As noted in my previous post, I have started reflecting on where the plants in our garden are originally from, because people often ask me the same question about myself. Most of our flowers, fruits, veggies and herbs in the garden are from other countries. In this series of blog posts, I will explore some of them. In this post, I will focus on some of our favourite plants which come from South Africa, where mum is from.
Although I have never been there, when I think of South Africa as a country, its fabulous and diverse flora and fauna immediately come to mind (among many other things, including rugby, the springbok, boerewors, koeksisters, melktert, De Beers, Krugerrands, the Blue Train, Table Mountain and Robben Island). It also reminds me of a very well-known South African flower farmer, Adene Nieuwoudt, who I follow on Instagram and who I deeply respect and admire. While Adene has specialized in growing flowers, she is also very knowledgeable about veggie gardening. I once read that when she first started gardening, her husband created a veggie garden for her which was the size of a rugby field.
There are so many different plants that come from South Africa, but really large gerberas with long stems always come to mind first. This is probably because I’m not able to get my hands on them and we always want what we can’t have. Due to royalty issues they are only made available to commercial flower growers in New Zealand and not to home gardeners such as myself. Incidentally, a commercial grower recently told me that these gerberas have fallen victim to a virus and they are not sure if they will be able to grow them anymore.
Although I try my best to keep my blog posts short so they are quick and easy to read, this post ended up getting very long as we have a lot of plants from South Africa in our garden. It is very difficult to cherry pick when they are all equally wonderful to me, so I ended up covering all of them. One of my cousins from South Africa visited us last year and we had lunch together. He is a couple of years younger than me. He doesn’t do any gardening himself, so I was amazed that he correctly named not only all of these plants as we walked around the garden, but also all of our other plants with the exception of our feijoa trees, which is fair enough as they are not found in that part of the world to my knowledge.
Since the King Protea is the national flower of South Africa, it makes sense to start here. I have planted a few different proteas over the years but they always ended up dying. I don’t think our conditions are ideal. I have noticed that they do very well in coastal areas in NZ, maybe because they like sandy soil. They also seem to thrive in warmer conditions. I have seen a few large plants in gardens where our bach is, which is 40 minutes north of Kerikeri and on the coast. Because I am an eternal optimist, I couldn’t help but try again and planted a King Protea in our garden last year. So far it is still alive so fingers crossed!
Penhill Watermelon dahlia
While dahlias are native to Mexico, breeders could technically come from any country in the world and they can name the varieties they breed anything they want. My favourite name is the dahlia known as the Zundert Mystery Fox, which was bred by a German. The dinnerplate variety Penhill Watermelon is very well-known and highly sought after. It was bred by a South African. PW (as it is abbreviated in dahlia circles) is extremely hardy and tends to produce very large clumps at the end of the growing season which divide well. Not all dahlia varieties are that robust and some are very prone to rot. I don’t want to mention any varieties I have had trouble with incase I deter other gardeners from growing them. While they might not perform well in our garden and sometimes in NZ generally according to other dahlia growers I have conversed with, that doesn’t mean that they won’t thrive elsewhere.
We have lots of callas in our garden. I used to grow them in containers but the stems were always on the short side, so I moved them to a garden bed a few months ago to see if that helps them develop long stems which are suitable for cutting. Callas are extremely hardy and multiply prolifically. I am very grateful to Kayne from the leading NZ mail order bulbs supplier Bulbs Direct for giving me a mixture of calla bulbs as a gift one year with my order. A couple of years ago, he also kindly sent me a bunch of fresh callas which were beautifully packaged in a box, exactly as they are exported to Japan by their family’s business in Northland.
I find these flowers rather charming. They are bulbs that can be grown in garden beds (which is how they were planted at our home in Whangarei when I was a child) or in containers (as they are planted in our Auckland garden). They multiply prolifically if left undisturbed for a few seasons. We have the traditional orange/yellow variety commonly found here. Last year, I added the Turquoise lachenalia Viridiflora to the garden which is native to the Cape Province and is nearly extinct. I hope to do my best to keep this precious species alive and share the bulbs with other gardeners as they multiply.
Gladioli makes an excellent cut flower as it has long stems and lasts well in a vase. The flowers open from the bottom. I usually pick them when the first flower or two have started opening. In addition to traditional gladioli that flower in summer, we also grow Nanus gladioli, which flower in winter and spring.
Both mum and I love freesias as they are beautiful and highly fragrant. We had hardly any in our garden as they disappeared over the years, so I planted some fresh bulbs in May.
Amaryllis Belladonna flower in February and March in our garden, which is late summer/early autumn for us. These are extremely hardy bulbs that are usually found in a few different shades of pink and white. White Amaryllis Belladonna can be hard to find in New Zealand and I was very lucky that my cousin in Whangarei gave me a spare bulb, as a colleague gave her two for her garden. It’s a good thing she did that because when she moved house, she lost it and I was able to give her one of mine to help her get started again.
They are more commonly known as Naked Ladies because the bulbs don’t have any foliage when they flower. The flowers produce seed heads containing large seeds at the end of the season, which you can collect and replant. Apparently they don’t come true to type, so this is how you could go about breeding a new variety, which is an exciting and interesting thing to do as a passionate gardener. Someone on my gardening page on Facebook advised me to replant the seeds immediately as they lose their viability rapidly.
I recently added this fascinating plant to the garden last year and it flowered in December. I ordered the bulbs online through Bulbs Direct. I have kept them in large containers as I read that it can potentially become invasive in certain environments, but don’t let that put you off as there are ways around this problem, if there is one at all.
I have found that clivia do best in a shady site. We have several orange varieties and a yellow one in our garden. At one stage, yellow clivia were extremely rare and plants fetched as much as $1,000 each. Years ago I posted a picture of one of our plants in flower on my personal Facebook page. One of my friends who I met through work and has settled in London commented, saying that her family back in Sydney have a lot of them in their garden. They are originally from South Africa. My friend didn’t know what they were, nor did she realise they were native to South Africa, but neither did I until I started gardening a decade ago.
When I first started gardening, mum begged me to grow gem squash for her. Luckily a major seed supplier in New Zealand stocks it and it is very easy to grow. You can sometimes find them in the produce department at Countdown in season if you want to buy them, but they tend to be very large and hard, with thick skin. We personally prefer harvesting the fruits when they are young and the skin is tender. We think the flavour is better at this stage but that is a matter of opinion, not fact.