With over 24,000 species of indigenous plants in South Africa, the big question is why would anyone plant an exotic? Yet people have and many still do, which is why some of South Africa’s most exquisite indigenous plants are being pushed to the brink of extinction. Being out competed by alien invaders, like the dreaded Lantana.
There are many reasons why you should choose an indigenous species over their invading counterparts when designing your dream garden. They are more suited to the Lowveld’s climate conditions, soil types and nutrient availability, making them hardier and a lot easier to look after. Indigenous plants also tend to be tolerant of drought, enabling them to cope with the dry Lowveld winters. For those living on a wildlife estate, indigenous plants can often tolerate higher levels of browsing than their exotic competitors and many have defense mechanisms that make browsing animals avoid them altogether.
How do you choose which indigenous specie will best suit your garden? The best person to ask is Troos van der Merwe, the owner of Fever Tree Nursery and an authority on indigenous plant species. Here are six of his favourites; they will provide colour, form, light and shade to enhance any garden all year round.
#1) Pod Mahogany (Afzelin quanzensis)
The Pod Mahogany grows well in our nutrient poor granite soil and it copes well when planted between rocks, making it a perfect tree for the Lowveld. It is also drought tolerant, which helps too! Being briefly deciduous, its leaves do drop, but it’s one of the first trees to bear new leaves. So it won’t remain bare for long! With a growth rate of 1 to 1.5m a year, it will quickly establish itself in your garden.
What makes this tree great is that it grows in an umbrella shape and doesn’t make a dense canopy. Providing much needed shade from the Lowveld sun whilst allowing the grass and plants to grow underneath its branches.
#2) Round-Leaved Teak (Pterocarpus rotundifolius)
You will see this tree growing all around Nelspruit and it is perfectly adapted to our climate and soil conditions. Again it doesn’t produce a dense canopy, allowing you to plant beautiful borders underneath its branches. The reason I picked this tree, is the way it blossoms after the first summer rains. All of a sudden you will get a burst of colour that brightens up any garden.
What a lot of people don’t realise is when it comes to trees, winter is the best time to plant them. Winter planting allows the trees roots to establish themselves and settle in the soil before the first summer rains. So now is the time to choose your trees and get planting!
#3) Wild Jasmine (Jasminum multipartitum)
This drought hardy creeper is perfect for the dry Lowveld winters, and can be manipulated to provide a good screen. What makes it a great choice for people living in lifestyle estates among wild game, is that animals don’t tend to browse it, but even if they do, it tolerates well and recovers.
Another nice thing about Wild Jasmine is that it flowers late winter, almost announcing the onset of spring with its crisp white flowers and unmistakable scent.
#4) Grey Barleria (Barleria albostellata)
This is another drought hardy plant that can survive the blazing Lowveld sun and once it’s established it will need no further watering. All it needs is a spot of pruning after it flowers and that’s it, the perfect shrub for any Lowveld garden.
Its silver, woolly leaves bring a different colour and texture to a garden and contrast with its beautiful white tubular flower. For those living among game, it’s the ideal choice as its woolly leaves mean browsers tend to avoid it at all costs.
#5) African Iris (Dietes bicolor)
This is perhaps the plant I use the most when designing indigenous gardens for bushveld living. Nothing seems to eat it and it can tolerate everything the Lowveld throws at it, making it the perfect choice for a low maintenance Lowveld garden.
It is also a plant that flowers in response to rain and has multiple blooms, bringing splashes of colour throughout the summer months.
#6) Chabaud’s Aloe (Aloe chabaudii)
Of all the aloes, this is my favourite. It thrives in shade, semi-shade and full sun. Tolerates the Lowveld’s hot humid summers, where most aloes struggle, making it simply the perfect choice for any Lowveld garden. Especially those looking to be water wise.
Like most aloes, it is winter flowering, drawing sun birds and sugar birds to your garden. If the flowers weren’t beautiful enough, the leaves turn a delicate shade of pink if you don’t water it.
Fever Tree Nursery is located at Halls Gateway, N4, Nelspruit.