Gardening in South Africa Tue, 26 Sep 2017 16:10:43 +0000 en-gb Landscape Layout for Newbies

Picture courtesy you just bought your first home and the budget for the garden is very limited, or perhaps you are just tired of the way your garden looks and want a fresh new look, but are concerned about expenses? If so, it is comforting to know that you can do it yourself - landscape design is not that difficult, as long as you have patience and a plan in hand!

You may have even watched landscaping shows where amazing garden transformations magically occur in the matter of half an hour – all you need are a couple of friends to help dig up the existing kikuyu grass, lay down some pavers, add some focal points like a pergola, statue or water feature, not forgetting a fortune in plant material, and “voilà” your trendy new garden is complete! 

By now you’re so inspired, that before you know it, you’re off to the home improvement store and garden centre to buy all the goodies you feel you need to create your own landscape sensation. And, if you are creative and have some design savvy, together with some professional advice from your garden centre, it is possible to create a stunning garden on impulse, but for most of us, a good outcome is most unlikely if we rush into things, and may even cost us a small fortune in mistakes. Although instant gardens are possible to achieve in record time, if you are new to gardening and don’t know your plants, this can only be achieved with the help of a professional landscaper, and if you can afford one this is definitely the way to go.

Picture courtesy, if your budget is stretched to the limit and you are a DIY type of girl or guy, even if your knowledge of gardening is limited, with a little patience and planning you can design a beautiful garden yourself.  It’s much like designing and implementing the interior of your home on a budget and can be such fun. You have to get passionate about it though, spending hours online researching and looking for ideas.  This will help you to decide what look and feel you want, what your colour scheme is going to be, where you need focal points or pathways etc.

The real fun begins when you start selecting your plants. This research should be the most rewarding, and whether you decide to go totally indigenous, or prefer a combination of both South African and other exotic plants, planning your plant selection will take you on a wonderful journey of discovery to faraway lands.

Gardening in South Africa has a vast plant library with essential information on all the plants you love, plus a whole lot more - just because plants are so fascinating!  Our plant library is also divided into sections, enabling you to browse according to plant size. The handy articles section will also be of great help to you along the way. Take the time to browse the members sections for some plant inspiration and make a list of the plants you like, and which you believe are suitable for your garden and climate, then visit your garden centre for further advice, they know which plants do best in your area. Sign up today to have full access to the website – our prices are affordable for everyone.

Picture courtesy, patience is the key to landscape design for beginners, and if you’re new to landscaping you don’t have to start out right away with a stone walkway or a goldfish pond! Start small with some simpler ideas that you can easily complete yourself without too much hassle.

If your garden is brand new and all of that bare ground is just too much to look at, and the kids and dogs are tracking mud into the house, a temporary solution may need to be implemented while you're figuring out what you want. Fast growing ground covers, a temporary patch of instant lawn, or even a couple of pavers and mulch can cover an area while you're figuring out what you want.

Below is a set of simple landscape goals to bear in mind when designing your garden. Like any other DIY project you undertake at home in order to save money, landscaping your entire garden is not going to get done in a day, or even a month! It may even take several years to complete, depending on your budget and time available to you, but yes, yes, yes - you can DIY. So, let’s get started creating the most beautiful garden on the block!

Landscape Layout Goals

Set a Realistic Budget

Setting a budget should be number one on your list, and if you ask most beginner gardeners this question, you are likely to get a ‘deer in the headlights’ stare. Plants, soil, equipment and hard landscaping materials are expensive, so before you buy anything, or even start designing your garden; get some inspiration and an idea of pricing by visiting garden centres and taking photographs of the items you like, also jot down the names (including the Latin name) and the prices of plants and hardware items you like.  Searching online is also a wonderful source of inspiration and information. Setting a budget will at least give you some idea of the costs involved and keep you grounded when designing your garden on paper.

Only once you have your plan drawn out on paper will you be able to determine realistically whether you can do the entire garden at once, or if you need to implement it in stages. Please remember, no prize-winning garden is created in one season, so be patient, work steadily on your project, and you are bound to get the results you envisioned, plus, you will most likely get hooked on gardening – it’s such a rewarding hobby!

Underground Utilities and Townhouse Complex Rules

If you have purchased a new property, you should have received a deed map which indicates the measurements of your property, where your house rests in relation to the property's borders and, if you're lucky, the location of underground utilities. It is essential to know where these underground electrical and water, or sewer or even septic lines are before you start planning or digging up your garden.

In townhouse complexes it is essential to check where these lines are and what the gardening rules and regulations are. For example, you may only be allowed to plant indigenous plants, or there might be restrictions on what types of structures, if any, may be installed in gardens.  It is always better to be safe than sorry, right?

A deed map can also help you greatly when measuring your garden. You’ll still have to do some measuring and some drawing, but the deed map will provide you with the proper orientation, steering you in the right direction. Noting the topography on the deed map can also help you plan for drainage, water runoff and collection. Make notes on your deed map to remind you of aspects you may forget when drawing your design on paper, like the position of overhead electrical poles etc. You don’t want to plant a huge tree directly underneath one of these!

List Your Wants and Needs

Now that you have a budget, begin by making a list of things you want and need in your landscape. Think long and hard about how you will use the area, spending lots of time outdoors visualising what could go, where. You can start doing rough sketches of your garden at this stage and play with the landscape layout by drawing circular or bubble diagrams to represent the ways you want to use your yard, and label each bubble with its intended use. Your bubbles and doodles may include screening the view of the neighbour's yard, pathways, new flowerbeds, a patio and a place for the children to play. It can also include existing plants you wish to keep and which ones really need to go, as well as shade and sun areas, slopes etc. Don’t panic, these are just your first rough sketches, which will possibly change many times before you draft you final plan!

Other things to consider would perhaps be pets and how they will impact your garden. Large dogs, for instance, can easily destroy a newly planted garden if they do not have their own separate section to run in. If you dream of going green with a composter and a rain tank to water your vegetable or herb garden, then decide where you want to place them in your garden, even if you only plan on purchasing them at a later stage. You may even decide to leave enough open space to eventually install a swimming pool or Jacuzzi, and your extended plan may also include new paved area and walls, or the installation of a fire pit or braai area with covered seating.

