The first impression to any property, town or city is the entrance or gateway. When you beautify the entrance with feature and waterwise plants and rocks, you create an advertisement and invitation to the place, writes ERNST VAN JAARSVELD.
WHEN I ARRIVED to take up my position at Babylonstoren, there were two large wooden planters containing exotic shrubs at the entrance to the hotel. The leaves wilted on hot summer days and the plants did not emphasise the striking setting and environment.
We replaced them with two indigenous fan aloes (Kumara plicatilis, formerly known as Aloe plicatilis), endemic to the Drakenstein and surrounding mountains. The fan aloe/ waaieraalwyn is a beautiful tree-like shrub with strong architectural features. The bluish-green leaves are arranged in the shape of a fan, and bold orange-red flowers appear in spring.
We have never had to water the aloes again as they are completely self-sustaining, illustrating the first principle of waterwise gardening. Plant the best of local indigenous plants as these are adapted to the local climate and reflect the character of the place. Visitors to South Africa want to see plants unique to the areas and delighted tourists compliment us on the fan aloes.
Architectural plants with their bold features provide excellent focal points for an entrance. The beautiful Suurberg cycads (Encephalartos longifolius), for example, can be used in fynbos gardens, and are a longterm investment for any site. Most of these architectural plants grow among rocks or boulders, which complement the plants and vice versa. Therefore, the use of local geology is of utmost importance.
Some architectural plants such as elephant bush/spekboom (Portulacaria afra) and the krantz aloe (Aloe arborescens) grow widespread from the southern parts of South Africa to the Limpopo Province and can be used in almost any town in the eastern parts of South Africa, while others such as quiver trees are confined to the dry western portion of South Africa.
These beautiful flagship plant species are literally shaped by suffering, which resulted in evolutionary creativity. They reflect millions of years of hardship – for us to enjoy.
I have mostly chosen some long-lived plant species with strong features from South Africa and Namibia, suitable for planting as focal points at entrances.
Winter Rainfall Region
The best time to plant is during autumn, the start of the growing season. Once established, the plants are self-sustaining (no sprinkler systems needed) and require minimal maintenance. It is important to help them get established and one should, in the first two years, stake them against strong winds and provide moisture if the rainfall is not sufficient.
Fynbos and Strandveld Garden
Suitable plants include the various aloe species: Cape bitter aloe/bitteraalwyn (Aloe ferox), the krantz aloe/kransaalwyn (A. arborescens), mountain aloe (A. succotrina) and the Westcoast aloe (A. framesii). The fan aloe (Kumara plicatilis) grows up to 3m tall but is a slow grower. Among the cycads, the Suurberg cycad/ Suurbergbroodboom (Encephalartos longifolius) makes a bold statement with its leaf colour varying from bluish to olive.
Recommended smaller plants include the doringpol (Euphorbia loricata) and the Suurberg cushionbush (Oldenburgia grandis). The dune aloe (Aloe thraskii) from KwaZulu-Natal grows well in seafront gardens in the Western Cape. The elephant’s foot (Dioscorea elephantipes) is suitable for dry fynbos gardens. Trees to consider are the mountain cypress (Widdringtonia nodiflora) and the Willowmore cedar (W. schwarzii), which grows to a large tree.
Suitable local rocks include Malmesbury shale, silcrete, monkey stone (quartzitic sand- stone), granite and dolomite. It’s best to use the same kind of rocks throughout the garden. Silcrete is common in the Western Cape, especially in Renosterveld regions. It represents a type of sandstone superficially resembling monkey stone.
Succulent Karoo Garden
Succulents are often dominant within the Klein Karoo and Namaqualand. The vegetation of the Succulent Karoo is extremely rich and the diversity to choose from is great. Suggested plants include various aloes such as the quiver tree/kokerboom (Aloidendron dichotomum), the smaller maiden’s quiver tree/nooienskokerboom (Aloidendron ramosissimum), Khamies aloe (Aloe khamiesensis) and the Helskloof aloe (Aloe pearsonii). The Clanwilliam aloe (Aloe comosa), and the Cape bitter aloe (Aloe ferox) are single-stemmed.
Take your pick from the various euphorbias available. The grootmelkbos (Euphorbia dregeana) and gifmelkbos (Euphorbia mauritanica) are large, rounded shrubs. The avasnoors
(Euphorbia avasmontana) with a candelabra growth and the klipnoors (Euphorbia heptagona) are smaller, with densely arranged ascending succulent stems.
Succulents come in all shapes, sizes and hues. The botterboom (Tylecodon paniculatus) is a thickset large summer deciduous shrub, the leaves bright yellowish green. The evergreen silver dollar/beestebal (Crassula arborescens) has grayish leaves. The silver-leaved caputia/tonteldoosbossie (Caputia tomentosa) is a small shrub with rounded shape. The spekboom (Portulacaria afra) and wolftoon (Portulacaria namaquensis) are larger shrubs and the mesemb/boomvygie (Stoeberia arborea) with its rounded succulent leaves grows to 3m high.
Suitable rocks to be used includes local granite, shale, dolerite, sandstone and dolomite.
Summer Rainfall Region
In my book, Waterwise Gardening, I also deal with plants that are suitable for the summer rainfall region, which is rich in a great diversity of plants with bold features. The plants with architectural features are generally much larger in size. Best time to establish them is during the spring with the onset of rainfall. Initial care is needed, but once established, the plants should be self-sufficient. In regions with heavy frost, sensitive plant species should be protected, or frost-adapted plants should be given preference.
Bushveld and Highland or Grassland
GARDEN Trees with strong shapes include the flat-topped acacias such as the paperbark thorn (Vachellia sieberiana), the umbrella thorn (V. tortilis), and the baobab/kremetart (Adansonia digitata). Plant the star chestnut/ sterkastaiing (Sterculia rogersii) and sesame tree (Sesamothamnus spp.) for their beautiful bark and the tamboekiethorn (Erythrina acanthocarpa) for its stunning, large flowers.
