Newsletter Jun 2021

At Petal Faire, we sometimes have customers who are no less rare and unusual than the plants we sell. I was recently contacted by someone whose story is just too fascinating not to share (with his permission, of course).

About a month ago, I received a call from a Mr Pierre le Roux in Malawi who was looking for water lilies and lotus flower rhizomes. In the middle of winter these are hard to come by and there is no guarantee that they will grow, but I said I would see what I could do. Hearing from a customer in another country is always interesting, but when I found out that the plants were destined not for Malawi but the island of Principé off the Congolese coast in West Africa, I just had to hear more!

A robust chat ensued and Pierre told me how he and his family, avid gardeners and nature lovers, had moved to Malawi to start a fish farm - and ended up also going into chocolate making. Strange bedfellows indeed.

You would think this story was already adventurous enough, but no. The International Fund for Agricultural Development is assisting the Sao Tomé and Principé Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries to support small-scale commercial agriculture as a way of improving the living conditions of small producers. The intrepid Mr le Roux has been approached to set up a chocolate manufacturing project on Principé, and he and his family now commute between Malawi and what sounds like a little piece of paradise.

The lilies obviously have nothing to do with chocolate making. It appears that Pierre is diversifying once more and wants them for the gardens of a lodge on the island.

Who knows what adventures our plants dream up for themselves unbeknownst to us!


Yes, there were two cold fronts in rapid succession at the beginning of May, but we have actually had quite a mild winter so far. The garden bears witness to that as we still have so much colour, often hidden in sheltered spots. The climbers in particular have given us a wonderful display. 

Thunbergia fire red - isn't she just beautiful!

Salvia sagittata

Salvia roscida

Pink erythrina flowering out of season

Although the second half of winter is often the harshest, with the winter solstice behind us, it always feels like we can start looking forward to spring and embark on preparations for the coming season. We are still collecting leaves for our compost bins at the moment, and will start our pruning in the second week of July. Of course, there are also shrubs and perennials that just have to be moved – a personal foible that seems to afflict Lebo as well.


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

·        Indigenous plants

Although it can also take some sun, Albuca nelsonii is one of my favourite shade-loving plants.  This is a rare grassland bulb whose springtime sprays of green striped flowers are always something to look forward to. Indigenous to the coastal areas of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, it is evergreen and hardy. Heaven knows where its awful common name of Nelson’s slime lily comes from!  Plants are now in bud.

What makes Metarungia pubinervia a particularly special plant is that it was only discovered in the Kranzkloof Nature Reserve in 2000! With the far more attractive common name of red sunbird bush, this well-shaped hardy evergreen shrub has dark green quilted leaves and produces tubular red flowers on the upper side of the branches from winter to spring. It grows about one metre high and is loved by sunbirds and insects.

Aristea angolensis is a fast-growing approximately 90cm high perennial with a basal fan of narrow tufted leaves and spikes of pale blue flowers that attract butterflies in spring. It is evergreen and hardy, and likes sun to semi-shade.

Scabiosa columbaria pink is a clump-forming perennial with rosettes of deeply lobed leaves and very pretty big pink pompom-like flowers that attract butterflies from spring to autumn. Evergreen and very hardy, it grows about 75cm high and likes sun to semi-shade.

·        Exotic plants

With its brittle looking stalks radiating from a stout “trunk”, the rare Geranium maderense much resembles a small palm tree. This robust hardy biennial grows on average 1.2m high and sports bouquets of showy purple pink flowers from winter to summer. It supposedly self-seeds, but I have yet to see that in my garden. It can take sun or shade.

Passiflora Iris is a floriferous climber with deep purple-blue scented flowers from spring to autumn. An English passionflower hybrid, it can reach 3m in height and is hardy to a minimum temperature of 1 deg Celsius. It is happy in sun to semi-shade.

Salvia macrophylla is a gorgeous upright perennial with large furry purple-backed leaves and clusters of brilliant blue flowers from autumn to spring. Hailing from Peru, it is evergreen and hardy, and likes sun to semi-shade.

Tradescantia Blushing Bride is a mandatory inclusion in our winter newsletter, as the striking green, cream and purple-tipped leaves bring lovely hints of colour to the garden at a time when these are hard to come by. This trailing perennial groundcover produces little pink flowers in spring, is evergreen and very hardy, and grows happily in sun to semi-shade.


In my infrequent jaunts around town or the countryside, I am always amazed by the beauty of the aloes that flower at this time of year - a blessing not just for us but also the bees for whom food is otherwise in short supply. Is it my imagination, or are more and more people including aloes in their gardens?

I have allium bulbs for sale in the nursery that are just sprouting, and have it on good authority that the spikes should grow to about 2m and produce large heads of a purple maroon colour.  If you are interested, please let me know.

The reintroduction of a “hard” lockdown has been a bitter pill to swallow, but those of us who have gardens to nurture still have much to be grateful for. What better time to focus on Mother Nature who is immune to manmade rules and regulations and to remind ourselves of the promise of rejuvenation in just a few months’ time?


Happy gardening!


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