Most importantly, be ruthlessly realistic and ask yourself “how much time do I really have to maintain my garden on a monthly basis?” Maybe you were dreaming of a garden continually overflowing with gorgeous flowers, or becoming self-sufficient and growing all your own vegetables and herbs, but if you are honest with yourself, you may come to the conclusion that realistically a garden like this is simply impossible to achieve without paid help, and you may find yourself having to ditch some of your imaginings.

Study the Elements

When you are outdoors visualising how your garden could take shape, it is essential to watch how the sun moves, and where the sunny and shady areas are in your garden. This may change if you are removing some existing trees or large shrubs, so take note of this too. Mark out North, South, East and West on your plan. These observations will invaluable to your success when you start selecting your plants for sun and shade areas. They will also affect your design elements, for example, placing a seating area on the sunny side of your house in our climate can be wonderful in winter but may be pure misery in mid-summer!

Also, pay attention to things like slopes, wind and rain, you don’t want to place your braai area or fire pit in a windy corner of the garden, or where the smoke will fill your home; and that pretty patio umbrella can become a missile if it’s placed in the wrong spot! Stand outside in the pouring rain and watch how the water flows in your garden and take note of drainage issues. This is a most important aspect to take into consideration if you don’t want a temporary dam in your newly dug fire pit or flower garden.

Picture courtesy Your Outdoor Rooms

A good landscape is designed with balance, contrast, colour, rhythm, variety, and unity in mind. When pondering your rough garden sketches, try to think about your garden and its various areas as rooms inside your home and ask yourself “why do we divide our indoor living spaces into separate rooms?” The need for privacy is one obvious answer and one which also applies to your garden. For example, if you want to create a small room in your garden where you can be totally private, you would naturally place it well away from the children’s play area or swimming pool. And just like you wouldn’t dream of putting your kitchen stove in the bedroom, neither would you put your braai area next to the compost heap!

Dividing the rooms in your garden can be done by groupings of plants or by erecting walls and screens. These rooms should also flow gracefully into one another and lead one through the garden. Pathways are incorporated to add rhythm and flow to the garden, encouraging one to wander through the garden. The repetition of certain plants will also add unity, rhythm and flow.

Picture courtesy and Scale Matter

To understand size and scale in design it may be easier to think of it as “proportion”. Proportion is really just common sense and should be applied outdoors just as you would in your home. For example, if you have a very large lounge area, common sense will tell you that a tiny little lounge suite is going to look very odd in such a large space.

If the same design principles apply outdoors, why does common sense fly out the window when we design our gardens?  Disproportionate scale in a garden can happen with both plants and hard landscaping elements. For example, an oversized deck will swallow a small garden and look ridiculous, just like a large tree or shrub can eventually overpower a small garden and make it dark and gloomy. Also, if you have a large two-story home that is tall and majestic, then a 50cm bed for flowers and shrubs along the border just isn’t going to cut it - it is too under-scale for the size of your house and stand. Bringing a bed out and away from the house or boundary walls will already create a better balance. The opposite is also true, and a smaller one story garden and home will require smaller beds to keep the whole in scale.


Transition is also a big part of proportion and, simply put, refers to gradual change. All good designers understand this concept and avoid designs that are marred by abrupt transitions, or by a lack of transition. An obvious example would be that, although a very high stone wall will elegantly set off a large majestic home, it will look terrible next to a small one-storey home, making it look even smaller. However, if the small home is situated on a very large property, a high perimeter wall would be fine because it would be far enough away from the home for effective transition.

Picture courtesy Texture and Form

Just like the ambiance inside your home is created by combining several elements of good design, like colour, texture and form, so is your outdoor room. A great landscape will take into account all these design tricks, and, because gardens are outdoors, other wonderful elements of nature can also be taken advantage of, like changing patterns of light and shade and the changing seasons.

Texture and form is created, not only by the plants selected, but also by hard landscaping materials like decks, walls, pathways etc. Because plants are so varied in their shape and growth form, they are invaluable to add interest to the garden. Bear this in mind when selecting your plants and remember it’s not just about the flowers they produce, but also about the shape they will eventually grow into, as well and the texture, shape and colour of their leaves.

Picture courtesy Focal Points

Focal points are used to draw the eye into the garden, so when you are designing, think about where you want the eye to move. Plants with attractive shapes or striking leaves can be used as focal points, as well as pots, statues, bird baths, gazebo’s, pergola’s etc.  Use your imagination, and remember, not every plant has to be inside the boundaries of a bed. Some plants and trees make beautiful focal plants when planted singly, or in groups in the lawn.

Adding Plant Material

In your rough sketches draw in circles or doodles where you require trees, shrubs etc. You don’t have to name them or even have your final plant selection yet, at this stage of the design you are basically just insuring that there is a balance between the hard and soft landscaping elements of your design.

Be very careful where you place your trees and large shrubs in your plan as these can be very difficult to remove at a later stage. Time and time again you see homeowners add two or three baby trees or shrubs to their small suburban gardens because the plant identifier label said the tree’s size was 5m tall and 2m wide, only to find out the hard way that in only 10 years the tree has already reached 7m tall with a spread of 3m! However, before you go accusing your garden centre of providing you with false information, bear in mind that the ultimate height and spread of any given plant will always be an approximation, because growth rate is largely determined by the soil and climate of the region in which it is grown and how well the plant is cared for. For example, if you take a tree that will grow in a cold region as well as in a more tropical climate, and you plant one in each region at the same time, the one growing in a tropical region with good rainfall and soil will grow much quicker and much larger than the same plant growing in a colder and drier region with poor soil.

