I do appreciate someone who spares a thought for the fact that even so-called garden pests have a place in the ecosystem, even if it is just as food. One such person is Linda Ly who has a lovely gardening blog called Garden Betty where I recently came across a really interesting article about ladybugs.
Apart from the cuteness factor, gardeners are generally happy to have these little beetles in the garden to keep aphids under control (and, according to Linda, also spider mites and scale insects). Ladybugs can consume as many as 5,000 aphids in their lifetime of one to two years, starting as early as larval stage! Eggs are laid close to aphid colonies so that when the larvae hatch, lunch is close at hand. This of course means that if you use a pesticide on aphids, you could also be decimating one of your best natural pest-control systems at source.
Ladybugs will mate every two to three days and produce eggs as long as they have a constant food supply. That also feed on nectar and pollen, so a nice diverse ecosystem is as important for them as it is for pollinators such as butterflies and bees. What’s more, they often secrete a pheromone to announce to friends and family that they have found a good habitat.
To accommodate hibernation, Linda recommends leaving some dead flower stalks and foliage in the garden over winter or building a simple bug hotel in a sunny spot using things like pinecones, dry branches or thistle heads.
Finally, believe it or not, you can buy ladybug larvae and have them delivered to your door, but before you consider doing so, I suggest you read what Linda has to say about the negative side of the commercial trade in ladybugs. As the weather starts warming up after winter, we tend to find ravenous crowds of aphids dotted around our frost cover in the nursery. I hope our squad of ladybugs can cope!
IN THE GARDEN
It seems my pronouncement in the May newsletter about a mild winter so far was a prime example of famous last words! I don’t think there is a part of the country that was spared last week’s cold fronts and icy temperatures. With the cold spells this winter, some of the plants we were sure were evergreen suddenly lost their leaves. This presents a bit of a dilemma. Should we change all our labelling in the nursery and on the website or wait for verification next season… ?
On the bright side, we have finished most of our pruning and sprinkled the mandatory chicken poo. We are now anxiously waiting to see if the new shoots on our deciduous shrubs have survived last week’s frigid weather.
Buds on our malus liset
Geranium maderense preparing to bloom
Last of the winter display - Aloe ecklonii
IN THE NURSERY
Click here to view all the plants in this newsletter on the website.
· Indigenous plants
The dwarf wild begonia Begonia dregei is a rare endangered evergreen with a caudex, small spotted asymmetrical leaves and yellow-centred white flowers from summer to winter. Indigenous to the region from Port St Johns into KwaZulu-Natal, it prefers shade to semi-shade. It reaches a height of about 40cm.
Berula erecta is a robust very hardy evergreen water plant with umbels of white flowers in summer and gorgeous fernlike foliage that floats above the water to form a habitat for fish. It can take sun to semi-shade, and wants its crown covered by up to 20cm of water. It grows about 60cm high. In spite of the icy weather the plants in the nursery are looking good.
Cyrtanthus sanguineus is one of my favourite indigenous bulbs – not least because I can predict with certainty when it will flower! Deciduous and hardy, it grows about 30cm high and has beautiful tubular red flowers in summer. Plant in full sun. Our specimens in the nursery are now coming into bud.
Known affectionately as oortjies in Afrikaans, Falkia repens is a tough groundcover with pale pinkish-white cup-shaped flowers in spring. Evergreen and hardy, it makes a wonderful indigenous flowering lawn in either sun or shade.
· Exotic plants
One of the ever-rewarding Abutilons, Kentish Belle is an approximately 1.8m shrub/trailer with flared yellow flowers offset by red stamens all season. I grow it on an obelisk or trellis or trailing down a wall to cater for the arching shoots. Like all its relatives, it likes sun to semi-shade and acid soil. The fact that ours even managed to push out flowers during the recent cold snap is testament to its hardiness!
Bletilla striata is a clump-forming deciduous terrestrial orchid with straplike leaves and sprays of pink/lilac flowers in spring. Ours are just starting to push out their first buds. Reaching an average height of 30cm, it is happiest in semi-shade. Keep dry in winter and divide in early spring.
Cistus Pink Pearl is a compact mound-forming shrub with grey-green wavy-edged leaves and cup-shaped pale pink flowers from spring to summer. It likes sun and dry sandy soil, and grows on average 75cm high. Attracts bees, butterflies and birds.
An upright shrub with rough leaves and spikes of two-lipped scarlet flowers from winter to spring, Salvia karwinskii wants sun to semi-shade and moist soil. Hardy and evergreen, it grows about 1.8m high and needs regular pruning.
Open gardens season is always something to look forward to at the end of winter. For the first time this year, Stellenbosch is hosting a week-long festival of gardens from 30 September to 10 October which promises horticultural tours, landscape art, a flower parade and nature walks in addition to open gardens. The centrepiece will be a plant labyrinth in the main town square. I personally can’t wait to visit the Dylan Lewis sculpture garden!
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