Newsletter Apr 2020

Reminding clients of our mail order service in the March (read: Lockdown Phase 1) newsletter got me reminiscing.

When we launched our new website about 12 years ago, the “Buy Now” button seemed like an enormous achievement, but it took a while for it to attract any real interest. Delivering the trickle of orders took some commitment on our part as we queued at the Post Office, sometimes for up to an hour, to send just one parcel.  In 2013 we connected with Postnet where we have had super service ever since.

The service also took some commitment from passionate customers. I remember Cheryl van Deventer driving all the way from Cradock to Port Elizabeth to collect her first parcel - a round trip of almost 500 km! Fortunately Cradock now have their own Postnet franchise.

The next game changer was about three years ago when we met up with Pargo who deliver to outlying areas, where even Postnet does not operate. 

The system is by no means fool proof (for example, a parcel addressed to Mall of the South in Johannesburg ended up at Mall of the South in Polokwane - neither the plants nor the customer were very happy), but it is at least a way of getting special plants to collectors and gardeners in most areas of South Africa.

I have bought many a plant online from England and Europe and am fascinated by how they are planted in little premade pots and despatched in made-to-measure boxes. With plants of all shapes and sizes listed on our website, we just do our best with a motley range of packaging options. Adele Groenewald from Worcester is always looking for a shrub or tree potted in a 20 litre bag. Posting these seems like a very risky business, even with the muti we send along to help the plants recover from the shock, but she reports that they do well. Koot Dippenaar recently had an untrimmed two metre tall Beaumontia Grandiflora climber delivered to Newcastle. We rolled it up like a songololo but it still needed a huge box!

For whatever reason, there was a sudden increase in the number of mail orders via the website about four years ago. With businesses like Take-a-Lot and Amazon and even grocery stores now offering online shopping, perhaps the culture was just bound to take hold. We still however encourage people to collect their plants from the nursery if at all possible. Being cut back, swaddled in newspaper and boxed up in the dark, even if it is just for 24 hours, is traumatic for the plants and they can take a long time to recover and thrive.

That said, remember that we can accept orders during lockdown. Then it will be all hands on deck to get them out as quickly as possible when we are open for business once again (which we hope against hope will be on Friday!!!).

A final word. Someone tactfully mentioned the other day that “mail order” is a rather passé term from another era when people browsed through huge printed catalogues and sent orders via snail mail. As a nod to the 21st Century, please note that we now offer “online shopping”! Guidelines for placing orders can be found here.

IN THE GARDEN

Lockdown has forced me to actually spend “slow time” in my own garden and what a wonderful experience it has been. Imagine a five week holiday at your favourite destination, with beautiful weather and no interference from the outside world! Life really seemed to come to a standstill.

The first thing I noticed was how beautiful the light is in late afternoon. (Perhaps because there has been no pollution?) And then just having time to sit and plan the next job or think about what changes should be made; where a shrub is spoiling a view or where there is a view that should be hidden. What a pleasure!

Other than suffering from cabin fever like the rest of us, our dogs have loved having their mother home all day, every day.  Molly got a bit carried away and caught her first Hadeda.

The autumn flowers are coming to an end but there still seems to be so much colour from various climbers, salvias, Chinese lanterns, pentas and moonflowers.  

Abutilon Megapotamica

Brugmansia Summerset

Iochroma grandiflora

Salvia Mulberry jam

IN THE NURSERY

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

·         Indigenous plants

The 40 cm high Aristea ecklonii alba is a hard to find evergreen perennial with greyish green strap like leaves and spikes of white flowers in spring. It can take sun or semi shade but make sure to keep the soil moist. This is a good robust plant for a white garden.

Summer dormant plants are always a special delight in the winter months and with its large scarlet flowers, the spectacular Freesia grandiflora is no exception. Indigenous to Gauteng and Mpumalanga, this hardy clump forming bulb grows about 50 cm high and should be planted in semi shade. It randomly self-seeds throughout the garden.

Gladiolus dalenii is a lovely indigenous corm with fan shaped strap like leaves and sprays of orange flowers in summer to autumn which do well in the vase. They are flowering now – breathtakingly beautiful blooms! Indigenous to summer rainfall areas, it is deciduous and hardy and reaches a height of about 100 cm. (Watch out for thrips on all your gladioli.)

The large deep pink flowers spathes of Zantedeschia Marshmallow are something to look forward to in spring and into summer. This gorgeous evergreen and very hardy perennial has ovate dark green fleshy leaves and grows about 100 cm high. Plant in sun or semi shade. 

Exotic plants

Clerodendrum nutans is one of those elusive plants one searches for for years. This lush evergreen 150 cm high shrub grows well in our Highveld gardens. It has tapered glossy green leaves and cascading sprays of scented white flowers in autumn, likes semi shade and is hardy to -5° C. We have large plants in 10 litre bags in stock.

Well branched and never without flowers, Salvia Phyllis Fancy is one of my favourite salvias. Evergreen and very hardy, it has crinkled aromatic leaves and fuzzy white flowers in blue bracts that attract birds, bees and butterflies. It grows on average 120 cm high and is happy in sun or semi shade. Cut back hard in spring.

The fast growing Chinese rain bell, Strobilanthes hamiltoniana, is a plant you can rely on for a splash of mauve pink colour in the garden through winter and spring. A well-shaped 150 cm high perennial with attractive waxy serrated veined leaves, it always looks good and flowers equally happily in sun or shade. It is evergreen and semi hardy.  I think this shrub is mentioned in our newsletter every winter!

Thunbergia erecta Fairy Moon is a 150 cm high upright shrub with shiny oblong dark green leaves and lovely white edged pale blue flowers from summer to autumn. It is deciduous and semi hardy and prefers semi shade. I find that I can prune it to the exact height I want and it will maintain that for a season.

SNIPPETS

It is going to feel positively festive when Petal Faire reopens, hopefully on 1 May. All our staff (and their children) have been in lockdown with us and we can’t wait to see faces from the outside world again.

Having the time to catch up with friends via WhatsApp and watching “Jungle Book” and other movies with all the children – Thabang, Kabelo, Mpho and little Courtney - have been lovely, but I am looking forward to helping our clients stock up for their winter and spring gardens.  And I for one cannot wait to hit the road again to visit suppliers! I missed out on the Rare Plant Sale in Stellenbosch in mid-April and it doesn’t look like I will be visiting England in their summer this year. I will just have to find new adventures to go on in sunny South Africa.

Stay healthy, mask up – and happy gardening!

Leoné

082 482 0257

www.petalfairecottage.co.za