Also, we often we bring these plant woes upon ourselves by insisting on very fast growing plants because we want privacy quickly, limiting dramatically the choices available to us. Often, in desperation, the horticulturalist at the garden centre will sell us a very fast growing shrub or tree, saying that it can be pruned to keep it compact, This sets our minds at ease, because we really want that specific plant, only to find our later that all this pruning has become a nightmare as well as a time waster. Consider planting slower growing shrubs and trees, they are much easier to control and will also outlive faster growing specimens.

To avoid costly mistakes it is essential that you do your plant homework thoroughly before completing your garden design. It is vital that your plants are suitable for your soil, climate, and especially the rainfall average. Once your garden is planted, your biggest expense will be on water, and for the first few seasons, while your plants are establishing themselves, they will have to be watered regularly, so budget for this too.

Water is not cheap and remains a concern for many gardeners, so select water-wise plants and group them according to their watering needs. For example, group very drought hardy plants together and those which require moderate watering together. If you do want to include a few plants which require regular watering, like summer and winter annuals or shrubs like hydrangeas, camellias or azaleas,  grouping them together simply makes sense.  

Last of all, select your ground covers, bearing in mind that these should tie the whole design together, rather like carpeting or tiles in the home. Stretches of lawn or paving are used in the same way.

Do not rush this part of your design, relax and have some fun learning about your favourite plants. Visit as many garden centres as possible and take notes, and even photographs, of the plants you love and feel are suitable, but resist the urge to start buying anything until your plan is complete. Rather, go home and do further research on the plants online to double check that they are really suitable for your garden and climatic region.

If you live in an area with difficult soil conditions like extremely sandy or clay soil etc. it is best to select plants which are adapted to these conditions, rather than trying to alter your soil type, which can be extremely costly and is not always effective anyway. You can enrich the soil by adding compost or fertilisers when planting and this will certainly help, but choosing the right plants is the key to your success.

If your garden is exposed to high winds, this will also greatly influence your plant choices, or perhaps your property is vulnerable to fires, which will require a completely different plan. All these factors will influence your selection, so be ruthlessly honest and purchase only those plants which fit perfectly – no matter how much you love that unsuitable plant, it will simply not grow well where it is not happy!

Picture courtesy classic mistake many gardeners make is to visit the garden centre maybe once or twice in the summer season to buy plants. They then impulsively purchase whatever plants are flowering or looking particularly good at the time. This will result in a garden which provides colour and interest for only a couple of months, leaving the garden looking drab and uninteresting the rest of the year. So remember to include plants which look at their best in winter and autumn too. Many plants produce ornamental berries in autumn or winter, and others may produce beautiful autumn shades before dropping their leaves, so include some of these together with your seasonal flowers.

One of the most basic rules of good garden design is probably the one that most people have a problem with because it says that “less is more” when it comes to plant selection. If you try to include one specimen of every plant on your list, you will land up with a confusing hodgepodge of plants that just make the garden look unprofessional and unplanned. Rather cut down on your selection ruthlessly and then repeat the plants in the garden. Repetition will produce a harmonious garden with rhythm, one which looks planned and is pleasing to the eye.

Another temptation is to plant closer than recommended for instant effect. This is a big mistake, and will cost you in the long run. It is far better to space your plants correctly and to fill any large gaps with a selection of small, inexpensive plants, which can easily be removed later when your garden is more established.

Picture courtesy Colour

Colour is what most gardeners are drawn to in a garden and should be artfully incorporated into your design. Regardless of what design or theme you have chosen, make sure you know what colours you want before you start choosing plants. There is no such thing as a bad choice of colours in the garden but the choices you make can take your garden from mediocre to simply stunning.

Good garden design involves knowing how to combine colours so that the final product will be one we like. Only practice and experimentation will develop your eye for colour and allow you to see the differences between hues, but a good way to start is by studying the colour wheel used in art.

In our modern gardens it is not only plants which provide colour and there are many creative ways to brighten up your landscape. Consider painting a wall or pergola, or add an awning or some brightly coloured pots. Think about how you want to use colour not only for the way you imagine it will look but also for the mood you want to create in the garden.

Mammoth Red Daisy (Chrysanthemum) Picture Courtesy Ball Horticultural CompanyFlowers are naturally our first choice to introduce colour into our gardens but it is important to remember that, what sets one flower garden apart from another is the structure and design surrounding the flowers, and the easiest way to create an attractive and continuous display of colour in your garden is to plant perennials, bulbs, annuals and groundcovers around a framework of shrubs and ornamental trees. The various plants will support each other visually and make a rich patchwork of texture and colour. If you try to create a flower garden without first planting this framework of shrubs and trees it can be likened to decorating the interior of your home before it has even been built!

These permanent plants provide year round structure and substance to the garden, providing the perfect backdrop for your flowers, which can be thought of as the finishing touches of your garden, just like ornaments or pictures do for the home.

If you are revamping an old established garden, work with the existing plants in the garden, adding plants that will enhance the design, or removing those that really clash. You can create a mood or even change the perspective of a garden by using certain colours

Members can find out more about adding colour to the garden here.

Drawing the Design

Putting your final ideas down permanently on paper is the next most important step, and vital to the success of your design. Drawing a very simple plan on paper from a ‘birds eye view’ is really not rocket science and can easily be done at home. Think of it as creating a visual reminder of your thoughts and an aid to help you see what really works or not, as well as a low-cost way to explore options and prevent costly mistakes.

Using scaled paper makes drawing a plan to scale a whole lot easier.  The size of the paper and the size of area to be represented will determine the scale chosen. The larger the piece of paper, the smaller the scale can be, thus making the plan larger and easier to read. Choose a scale which works well on your size paper, but ensure the plan is large enough to include some of the finer details. For medium-sized and larger gardens use a scale of 1:100. That means that 1cm on the ruler represents 1m on the plan. For a plan of a small garden where plenty of details can be included, use a scale of 1:50 – 1cm = 50cm. A scale of 1:20 will allow you to show even more detail.

