Newsletter Feb 2020

My belief – some would say stubborn insistence - that there is a place for exotics in the South African garden is no secret. Despite the growing push to go indigenous, Petal Faire Nursery has continued to stock exotics and feature them in this newsletter. I still maintain that indigenous is not necessarily equivalent to water wise and non-invasive and that exotic does not necessarily mean the opposite. With careful garden design, plant collectors can harbour plants from other parts of the world without harming our environment or threatening our local species - and judging by our sales, there are certainly enthusiasts out there doing just that.

Many of the plants in the nursery have been propagated by us but of course at some point “mother” plants are needed, some brought in from abroad. There is quite a story behind how I got to import plants from England where I source some of my exotics.

After a few visits to the UK around 2004 and 2007 the temptation became too much and I simply had to find out how to import a few special plants to South Africa.  I tried Google and all the other usual channels for information but with no joy.  Eventually I asked one of the staff members at the Department of Agriculture Permit Office whom he thought might be able to help me.  He referred me to Marianna Theyse who was at the time the Assistant Director: International Standards, Directorate Plant Health in the Department of Agriculture. She gave me the number of an inspector in Glasgow employed by the UK’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs who in turn referred me to someone else who referred me to someone else etc. etc., until I finally received a call from a DEFRA inspector in London who offered to help me on my next visit. 

After many months of exchanges Petal Faire finally had a failsafe method in place for importing plants with a phytosanitary certificate from Defra; something that has become invaluable to the running of my business. Many of the plants we now sell in the nursery are thanks to that initial help from Marianne Theyse, who is now CEO of Phyto Sanitary Solutions and - yes, you guessed it – helping others obtain import and export phyto sanitary certificates.


At the end of January social media and the newspapers where full of stories about the millions of butterflies invading our Gauteng gardens.  I couldn’t work out what all the fuss was about as this was just the annual migration of the Brown-Veined White Butterfly, but it seems that our garden might just have missed out. Other people apparently couldn’t get over the volumes this year.

The migration starts in the dry areas of the Kalahari and the Karoo and the number of migrating butterflies depends on climatic conditions like drought and rain. The butterflies fly across the Northern Cape and parts of the Free State and move over the North West Province into Gauteng. They have also been seen in parts of Mpumalanga and Limpopo. Their destination is unknown but Mozambique seems to be where they settle and fall into the sea. They stop to lay eggs along the way which is why they don’t need to fly back. Their eggs will hatch and thus continue the species.

What we missed in butterflies, we made up for in caterpillars!  We have had a veritable infestation in the garden and nursery over the past three months.  Any ideas about the reason for this? Large, small, hairy, green, grey, brown - you name it; we have them all.

Caterpillars on our strophanus

It's that time of year - another cache of seeds

Aster cordifolius

Plectranthus zuluensis

Abutilon buttercup


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

·         Indigenous plants

The sprays of white scented flowers of our indigenous Buddleja Dysophylla attract butterflies to the garden from autumn to winter. It also has lovely grey green leaves. This scandent shrub/climber is evergreen and very hardy, grows about 3 metres high and does well in sun or semi shade.

The deciduous very hardy Eleochalis dulcis (the Chinese water chestnut) is actually indigenous to both Africa and Asia. This is a robust grass like sedge with round edible corms that have medicinal properties. The plants must be submerged in 10 cm of water but want full sun.

Hibuscus praeteritus is a water wise slender upright shrub with ovate coarsely serrated leaves and five petaled red flowers in summer. It reaches an average height of one metre, is evergreen and hardy, and likes full sun.

Persicaria senegalensis does equally well in a pond or in the garden if the soil is kept moist. A spreading thick stemmed stolenous perennial (its common name of silver snake root is very apt!), it has beautiful large silver leaves and sprays of golden grass like flowers. It is deciduous and very hardy and likes a sunny position. Grows about 1.5 metre high.

·         Exotic plants

It is hard to say what is most beautiful about Alocasia esculenta-Fortanesii – its foliage or the spectacular flower. A deciduous tuberous bog perennial, the black stemmed elephant ear has heart shaped blue green leaves with red veins and scented pale yellow arum like flowers in summer. It is semi hardy, grows about 1.5 metre high and wants moist conditions in sun or semi shade.  My plant was brought to the nursery in a “Checkers” by a kind lady (please remind me who you are?) and is in a beautiful pink pot in the front garden.  Such a joy. 

Calycanthus floridus is a rare upright deciduous shrub from the south eastern USA. It has large aromatic elliptical bright green leaves and very fragrant dark red flowers from spring to summer. It grows on average 1.8 metres high, is very hardy and likes sun to semi shade. Prune immediately after flowering.

There just doesn’t seem to be an end to the variety of jasmines one can collect. Jasminum bignonianceum (the Indian jasmine) is an upright bushy shrub with narrow bright green leaves and small scented tubular yellow flowers all year. Evergreen and hardy, it likes semi shade.

Kohleria digitalifolia is a spreading rhizomatous deciduous perennial that is lovely in a hanging bowl or container. It grows on average 60cm high and has hairy lance shaped leaves and bright pink flowers with spotted lobes from summer to autumn. Plant in semi shade.


Robert and I were thrilled to be invited to join in the “Botany Weekend” at Verlorenkloof Estate near Lydenburg/Mashishing at the beginning of February.  This is when various amateur botanists congregate to walk the veld and kloofs looking for plants, particularly orchids.  I am not that enthused about orchids but found the amazing variety of other flora absolutely fascinating.  We were ably guided by Frans Krige who also takes groups on guided tours at Verloren Vallei Nature Reserve near Dullstroom.  A big thank you to our hosts Robin and Sheryl Berry for this fabulous weekend. It is something that every amateur or budding botanist or plant person should have on their bucket list!

Remember our autumn open weekend on 7 and 8 March. As usual we will be open from 09h00 to 15h00 on Saturday and 09h00 to 14h00 on Sunday, and will have a wonderful selection of exotic and indigenous plants for sale.

Happy gardening!


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