Newsletter Oct 2019


Perhaps you know that in July of this year, bees were declared the most important living beings on the planet by the Earthwatch Institute. Sciencetimes gives the scary statistic that 70% of the world’s agriculture depends exclusively on bees!

Long ago Albert Einstein made the statement that “if the bees disappear, humans would have four years to live.” And the unfortunate truth is that these humble yet essential little creatures have joined the long list of endangered species for reasons as wide-ranging as the use of toxic pesticides, rampant deforestation and lack of flowering plants.

My shadow writer Jennifer Snyman has gone all out, doing a beekeeping course through Beeware (presented by passionate bee man Hannes Grobler) and kitting herself out for a little beekeeping operation. While not everyone is willing or able to go to such lengths, we can all support the bees that visit our gardens in little ways. An article in the July edition of Getaway magazine offered these tips:

·         Plant pollen and nectar-rich plants that flower at different times in the year so that they have a constant food source. For vegetable and fruit growers, an added bonus of attracting bees in this way is that it will also increase the pollination in your little patch and contribute to your yields. Just some suggestions are strawberries, lavender, Cape gooseberry, beans, peas, buchu, ericas, hollyhocks and arum lilies. Aloes are a particular boon for bees during the difficult winter months.

·         Use organic herbicides rather than chemical pesticides in your garden. Spraying a mixture of white vinegar, salt, lemon and water or crushed garlic mixed with water can help deter pests in a bee-friendly way.

·         Make sure that there is a water source into your garden. A shallow bird bath is a good option to avoid drowning incidents!

·         Spare a thought for the many species of solitary bees who don’t build combs but need shelters for nesting. “Bug hotels” can be found everywhere these days or build your own by drilling holes of different sizes into a block of wood. You will also have the added pleasure of observing the little creatures come and go as they lay their eggs and plug up the holes to protect the next generation.

A final note: on the basis of provisions in the Poison Act, it is in fact illegal to kill bees and pest control companies offering to exterminate unwanted swarms can be prosecuted. Hannes Grobler is one of a number of experts who do bee removals, offering them a chance to continue their existence in a more appropriate location. He can be contacted on 082 578 7746. You can also contact me for details of the team at the Agricultural Research Council who can be of assistance.


Our garden is a blaze of colour from perennial sweet peas and other climbers. Also looking good are the campanulas, Thunbergia and the other usual summer beauties. 

African dog rose giving us a flower-filled display

Agapanthus "Twister"

Thunbergia battiscombe

October is just the best month in the garden but of course it doesn’t do anything to put the brakes on the profusion of weeds that have popped up.  The onion weed is particularly rampant at the moment, so much so that we are contemplating lifting all the plants from an existing bed to completely eradicate the scourge and then replanting.  We find the best way to do this is to use a small spade or fork to lift the entire bulb with its “babies” for binning.  I know that some gardeners use a sponge to apply an herbicide and then wait for the plant to die, but I don’t seem to have much success with this method.  Any other suggestions?


Click here to view all the plants featured in this newsletter.

·         Indigenous plants

I have been looking for Bauhinia natalensis for years – no one seems to grow them anymore.  With its roundish two-lobed green leaves and scented crinkly white flowers, it is such a lovely delicate looking shrub and our beautiful specimens should be covered in blooms soon. Indigenous to the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, it is evergreen and semi-hardy and grows on average 200 cm high. Loved by butterflies.

The Kniphofia ensifolia has unfortunately finished its flowering season, but what a gorgeous lemon yellow colour! It is well worth planting now and waiting another year for the brilliant display. Also aptly named the torch lily, this is a sturdy 160 cm high perennial with erect, deeply keeled grey green leaves and tall spikes of in spring that attract birds and insects. It can take sun to semi shade and likes moist soil.

I am not a succulent lover but was hooked when I saw Senecio rhomboideus in a nursery on one of my last foraging trips. Rhomboideus means “diamond shaped” and the gorgeous large toothed grey green leaves of this beauty will make a statement in any hot, dry bed. Evergreen and very hardy, it has yellow blooms in summer. I can’t wait for my specimens to grow so that I can showcase them in my garden.

An equally beautiful plant for dry, sunny conditions is Erythrina acanthocarpa. This rare 150 cm deciduous shrub has underground root stock and compound leaves and brilliant red and yellow flowers in late spring. It is very hardy.

·         Exotic plants

Mandevilla laxa is a vigorous, woody, twining vine with a profusion of fragrant white trumpet flowers (good in the vase) from summer to autumn. Deciduous and semi-hardy it reaches an average height of 400 cm and should be pruned back in late winter. We seem to have struggled for years to get these seedlings to a sellable size – they are now finally big enough. Strange how some plants just refuse to grow in what we think are ideal conditions.

The dark blue brown-centred flowers of Neomarica caerulea make it a good accent plant but it is also gorgeous in a mixed border. This large (160 cm high) rhizomatous perennial is hardy and evergreen and likes semi shade and moist soil. It flowers from spring to summer.

We have the nymphaea (water lilies) back in stock after their winter rest although the blues and purples will only be available from next month. These hardy bog plants flower from summer to autumn and are a must for anyone with a pond or water feature  Remember that one way of encouraging exponential growth is to feed your plants monthly and repot them into larger pots as soon as they are big enough.

A compact waterwise evergreen Mediterranean shrublet with woolly crinkly grey green leaves and whorls of yellow flowers from spring to summer, Phlomis lanata likes full sun and dry sandy soil. It is very hardy and grows about 90 cm high.


The agapanthus are starting to bud and bloom, reminding me of the major international accolades won by the Aloe Farm their new hybrid variety. They are hosting an Agapanthus festival from 26 October to 9 November.  More information on their website

I was privileged to be invited to the Viviers Garden Day hosted by Lezanne Viviers, her husband Walter Anderson and their resident garden designer James Barry.  The very inspiring and spectacular planting and host of wonderful people to meet and chat to almost made me forget the hundreds of stairs I had to climb! There was delicious food and wine and enthusiastic conversation about gardens, plants, art and healing, and of course a walk through Lezanne’s fashion studio. It was a day to remember.  Leon Scholtz and I decided that next year we will also take part in the great event.  Watch this space and send in suggestions please.

Remember to keep yourself (and your garden) hydrated as we all wait with bated breath for the summer rains!


Happy gardening!


082 482 0257