Start your base map by measuring and drawing in the outside dimensions of your house, including the locations of doors, windows, air-conditioners, and other utilities. Next, mark the perimeter lines of your property, also carefully noting the exact position of gates or utilities. Now include all the other existing features in the garden that are not going to change, like walls, walkways and outbuildings, as well as any existing trees and shrubs you plan to keep. When you have completed your base plan and are sure it is accurate you can draw it in permanent ink. Make several copies, so you can make additions and subtractions without ruining the original, or you can place tracing paper on top of the original to do your further additions.

Next, on your copy or on tracing paper, you can start to add any future hard landscaping additions you require like walkways, paving, patios, braai areas, water tanks etc., not forgetting any features like statues, water features, and even lighting. Once this is done take another copy or add more tracing paper and start to add your plants, not forgetting your North, South, East and West orientation.

The plants may be added last of all, but this is probably the most important task of all, especially for beginners. Before you start, make a numbered list of all the plants you want to incorporate, starting with the trees and large shrubs, following with the smaller shrubs, perennials and groundcovers. This list should include the botanical (Latin) names and the common plant names, and you will find it very useful if you include a column that identifies the primary reasons for your plant choice, for example, the height and spread of the plant, and perhaps that you selected it because of its attractive shape, or the texture or colour of its leaves, or the colour of the flowers etc. This will allow you to easily substitute plants later if needed, when you are shopping for your plants.

At this stage you can draw in your large trees and shrubs, remembering to number them according to your list. By now you will know the correct sizes of your plants at maturity and you can draw these in according to the scale you have chosen. Number each plant clearly as you add it to the plan to avoid any confusion later on.

Smaller perennials and groundcovers etc. can be added last using different colours or simple symbols or doodles to draw them in, so that they stand out underneath the broad outline of the canopy of trees and larger shrubs. You can colour in your plan and make it as detailed or simple as you wish.

Picture courtesy long as your measurements and scale is correct, even if you are implementing your garden design in stages, by referring to the design concept every time you begin one of the projects, your landscape-layout vision will remain cohesive and the final results will reflect a well-thought-out plan.

If you think of your landscape design as a trouble-shooting and problem-solving process that makes your life better, just as you would with a kitchen remodel, you are sure to create a beautiful yet practical garden design. Not only that – it can be a whole lot of fun for the whole family too!

]]> (Darlene Roelofsen) September Wed, 13 Sep 2017 16:03:08 +0000
Carpets of Colour

Marigolds If it’s warm, rich colours you are after then marigolds are just the thing for you. Their colourful flowers come in shades of orange, yellow, red and bi-coloured, with many flower shapes and sizes to choose from. You may be forgiven for thinking that surely marigolds are a bit old fashioned, because they bring back memories of your grandmother’s garden. This may have even been true a few years back, however they have made a big comeback in contemporary gardens.

Everyone has those shady areas in the garden where nothing grows, or at least they think, nothing can grow. Well the good news is that of course there are things that can grow there and we’ve got just the annual for you to use. Coleus, more commonly known as “Flame Nettle” or “Painted Leaf”, is just the thing to brighten up those shady areas.

Coleus Marigold

Bedding plants are an indispensable aspect of your summer garden. Marigolds fit squarely into this category! If you have lots of sun and well-drained soil, you can grow these easy to care for and ultra-rewarding bedding plants with very little fuss. They are particularly good at giving your garden bold swathes of eye catching colour. Some may have you believe that they water hungry and demanding, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact they generally thrive with minimal care and once established, only strategic watering during dry spells.

Plant marigolds in full sun in a well composted bed. To ensure continuous blooms (up to four months at a time), deadhead the plants regularly. Feed your plants every six weeks with a balanced fertilizer. Marigolds are a water wise choice, so once they have settled in after transplanting, water infrequently.

Pentas Coleus

Excellent for use as a ground cover, these plants will inject colour into the darker, drabber corners of the garden and will also do well indoors. They require fertile, well-drained soil and new plants, in particular, will benefit from a little extra watering. When planting, space your coleus uniformly and pinch back to promote new growth (pinching back the main stem at around 15 cm will result in a much bushier plant). At maturity you can expect a 30cm spread so this should be accounted for when contemplating your planting. At 20 cm high with densely packed foliage, this mini canopy will act as a natural mulch, keeping the soil cool through the summer months.


Onions may make most people cry while the pungent smell of their raw form lingers for hours but there is simply nothing more widely loved in the edible category! Thriving in full sun or partial shade, they enjoy fertile, well-draining soil but may Onionsneed some help with weed control. If weeds take over, they’ll definitely soak up the available sun before the onions skinny leaves even get a look in.


Pot up a butterfly magnet for your patio this spring! Pentas make the most exquisite clusters of star shaped flowers, alive with fluttering wings, and are available in red, white or pink. Depending on how compact you’d like it to be, Pentas respond really well to cutting back and they also make excellent cut flowers!

Information supplied by the Bedding Plant Growers Association. For more, go to

]]> (Darlene Roelofsen) September Tue, 05 Sep 2017 10:14:28 +0000
Rare (uncommon) Tree of the Year 2017

Euclea pseudebenus Picture courtesy  Ebony Tree, Ebony Guarri, Ebbehout, Tsawib (Euclea pseudebenus)

If you are looking for an elegant indigenous shade tree which is evergreen and can cope with very hot and dry conditions, the ebony tree is one of the best and well worth searching for.  This dessert plant is quite happy growing in both winter and summer rainfall conditions and is found in northern Namaqualand and eastwards to Bushmanland, where it hugs the Gariep River on both the South African and Namibian sides. Its range extends throughout the southwestern, central and north-western part of Namibia and into the Kaokoveld and southern Angola. In its natural desert and semi-desert habitat it can be found growing in stony ground, usually in low-lying seasonal flood plains and in areas along watercourses, or close by. It is well adapted to its harsh environment, possessing an extensive taproot system that is able to reach deep into the ground, where subterranean water may be found.