Aloes are typical of the dry African savanna and light up cold winter months with their colourful orange to red candelabra candles that attract birds too. Aloes to consider: the mountain aloe (Aloe marlothii), Windhoek aloe (A. littoralis) and the Limpopo aloe (A. excelsa) with solitary stems or branched shrubs like the cat’s tail aloe (A. castanea) and the bush aloe (A. rupestris).
Do not forget the cycads. Modjadji palm (Encephalartos transvenosus) and the Penge cycad (E. inopinus) are perfect for warm Lowveld gardens and E. fridericiguilielmi, E. lanatus and E. middelburgensis for the Highveld garden.
Also consider planting shapely euphorbias for their decorative and spiny stems: the grootdoringnoors (Euphorbia grandicornis) and the Penge euphorbia (E. grandialata). The smaller pincushion euphorbia or miershoopnoors (E. pulvinata) is frost-tolerant and looks stunning with its neatly rounded shape. When planting candelabra trees, avoid contact with the toxic milky latex, which can cause blisters. For flowery displays, few can beat the impala lily or Sabi-star (Adenium multiflorum) with its striking pink-and-white flowers in mid-winter (not frost-tolerant) and the Bushveld pig’s ear (Cotyledon barbeyi) with its satiny red tubular flowers. For the colder grassland region, there’s the cabbage tree (Cussonia paniculata var. sinuata) and Senecio barbertonicus, a bold shrub with sweet-scented bright yellow flowers.
Subtropical Coast and Thicket Garden
This region from the eastern and south-eastern coastal regions has a mild climate and boasts many sculptural plants.
Among the trees, the tallest you will want to consider, is the forest cabbage tree /boskiepersol (Cussonia sphaerocephala) and false cabbage tree (Schefflera umbellifera). The two tree aloes, Aloidendron barberae and the smaller Tonga tree aloe (A. tongaensis), are regularly planted in gardens. Both are tolerant of shade.
The wild bananas (Strelitzia spp.) are striking. The larger includes the similar looking S. nicolai, S. alba and S. caudata, all with tall stems and large leaves. The smaller crane flower (S. reginae) and its close relative S. juncea are very striking. The red banana (Ensete ventricosum) is a fast-growing wild banana, with conspicuous red-veined leaves.
Indigenous palms such as the wild date palm (Phoenix reclinata), Pondo palm (Jubaeopsis caf- fra) and vegetable ivory (Hyphaene natalensis) do well in the subtropical garden.
There are several suitable cycads, all with strikingly bold forms. The bluish-leaved species include the Kei cycad (Encephalartos princeps), Suurberg cycad (E. lehmannii) and the two spiny cycads (E. horridus and E. trispinosus). Among the green-leaved cycads, consider the Tonga cycad (E. ferox), valley cycad (E. altensteinii), forest cycad (E. villosus) and the Natal cycad (E. natalensis).
Suitable aloes include the French aloe (Aloe pluridens), the tilt-headaloe /slaphoringaalwyn (A. speciosa), Kariega aloe (A. africana) and the Cape bitter aloe (A. ferox).
Euphorbias are well-suited to the thicket garden. Choose species such as the valleybush euphorbia/ruigtenoors (Euphorbia grandidens), river euphorbia /riviernaboom (E. triangularis), and the map tree/grootnoorsdoring (E. tetragona). The noorsdoring (E. ledienii, E. coerulescens) have ascending stems.
Suitable tall shrubs include the thicket baboon cabbage/ruigtekool (Othonna triplinervia), valley cabbage tree/valleikiepersol (Cussonia nicholsonii) and the dwarf cabbage tree/dwergkiepersol (C. arenicola).
For a flowery display, the kerkei (Crassula ovata) with its masses of pink sweetly scented flowers or the spekboom (Portulacaria afra) with tiny, star-shaped pink flowers in late winter are good choices.
Rocks in the region which could be used include sandstone, dolerite (also known as ironstone or blou-ysterklip), shale or granite.
Karoo and Desert Garden
The upland region of the Karoo and desert areas is subject to frost, but the lower riverine and coastal parts are without frost or with light frost. Rainfall here is more unpredictable, and the northern coastal portion is extremely dry.
For the SOUTHERN UPPER KAROO the cabbage tree (Cussonia paniculata var. paniculata) and the Karoo cycad (Encephalartos lehmannii) with their bluish leaves are good choices. Suitable aloes include the snake aloe (Aloe broomii) and Herero aloe (A. hereroensis). The quivertree (Aloidendron dichotomum) will also do well in regions where frost is not severe. The kobas or nooiensboud (Cyphostemma), typical of the northern desert include Cyphostemma currorii, C. uter, C. bainesii and C. juttae). The ghaap (Hoodia gordonii) has a cactus-like growth with maroon flowers.
Suitable species for the WESTERN LOWER ALTITUDE REGION include the giant quiver tree (Aloidendron pillansii), avasnoors (Euphorbia avasmontana), gifnoors (E. virosa), the large-leaved spekboom (Portulacaria armiana), wolftoon (P. longipedunculata, P. namaquensis) and various species of desert corkbark or kanniedood (Commiphora).
Other suitable aloes include the Kaoko aloe (Aloe kaokoensis) and Mocamedes aloe (A. mocamedensis). There are also three species of sesame trees (Sesamothamnus benguellensis, S. leistneri and S. benguellensis) with decorative, thickset stems.
Suitable rocks for landscaping include granite, sandstone, shale and dolomite. The Upper Karoo dolerite rocks are ideal.