Newsletter Sep 2020

Recently, a client sent me a photograph of a gorgeous flowering tree in her garden that had me mystified. When she told me it was the syringa I sourced for her about ten years ago, the penny dropped. No, I am not in the habit of supplying clients with the invasive syringa tree (Melia azedarach) that is such a blight in many of our gardens. This was the lovely Syringa vulgaris, or Common Lilac. She told me that after years of being treated to only a very few blooms, she was thrilled to have an absolute riot of sweet smelling lilac blossoms this spring. 

Syringa vulgaris

I was reminded of a similar message towards the end of last year from a client wanting to know the name of a shrub that had suddenly started flowering in his garden. When I said I had no idea, he told me I should know it; he had bought it from Petal Faire Nursery nine years ago. After  a bit a search, we finally identified it as Pavetta revoluta. I still couldn’t remember ever having had these plants for sale in the nursery, but what a beauty!  

Robert is gobsmacked that anyone would keep a plant that didn’t perform for so many years, but to tell the truth, we have also been “guilty” of holding on to an unknown shrub that gave us nothing but large dried up buds for four years. We had no sooner decided to banish it to the nursery, than those dry sullen buds exploded into the most beautiful clusters of scented pale blue trumpets. Lebo has already planted the moonflower that was supposed to take its place in the garden, but they will now just have to peacefully coexist!

The flowers of our anonymous shrub

Are we just stubborn, or is this persistence an illustration of the patience that gardening can teach us?


This is such a wonderful time of year! The garden is starting to lose its winter coat as more and more flowers and foliage appear. The watsonias are pushing out their slender buds; the African dogrose is a mass of blooms (well, for Pretoria after a cold winter it is); salvias, abutilons, pelargoniums; the scilla, shasta daisies and irises on the sidewalk…

Pelargonium Orange Fizz

Cistus Harpers white

Purple edged iris

Xylotheca kraussiana

Scilla natalensis

And of course let us not forget the unnamed wonders – all those weeds...    


Rediscovering the deciduous plants that, over the winter months, have disappeared from view and mind is one of the real joys of spring, so most of the plants featured in this newsletter fall into that category. They really are a special addition to the garden.

Click here to view all the plants in this newsletter on the website.

·        Indigenous plants

The brilliant red and yellow flowers of the deciduous Erythrina acanthocarpa are one of my most anticipated spring events. Our mother plant is just starting to make buds! This rare 1.5m high shrub is indigenous to the Queenstown area in the Eastern Cape and has the charming Afrikaans name of Tamboekiedoring. It likes full sun and dry sandy soil, and flowers from late spring to summer.

Galtonia princeps, also aptly known as the summer hyacinth, is a gorgeous clump forming bulb with fleshy upright leaves and waxy drooping soft greenish cream flowers in summer.  Deciduous and very hardy, it wants full sun and grows on average 60cm high.

A small 2 m high upright tree (almost a shrub in Gauteng gardens), the Natal bottlebrush Greyia sutherlandii has sparse branches with leathery leaves and cones of red flowers from winter to spring. It is deciduous and very hardy and likes full sun and dry sandy soil.

Senecio rhomboideus is a really gorgeous deciduous succulent with elongated tubers, large toothed grey green leaves and sprays of yellow flowers in summer. Our plants fizzled out into little brown bundles over the winter but are merrily pushing out leaves again. Plant in full sun and dry sandy soil.

·        Exotic plants

We have the lovely pink and white Astilbe hybrids in stock. These very hardy deciduous clump forming perennials have mounds of glossy fern-like foliage and clusters of delicate feathery blooms in summer. They like moist soil and semi shade, and definitely prefer colder climates.

The very hardy waterwise blue spirea, Caryopterus incana, on the other hand, wants dry sandy soil and sun. Also deciduous, this gorgeous bushy rounded shrub has greyish toothed oblong leaves and clusters of pale blue flowers from summer to autumn. It grows about 1.2m high.

The mat forming perennial Convolvulus sabatius is lovely as a groundcover, trailing over a wall or in a hanging basket. This is an evergreen, very hardy perennial that wants full sun. It has round green leaves and cup-shaped blue flowers all season.

Lysimachia barystachys is a creeping deciduous perennial with dense 60cm racemes of white flowers in summer. As it can take sun to semi-shade and wants moist soil, it is a good choice for a woodland garden. Loved by bees and butterflies.


At some point during lockdown, we started walking through the garden and reading up on the possible edible and/or medicinal plants we have. I suspect this was due to a combination of influences: a couple at our March open weekend who told me they only have edible and medicinal plants in their garden; an invitation to an indigenous plant-based dinner at the university’s Future Africa campus; and (through the dinner) getting to know the inspirational Siphiwe Sithole of African Marmalade farm.

Lebo remembered Big Annie, as she was affectionately known, drinking a pennywort tea which cured her stiff neck.  Our kale plants are doing well and I have heard that the Callisa fragrans, which waits in vain in the nursery for buyers, is known for contributing to the healing of cancer. I have also bought some beautiful Portugal Quince trees for us and for the nursery. Slowly but surely, our collection grows.

In related news, Jason Sampson, Curator of the University of Pretoria’s Manie van der Schijff Botanical Garden, recently gave a talk on the foraging garden at the Future Africa campus for the California Horticultural Society. Let me know if you are interested and I will send you the link.


As we all await the summer rains - happy gardening!



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