The ebony tree is fast becoming a sought after shade tree for gardeners in dry, arid regions, because it is suitable for gardens small or large. As with many arid environment trees, Euclea pseudebenus is a slow grower, but at the same time may become hundreds of years old. However, under cultivation it grows much quicker than it does in the wild and is well worth planting for its elegant drooping branches of narrow blue-green leaves, hanging like a skirt around the stem. Ebony trees usually have a single trunk, which may become up to 30cm in diameter, and it varies in height between 3 and 9 meters, depending on the prevailing climatic conditions. As it matures, it spreads out into an umbrella shape, so ensure you plant it well away from walls and buildings, where it will have space to spread.

In the wild it is easily recognisable by its greyish, rough bark, and in winter and spring, small, fragrant, cream-coloured flowers appear, followed in late summer by green fruits which turn black when ripe. Although small and not particularly tasty, the fruits are edible and are particularly relished by birds, baboons and antelope who all aid in the dispersal of seeds. The leaves are also browsed by antelope and domesticated livestock, such as goats and sheep. The tree also provides much needed shelter for insects, birds and mammals, especially in the summer months

Eco conscious gardeners who are concerned about water conservation are replacing exotic species in their gardens with indigenous trees like the beautiful ebony tree, not only because it makes sense to use our own plants wherever we can, but also because this tree attracts wildlife to the garden. It can even be pruned to keep it shrub-like.

In southern Africa the ebony family (Ebenaceae) is represented by two genera namely Euclea and Diospyros or “jackal-berry”. Translated, its Latin name Euclea means ‘good report’, which most likely refers to the good quality ebony-type wood of some Euclea species, and particularly Euclea pseudebenus. The species name pseudebenus means ‘false ebony’ and refers to the resemblance of the wood to the true ebony - an Indian tree species (Diospyros ebenus), famous its black timber which is used for carpentry. The wood of Euclea pseudebenus is used as firewood and to make furniture, wood carvings, chess boards and furniture.   

This tree loves full sun and thrives in the summer and winter rainfall regions of South Africa. It is best planted in spring or early summer, in order to settle the plant before winter.  Although this tree is very drought resistant, young saplings should be watered well about once a week during summer to encourage good root and shoot growth. However, be careful not to overwater as the trees do not like ‘wet feet’. Some compost and a dressing of bone meal will also get it off to a good start. Young plants are also vulnerable to frost, so cover them up for the first winter or two until they are well established.

The ebony tree is grown from seeds which must be allowed to ripen completely after the fruits have blackened and have fallen to the ground. Remove any remaining pulp from the seeds and then soak them in warm water overnight, the viable seeds will sink to the bottom and the non-viable seeds will float to the top. The fertile seeds are then soaked again overnight in hot water before being sown into a sandy loam soil mixture of: 1 part coarse river sand, mixed with 1 part fine milled bark and 1 part decomposed compost or loam. Press the seeds into the soil and lightly cover with soil to about the size of the seeds. Seed can be sown throughout the year, but the best results are obtained from autumn to spring. Do not plant small seedling out too soon, rather harden them off for two seasons, and because the tree has a taproot, it is best to plant the young trees out into a permanent position which does not require the plants to be moved at a later stage.

]]> (Darlene Roelofsen) September Sat, 02 Sep 2017 09:37:27 +0000
Common Tree of the Year 2017

Ziziphus mucronata Picture courtesy Buffalo-thorn, Blinkblaar-wag-‘n-bietjie, Haakdoring, umPhafa, mokgalo, mphasamhala, mutshetshete, Umpafa, umLahlabantu (Ziziphus mucronata)

Ziziphus is a genus of about 40 species of spiny shrubs and small trees in the buckthorn and jubjube family (Rhamnaceae), which can be found growing wild in warm-temperate and subtropical regions throughout the world. The Buffalo Thorn occurs throughout the summer rainfall areas of sub-Saharan Africa, extending from South Africa to Ethiopia and Arabia. It is not common in the Western Cape.  Although it is common in areas dominated by thorny vegetation, it can be found in a wide range of habitats like: valleys and woodlands, along forest margins and streams, as well as open grasslands, scrubland and on rocky koppies.

The buffalo thorn tree also has great cultural significance, and in Zulu and Swazi cultures it is used in burial rites. When a Zulu chief died, the tree was planted on his grave as a symbol of where the chief lies - hence the name “umLahlankosi” - that which buries the chief.  A twig from the tree is still used to attract and carry the spirit of the deceased from the place of death to its new resting place. When a stock owner died and was buried, Picture courtesy to custom, within the cattle or goat kraal, buffalo thorn branches were placed on the grave so that the animals who ate on the leaves and twigs, would understand that their master had died. A branch may even be dragged around the village to protect it from evil spirits, and the tree is believed to be immune to lightning, offering protection to any person sheltering under it during a storm. Interestingly, it is said that its presence indicates the presence of underground water, and if a buffalo thorn tree is felled after the first rains, it will be followed by drought.

The fruits are edible, and the settlers roasted the seeds are roasted as a coffee substitute, while the indigenous peoples fermented them to make beer and even porridge. The tree is also a well respected medicinal tree which is known for its antifungal properties, and is widely used for treating stomach ailments, skin ulcers, chest problems, glandular swellings and many types of pain.

The buffalo thorn is one of the most adaptable trees, thriving in all the summer rainfall regions of South Africa. It can vary greatly in height, from 3 to 10m, and its ultimate height will largely be determined by the climate in which it is grown, and especially rainfall. For example, in the moist, sub-tropical regions of the country it will grow much quicker and taller than specimens grown in hot regions with little rainfall.

This attractive, small to medium size tree is deciduous, and its leaves turn a golden yellow in autumn before dropping.  It is therefore ideal to plant in cold winter regions, where its shade is welcomed in summer, but its bare branches allow the sunlight through in winter. The upper branch-lets often droop down and tend to fall with the leaves in autumn and winter.

