TRADESCANTIA ZEBRINA

By now regular readers will be aware that my garden in the Eastern Cape of South Africa tends to be arid more years than not. We began transforming the garden we inherited from a gravel-strewn cacti covered (all exotic!) space by planting trees soon after our arrival nearly thirty-five years ago. Most of these have grown tall and provide much-needed shade as well as food and shelter for the many birds that visit our garden throughout the year. My dream of enjoying beds of flowers and low flowering shrubs long ago came to nought and with the ongoing drought I mostly plant flowers in pots, which are easier to water with the limited amount at our disposal. Vegetables too can only be grown during the odd years now and then when we receive regular rainfall.

What about the rest? Nearly twenty years ago a fast-spreading ground cover appeared in our garden having made its way in from the neighbouring garden. Not only are the leaves attractive, but this plant did not seem to mind either the drought of summer or the sometimes very cold weather experienced during the winter: it grew and grew onwards and outwards, filling nooks and crannies all over the garden. Initially I was grateful for the attractive ground cover bearing leaves with purple undersides while the upper side sports light and dark green – even silvery – stripes. After all, it was doing a good job of filling garden beds and quickly covering large sections of bare ground where nothing else would grow.

You will have to excuse the blurry image of the small flower with a lavender-pinkish hue – I almost walked into a thick, rope-like spider web strung across the garden steps and drew back very quickly! These attractive tiny flowers bloom intermittently throughout the year, usually unfolding one at a time in the morning and closing during the afternoon.

Given that this plant, originally hailing from South and Central America, is a prized house plants in the colder northern hemisphere where it does not necessarily survive the winter – all very well – I was astounded to see it advertised on a local gardening site for R80,00 per plant! How is this possible when it has become a particularly invasive problem in the Eastern Cape? In this photograph you can barely see the stone steps that lead down to a lower terrace in the garden!

It spreads like wild-fire here and has a tendency to invade moist, shaded sites, forests and stream banks where they form thick mats of vegetation that out-compete indigenous plants and contribute to transforming local habitats. I find it difficult to control its spreading habit even in my drought-stricken garden! Invasive plants often start off innocently enough, but as I have discovered, can really take over and be almost impossible to eradicate. Discarded plants – even the stem fragments – readily establish themselves in the undergrowth of natural veld and – before long – forms large colonies that shade out low-growing indigenous species.

If you live in a part of the country where these plants make attractive pot plants or fill an awkward part of your garden, do keep an eye on it and, whatever else you do, don’t let it get out of hand!

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MY APRIL 2023 GARDEN

The air  is dry; leaves are curling up, turning yellow or brown, and some are carpeting the ground; pot plants have shrivelled in the summer-like temperatures that have scorched us over the past few days; water in the bird baths evaporate almost before my back is turned; wasps and butterflies regularly dip onto the surface of the swimming pool to drink. Everything is crying out for water … April is not a rainy month.

All is not lost though. Canary creeper blossoms are beginning to cover the trees with a bright yellow carpet.

The blue plumbago flowers continue to provide cheer.

The sea lavender also puts on a brave show.

There is plenty of natural food for the birds too. These small Natal figs are already attracting African Green Pigeons, Red-winged Starlings and Black-headed Orioles.

These (so far) unidentified indigenous berries that hang in heavy bunches are eaten by Cape White-eyes, weavers and Speckled Mousebirds.

Ants abound both indoors and out. They are clearly on a quest for water in this hot, dry weather. I watched these ones moving up and down a stone wall outside our kitchen this afternoon.

OPEN SPACES

I have said that dirt roads often lead towards an adventure of sorts. Open spaces also provide similar opportunities for finding interesting things to look at or experience. I will start with the clanking noise heard across the road from my home, where I spent a while watching the ineffectual ‘clearing’ of invasive prickly pears growing in-between indigenous Cape honeysuckle and Plumbago bushes.

Just up the hill from where I live I occasionally see horses drinking from a seasonal pond.

Looking down from the top of Mountain Drive one can see an aerial view of our town.

Driving through the countryside, one might come across a scene like this: open veld with an antelope staring quizzically at one.

Blooming purple bougainvillea is the only sign of a former farm dwelling in this section of the Addo Elephant National Park as it has expanded. Note the sand dunes and the Indian Ocean in the background.

Sometimes open spaces seem just that: open – apparently with nothing of interest to attract attention. When these are in a game park many impatient tourists rev their engines and move on in the hope of spotting game further on. Patience can be rewarded though – as it was this time for us when a pair of lions appeared out of nowhere and walked along the edge of Ghwarrie Dam in the Addo Elephant National Park.

THE COLOUR PINK

We have had enough of green so it is time to move on to a brighter colour: pink. As Christina Rossetti says so elegantly

What is pink? a rose is pink

By a fountain’s brink.

What is red? a poppy’s red

In its barley bed …

There will be no roses for you today – mine died off during the early drought years many moons ago and there will be no red poppy – it is the wrong colour for today’s cheer. Instead, we will start off with a bloom that doesn’t appear to mind drought at all while it is always pleased to receive sustenance from the rain: a hibiscus.

A vigorous – though very attractive – alien is the Lantana camara.

These pelargoniums thrive in my drought-stricken garden.

As does this Pachypodium succulentum, which is even happier since I transplanted it to a large pot.

Self-sown opium poppies (Papaver somniferm) bloom in my back garden during October or November in most years.

While these jasmine blooms scent the summer nights most beautifully.

GREEN LEAVES

Today has been darkly overcast and dull with a very light shower clearing the air a short while ago. Having already looked at various hues of green on St. Patrick’s Day (interestingly the dead snake elicited the most responses!), as I walked around my garden this afternoon I was reminded of the various shapes of leaves we get in nature. First up is the Spekboom (Portulacaria afra) which grows outside the side door leading to our swimming pool. The colour of the stalkless, succulent leaves tend to vary from bright green to pale grey. I planted this small tree as a broken off twig several years ago and it has already reached a height of nearly 4m. I prune it periodically and plant the cuttings elsewhere in the garden.

This Aloe ferox growing near our front door is well over thirty years old – well suited to this dry part of the Eastern Cape. Its beautiful flowers will appear sometime in May and continue through to the end of August. These broad leaves are showings signs of age yet still look attractive to me.

This Ziziphus mucronata, commonly known as buffalo thorn or blinkblaar-wag-‘n-bietjie, seeded itself outside our lounge window. I enjoy the glossy green leaves, although remain wary of the thorns – one hooked and the other straight – that are difficult to extract oneself from. Despite the thorns, trees growing in the wild are browsed by both game and stock animals.

Gardens are all the sadder, I think, without nasturtiums growing somewhere. Not only do they produce blooms in a variety of colours, but their blossoms, leaves and immature green seed pods are edible.

According to the Agricultural Research Council “Sword fern is a category 1b declared invader in Limpopo, Mupumalanga, Kwazulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Western Cape, and a category 3 invader in Gauteng, Free State, North-West, and Northern Cape. It must be controlled or eradicated where possible, and may not be sold or distributed through commercial outlets.” Try as I might, I simply cannot get rid of these plants which grow faster than I can attack them!

Another exotic is the Cape gooseberry (Physalis edulis) which originates in South America. All the plants (the number of them wax or wane according to the weather) growing in my garden have seeded themselves – probably courtesy of the birds which adore the golden berries as much as I do. I generally leave them to grow wherever they please, unless they are really in the way.