bulbous perennial, it has scented tubular flowers from winter to spring, reaches a height of 25 cm and likes full sun. A variety of colours are available.
We had Schistostephium rotundifolium growing on the sidewalk for a number of years before finally being able to give it a name after bringing in the “big guns” in the form of Prof Braam van Wyk, Elsa Pooley and Geoff Nichols. This is a very special plant whose clusters of yellow flowers from autumn to spring are just an added bonus because the lovely silky lobed leaves look good all year. Tough and water wise, it takes sun or semi shade and grows about 1.2 m high. Attracts insects.
A threatened climber that grows in forests and riverine woodland, the robust Mondia whitei has thickly veined leaves and clusters of interesting deep red and white flowers in summer. Evergreen and semi hardy, it grows to a height of 5 m and wants shade to semi shade and moist conditions.
· Exotic plants
Nothing says “Spring” quite like bluebells. The robust perennial bulbs of Hyacinthoides hispanica are dormant at the moment but will reward your patience with their erect flowering stems of lovely bell shaped violet blue flowers when the season turns. The plants grow about 30cm high and like semi shade.
The mat forming perennial Lychnis flos cuculi is a lovely plant for a woodland garden. It has rosette forming lanceolate leaves and delicate narrow petaled pink flowers from early spring to summer. It is evergreen and very hardy and reaches a height of about 50 cm. Split and divide once your plants are established (we do!).
Symphytum tauricum is a clump forming evergreen perennial with tuberous roots, oblong green leaves and tubular white flowers in summer. It is very hardy and grows about 40 cm high. Plant in semi shade. This is a non-invasive comfrey.
Lathyrus latifolius is a very hardy evergreen climber with winged stems, blue green leaves and racemes of pink/lilac flowers from summer to autumn. Growing about 2 m high, it is well suited to a trellis or arch. Plant in sun or semi shade.
When choosing plants for your garden it is important to know how hardy they are. Hardiness has to do with the cold that a plant can withstand.
For those of you who don't know or have forgotten here is a primer. Please note: this is the guide we use for the plants in our nursery.
- Minimum temperatures for tender plants such as begonias or tropical plants are 8 to 10 deg. Celsius.
- Semi hardy plants can tolerate temperatures down to 4 deg. Celsius. These would be plants from the northern and eastern parts of the country such as Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the KwaZulu-Natal Lowveld.
- Hardy plants like those from the Gauteng areas will manage with temperatures down to -1 deg. Celsius.
- Very hardy plants will survive temperatures as low as -8 deg. Celsius. Obvious examples here would be plants that are endemic to the Drakensberg mountains.
Old Annie always used to say “25 Julie is plant tyd” – and we are nearly there again. Time to start preparing by cutting back, clearing and fertilising.
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