A great barrier plant. Picture good garden conditions, where it receives fairly regular watering in summer, the buffalo thorn should reach approximately 5 to 7m in height, and produce a fairly dense, spreading canopy.  The attractive, shiny, dark green leaves are a pale green below and up to 7cm long.  The leaves often have short, soft hair on the under surface, but may also be hairless. The bark is grey to dark grey and roughly fissured, and the thorns are paired along the stems, one being straight and the other hooked. Although small, these thorns are extremely vicious, and all those that have come into contact have had to learn to ‘wait-a-bit’ in order to free themselves – hence the common Afrikaans name “wag-n-bietjie”.

Although the tight clusters of small greenish-yellow flowers are inconspicuous, they produce a large quantity of nectar for animals and birds in summer. The flowers are followed in autumn and winter by round, yellowish to russet-red fruit, with a smooth, shiny, leather-like skin, encasing a dry pulp which contains a wood stone incorporating two seeds.

The flowers, nectar, fruits and even the leaves of this tree are sought out by birds, bees and all kinds of wild animals, even domestic livestock, making this indigenous tree perfect for villages, farms and large properties. If allowed to grow tall, the buffalo thorn provides good nesting positions for many birds, especially weavers. Because it responds well to pruning, the thorny branches also make it an excellent choice for hedges designed to keep intruders at bay, or simply to form a natural windbreak or screen. With regular pruning, this wonderful little tree can even be grown in suburban gardens, and is a “must-have” plant for all wildlife gardens.  It should also grow well in a large container.

TIP: Although the roots of the buffalo thorn are not aggressive, under ideal growing conditions, and if left un-pruned, the trees can eventually grow large and will require ample space to spread. Also, because they drop their thorny branches easily they should ideally be sited in a more remote part of the garden which is not often frequented by people, especially small children, and pets.

Nothing could be easier than growing a buffalo thorn tree, and although it loves to bask in full sunshine, it will also live happily in semi-shade. It tolerates heat, cold and frost, and once established this water-wise tree can survive on summer rainfall and will require no watering in winter. In In the wild it is a great refuge for wildlife. Picture courtesy cold regions, plant out in spring and protect young saplings for a couple of winters, until established.

Although the buffalo thorn is adaptable to all types of soil, It prefers alluvial soil - a fine-grained fertile soil deposited by water flowing over flood plains or in river beds , and it therefore copes well in sandy, clay, and loamy soil. A generous amount of compost and a dressing of bone meal will get your sapling off to a good start. The buffalo thorn can grow up to 1m in height per year, but to speed up the growing process, water regularly for the first couple of years, mulch the roots seasonally, and feed regularly in spring just before the first rains, with a balanced organic fertiliser.

Established trees often leave a carpet of the hard seeds below them on the ground, and this often results in new seedlings springing up near the mother tree.  A few truly magnificent specimens can be seen in Skukuza rest camp in the Kruger National Park, where the tall, spreading branches of buffalo thorn create an extensive ecosystem, supporting a myriad of creatures, large and small.

Do your bit for arbour day and find a place to plant a buffalo thorn, or two :)

]]> (Darlene Roelofsen) September Fri, 01 Sep 2017 13:08:50 +0000
Arbour Week, Iviki Lezihlahla - 1 to 7 September

Cabbage Tree (Cussonia) Picture courtesy Arbour Week is a time when all South Africans celebrate our indigenous trees by getting together as communities to plant as many trees as possible. Arbour Day was first celebrated in South Africa in 1983, capturing the imagination of people who recognised the need for raising awareness of the value of trees in our society. Trees not only beautify and shade our land; they help prevent soil erosion by stabilising the soil and can be a valuable food source for humans and livestock. They also provide shelter and food for all kinds of wildlife, and many are used in traditional medicines and ceremonies.

The enthusiasm of all South Africans who understood the importance of this event inspired the national government, in 1999, to extend the celebration of Arbour Day to National Arbour Week. Trees are much needed in disadvantaged communities who often live in barren areas, and arbour week provides the opportunity for businesses, small and large, as well as schools and community centres to get involved in raising awareness for the need to plant and grow trees throughout South Africa. The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), as the custodian of forestry in South Africa, is responsible for the campaign.

Today, trees play an even more vital role in the health and well-being of our communities and we need to continue to raise awareness of the value of trees in our society. Arbour Week is a wonderful opportunity to teach our children about the importance of trees in our environment and the vital role they will play in their future.

Indigenous trees, and especially those trees which are restricted to a certain area only, and which are called “endemic” to that region, will naturally grow well there because they are already adapted to the climate and rainfall patterns of the region. Endemic, indigenous trees are therefore the best choice for gardeners, and especially for water wise gardens.

Trunk of Wild Fig Tree (Ficus) Picture courtesy September is also heritage month in South Africa, the department of forestry also focuses on the country’s “Champion Trees” which include some of the oldest, largest and culturally significant trees. Both indigenous and non-indigenous trees can be nominated for Champion status, and the trees are listed according to size criteria like height and trunk circumference, or their historic value and age. Currently, more than 70 trees and groups of trees have been declared national “Champion Trees” by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, which means they are fully protected under the National Forests Act of 1998. Under the declaration, tree species listed as protected may not be cut, disturbed or damaged and their products may not be owned, transported, exported or sold without a licence.

Why not do something different with the family this arbour week and spend a day visiting one of our champion trees, there’s sure to be one close to where you live? Schools can also use arbour week as an opportunity to introduce the children to a local champion and teach them the importance of protecting all trees, because even the smallest little tree planted today can become the next champion tree!

The first tree to be declared as protected under the Champions Trees Act in 2003 was an English Oak (Quercus robur) growing in Sophiatown, Johannesburg. It was estimated to be over a century old and was visible from several street blocks away, with a trunk girth of 4.48 metres and a crown diameter of more than 30 metres. This tree is of cultural significance because it was under its leafy branches that residents and political activists used to gather for their meetings, before they were forcibly relocated and the town was turned into a whites-only suburb under apartheid. In fact, the Champions Tree Act was initiated in an attempt to stop the destruction of this tree by a property owner. Unfortunately the tree fell down in 2008 but its trunk can still be seen at the Trevor Huddlestone Centre.

