When designing your indigenous garden, or any garden for that matter, form and colour are among the vital tools that contribute to the success of the final creation.
‘Form’ could just mean that you want a rounded shrub or an upright tree, but it can also be a very dramatic component of design. Create focal points in the indigenous garden using exciting form plants like Aloes, Kipersols (Cussonia) and Restios. The bold shapes of these plants draw the eye, so place them carefully for maximum impact. What could be more striking than a graceful tree Aloe such as Aloe bainsii? By the way, these are faster growing than you might think!
Cussonia spicata also grows rapidly, and the straight stems topped with mop-heads of foliage create a dramatic silhouette against the skyline. Do remember to plant them a good distance from paving and walls, as they have powerful roots.
Restios such as Elegia tectorum and Thamnochortus insignis make great focal points with their bold shapes and foliage textures. The former is the well-known, dark green giant grass-like plant, while the latter produces fountains of soft foliage from the reed-like stems. For those who prefer something a little shorter, the dwarf ‘Fishoek’ form of Elegia tectorum grows to about 1m in height. The restios vary greatly in appearance from big (2m plus) to small (30cm – 1m) plants in a variety of textures and foliage colours, but without exception they are garden stars that are sure to attract attention! Genera include Elegia, Rhodocoma, Calopsis, Restio, Ischyrolepsis and Thamnochortus. There’s a stunning restio garden at Garden Route Botanical Gardens – well worth a visit if you’re in the area.
In shade, one can make a dramatic statement with indigenous tree ferns like ‘Bergvarings’ (Blechnum tabulare), or their river-bed neighbour, a striking fern known as Todea barbara.
For those who love the challenge of topiary, a form plant can be created from almost any shrub or tree that loves being clipped. Try Freylinia tropica, Maytenus bachmannii, Rhus crenata or Grewia occidentalis to shape to your liking. Portulacaria afra (Elephant’s food) is likewise not averse to manipulation, although the natural shape is dramatic to begin with!
Tip: pathogens (plant diseases) can be spread by clipping tools, so remember to clean them thoroughly between pruning one plant ant the next. Scrubbing with a scourer or steel wool and a dip in a Bleach solution does the trick.
The general rule of thumb is that soft colours, like pink, blue, lilac and white create a tranquil atmosphere and ‘recede’ to the eye, creating depth to the design. Bright, cheerful colours like red, orange and yellow are extraverts, they ‘advance’ , drawing the eye in such a way that they appear nearer than they really are.
If you like to buy your plants when they’re in flower, remember to visit the garden centre at all seasons, or you’ll end up with a garden that looks at its best only once a year. In winter, you’ll want to be on the lookout for early Osteospermums: these lovely indigenous daisies have been hybridised to create an amazing palette of colours, and they’ll keep flowering until the summer.
You can get a whole palette of colours from these plants, from soft lilacs, pinks and whites to intense reds and yellows. It’s a good idea to get them established early in order to enjoy the flowering season to the full.
Chasmante foribunda in red and yellow are tough, bulbous plants that begin their flowering season now and will continue blooming till around the end of August. Sunbirds love them and so will you! Glossy leafed Veltheimias, colourful Lachenalias and clump-forming Oxalis with their candy- tinted flowers are well worth adding to your winter colour palette.
Many of the winter/rainfall area Fynbos plants will be at their best. Look out for the powder-puff blooms of Agathosma. Phylicas (ideal for coastal gardens) are showing off their pink or white flowers. Leucadendrons and certain Ericas are in flower too. Did you know that there are also Ericas that naturally occur in the summer-rainfall areas?
The first Vygies, such as Lampranthus aureus in yellow and orange and intensely shocking pink Lampranthus coralliflorus begin to bloom now. A succession of colours continues into the summer and autumn. Although they are almost iconic symbols of spring, it’s definitely not the only time one can enjoy the shimmering blooms of Vygies.
Foliage colour is also important in indigenous garden designs: contrast different shades of green with silver and gold for an attractive show all year round.
Silvery leafed shrubs such as Eriocephalus africanus and ground covers like Helichrysum cymosum and Pelargonium reniforme look great against dark green foliage. Gold contrasts can be obtained using plants like Golden Confetti bush (or ‘Breath of heaven’ as it is also known) and variegated Agapanthus that look like ornamental grasses until they surprise one by bursting into bloom.
Your indigenous garden is a playground, not only for children, but also for your senses and creative instincts – turn them loose in the wonderland of indigenous plants, and then sit back and admire the results!