Other Champion Trees include massive Australian Moreton Bay Fig Trees (Ficus macrophylla). One of these was given champion status in 2008 and can be seen in the Arderne Gardens in Claremont, Cape Town. It is the largest tree in the Western Cape and one of the four largest trees in South Africa, with a height of 32.5m and a stem circumference of 11.89m. See a picture of it and other Champion trees at Ardene Gardens. Another beautiful specimen can be found standing on the campus of the University of Cape Town and yet another at the Pretoria Zoological Gardens.

In Pretoria, the thousand year old Wonderboom Wild Fig Tree (Ficus salicifolia) stands supreme with the largest crown of all the champion trees, with a whopping diameter of 61 metres! Take a look here.

The Mosselbay “Post Office Tree” is a Milkwood (Sideroxylon inerme) of great historical importance. It is believed that an old shoe was placed underneath it in which messages were exchanged by Portuguese seafarers in the 16th century. Read the fascinating story here.

The Outeniqua Yellowwoods of the Knysna forests draw many visitors, with trees such as the Tsitsikamma Big Tree (Podocarpus falcatus) receiving more than 80 000 visitors a year. This tree is estimated to be between 600 and 800 years old and well worth visiting to see its distinctive yellowwood leaves stretching skywards, to tower over the other trees in the canopy. Read more here.

In the Goudveld Forest near Knysna, Western Cape, one of the more recent Champions has been renamed the Dalene Matthee Big Tree. Dalene Matthee wrote a best-seller series of historic novels about life in the Knysna forests in the 19th century, winning numerous literary prizes for her books which include: Kringe in ’n Bos (Circles in a forest) and Fiela se Kind (Fiela's Child).

Tragically, the largest indigenous tree in South Africa, the Sagole Baobab Tree (Adansonia digitata) found in Limpopo, with a height of 22 metres and trunk circumference of more than 33 metres toppled over on the morning of 13 April 2017, but the property is still open and the owners encourage visitors to come and have a braai and a beer in front of the brave baobab. Find out more here.

According to the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, a Sydney Bluegum Tree (Eucalyptus saligna) is currently the tallest tree in Africa, measuring 80 metres. The previous South African record was held by two Bluegum trees measuring 79 metres. The Sydney gum towers above a stand of gum trees planted in 1906 in the Woodbush Forest Estate in Limpopo province.  Three giant Mexican pine trees (Pinus oocarpa) grow nearby, measuring over 50 metres - few pine trees anywhere in the world reach these dimensions! Take a look here.

There are far too many champions to mention here, so to find one closest to you, here is a full Champion Tree List we found for you.

Camel Thorn Tree (Vachellia erioloba)We encourage all South Africans to plant an indigenous tree this Arbour Week, and if you don’t have space for a tree, there are thousands of beautiful shrubs to choose from. Even a couple of indigenous groundcovers will do - plant anything indigenous, no matter how small, it is the intent that matters, not the size of the plant. Get into the spirit of this week and together we will create a greener future together – one garden at a time!

Every Arbour Week celebration highlights two specific trees; one common and one rare species. In 2017, South Africans will celebrate the Ebony Tree (Euclea pseudebenus) as the rare tree and Buffalo Thorn (Ziziphus mucronata) as the common tree.

Keep posted for articles on these.

]]> (Darlene Roelofsen) September Tue, 29 Aug 2017 09:08:20 +0000
Cheerfully Pretty

CatnipIf you are like many, living a hectic lifestyle with precious little time to potter around the garden, then Petunias are for you. They are one of those rare gems that reward very little care with masses of blooms. Petunias are one of the most recognisable and popular of the ornamental bedding plants. This is probably due to their hardiness coupled with their ability to bloom prolifically. There is a Petunia for every season and for every garden.


Garden plants don’t get more typically cheerful than Chrysanthemum paludosum. You’d be forgiven for thinking this small creeping daisy, with its all too familiar white petals and yellow centre, has its roots in South Africa, especially when you hear them referred to as Madeliefies! They are in fact native to the Mediterranean basin though, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying them to their fullest.


When planting Petunias, whether in containers, window boxes or beds, placing them along a north-facing wall is preferable, as it will trap a lot of heat and light. These are a prime growing position for petunias and will encourage them to flower throughout winter and spring – for up to five months!

Whilst your soil needn't be particularly rich to grow good petunias, it must drain well. After planting, water regularly until the seedlings are established.  Once settled, the secret behind successful Petunias is to allow the soil to dry slightly out before watering again. This is important as the drying out cycle encourages them to flower more profusely and keeps pathogens at bay.

Chrysanthemum paludosumChrysanthemum Paludosum

Chrysanthemum paludosum, also known as Creeping Daisy or Madelifies, produce masses of flowers from spring all the way through to late autumn. Their creeping nature make them excellent specimens for hanging baskets, containers and window boxes but they’re also just as comfortable growing over an empty bed, as capably as dedicated ground covers do.

This fast growing cutie grows easily to about 25cm tall and 30cm wide, so give your seedlings enough room to spread when planting. Being moderately frost hardy they can be planted all year round in slightly warmer areas but their one nemesis is strong winds, so be sure to place them in a protected space if living in one of our windier provinces. They should get a deep heavy watering once a week so not a good choice for drought stricken areas. Plant in full sun, pinch back growing tips to encourage a more compact and floriferous plant and don’t be shy to prune them right back once they’ve finished blooming.

Aquilegia Catnip

Anyone who has not yet enjoyed watching a cat go crazy for catnip, hasn’t lived yet! New seedlings won’t last long if you leave them unprotected with cats in the vicinity so try putting them in hanging baskets or out of reach until they’ve established a solid foothold.

Did you know that catnip is an effective insect repellent? Placing twigs among dog blankets or fresh cuttings rubbed on their fur will repel ticks and fleas! It also sends other insects packing, so can also be used as a border plant around your vegetable garden.


Aquilegia, often referred to as Columbine, is a hardy perennial in its native habitat but is more commonly grown as an annual in South Africa. Known for their bell shaped flowers which come in a spectacular range of colours, Aquilegia are hard to ignore, especially when planted up in containers and placed strategically in focal areas around the home. They perform best in semi shade conditions, enjoy rich, well-drained soil and if planted in containers they will need a little extra water.

Information supplied by the Bedding Plant Growers Association. For more, go to

]]> (Darlene Roelofsen) August Fri, 11 Aug 2017 08:31:30 +0000
South Africa Gold Winning Chelsea Exhibit - Re-created at Garden World

South Africa won its 35th gold medal in 42 years of exhibiting at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show in London. The display was also awarded the prestigious President’s Award. Every year it is re-created at Garden World, so if you haven’t seen this year’s Kirstenbosch South Africa Chelsea Exhibit designed by internationally recognised designers Ray Hudson and David Davidson, there is still time to see it at Garden World.

With its theme 'Windows on Biodiversity', the exhibit has gorgeous backdrops of Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden. The plants on display represent all ten of South Africa’s National Botanical Gardens: Free State, Hantam, Harold Porter, Karoo Desert, Kirstenbosch, Kwelera, Lowveld, KwaZulu-Natal, Pretoria and Walter Sisulu.

This year it is being supported by Starke Ayres, and well worth a visit!



Garden World is on Beyers Naudé Drive in Muldersdrift.

For information on the Spring Festival
contact Garden World on
011 957 2545 /011 956 3003 or 083 997 6142.

For more information on the festival visit


]]> (Darlene Roelofsen) August Tue, 08 Aug 2017 10:15:11 +0000
Interflora at Garden World

If you are a keen gardener who also loves floral arrangements you will be dazzled by the displays at Garden World this year. Spoil yourself, and visit Garden World for some spring inspiration!

Garden World is on Beyers Naudé Drive in Muldersdrift.

For information on the Spring Festival
contact Garden World on
011 957 2545 /011 956 3003 or 083 997 6142.

For more information on the festival visit



]]> (Darlene Roelofsen) August Tue, 08 Aug 2017 09:17:52 +0000
Garden World - Children's Box Gardens

These tiny little box gardens will delight young and old with their attention to even the smallest detail. So, why not take the family out for a treat to Garden World this weekend, the children’s gardens and tiny box gardens are sure to inspire your children to do the same at home. This will keep them playing happily outdoors for hours, while getting some sunshine and fresh air at the same time. Even if you live in an apartment with no garden you can still make a small box garden for indoors. Children have such fertile imaginations, so let’s allow them dream!

Garden World is on Beyers Naudé Drive in Muldersdrift.

For information on the Spring Festival
contact Garden World on
011 957 2545 /011 956 3003 or 083 997 6142.

For more information on the festival visit

]]> (Darlene Roelofsen) August Tue, 08 Aug 2017 08:51:48 +0000
Children's Gardens at Garden World

Edufun4KidsThe children’s gardens this year are so gorgeous, showing the adults what a little imagination can achieve! These happy, colourful little gardens are full of clouds, rainbows, flowers, veggies and creatures of all kinds. Visit these gardens and be amazed by the creativity of our next generation of gardeners.



This is a colourful and happy garden. Your veggie garden looks scrumptious. I wanted to use one of your giant pencils to write on your wall. I didn’t want to disturb the kids in your classroom because – Education is your top priority. I did pick some of your lemons to make my Favorite lemon meringue. Your garden is stunning with all the pansies, violas and primulas.  You definitely want to colour our world.



When I look at your garden it makes me feel that I want to be kind to bees. I want to be happy, I want to believe in myself, I want to be cool and don’t have to be afraid of bees. The creative way you have educated to save the bees, is wonderful. I did get some honey from your honeypot to sweeten my day.  You have been so thoughtful about being water wise. Your beehive that was turned into a veggie patch… WOW… Stunning and I love how you used your companion plants.

 Pathways & Smallways
Pathways and Smallways
Pathways and Smallways

Your pathway is very inviting. It’s a journey I wanted to walk along and experience the little hand prints with the names on it, and would love to meet all of you! You made a wonderful backdrop by recycling and making beautiful flowers. They are joyful and colourful! It was a wonderful journey. I Love the textures shapes and forms of your plants, that is being enhanced by colourful perennials and annuals.

Merry Days and Little Saints

Merry Days and Little Saints
Merry Days and Little Saints

After a rainy day, there will be a rainbow, every cloud will have a silver lining. The planted-up plastic container with veggies is a WOW. You are really educating recycling many ways. When I went into your garden, I picked some of your veggies for my salad since I am on a very strict diet! I love the creative way how you planted up your gumboots and the primulas in the shady part is beautiful.

The Kings School West Rand

The Kings School West Rand

The Kings School West Rand

I just want to relax in your garden and watch the Butterfly’s fly around. I love the creative way you have made your cardboard houses and the people – They are very friendly! Yes, I was invited into your garden for a cup of tea. Your veggie patch is healthy – pest free and well-planted. Your veggie patch is healthy pest free and well-planted. I love your flower border! I love the colour it is so striking!



The colourful steppingstone set in circle take me back to the theme of colourful world. The Yin-Yan symbol represents the light, brightness, the passion and the growth. I was running around the circle until I stopped and picked up some of the nasturtium leaves for my sore throat. Well Done, your veggie path is perfectly spaced, I love all the edible flowers.

Transformational Parenting

I felt relaxed and I wanted to play on your lawn. I love the Tyres that were planted up with veggies and I went into your garden and picked a lemon to make a refreshing drink for myself.  Your veggie patch is perfectly laid out with a mixture of colourful seedlings.

 Tsholetsega Public School
Tsholetsega Public School
Tsholetsega Public School
Garden World is on Beyers Naudé Drive in Muldersdrift.

For information on the Spring Festival
contact Garden World on
011 957 2545 /011 956 3003 or 083 997 6142.

For more information on the festival visit


]]> (Darlene Roelofsen) August Tue, 08 Aug 2017 06:55:34 +0000