Every garden should have a forested corner somewhere; shady and lush with a bench where one can sit and relax, read, chat, have a glass of wine and watch the birds. And a pathway or two where you can stroll and enjoy the diverse forest floor vegetation.
Whether you have a new house on an unplanted plot, or a clutter of trees in an area of an existing garden, it can be turned into a forest floor with a great diversity of lush forest undergrowth.
Planning is important
Planning the placing of a forest area is important, so that the trees will not shade out your lawn or too large an area of your garden. For medium and small gardens especially, it is best to place the tree/trees on the Western side of the property so that the property will have enough sun, considering that most homes also cast a lot of shade onto small to medium gardens.
It is always best to have a tree that fits the size of your plot so that you don’t have big bulging roots in a small to medium garden. Creating the lush forest-like space might have to start with removing inappropriately large trees to allow for undergrowth. Indigenous is best, and I would always advise that alien trees be removed.
Raise the canopy
With established trees, there is usually a need to do some raising of canopies to allow space underneath for a water feature or two, and pathways and benches, so that a haven under the tree cover can be created.
Once the raising and thinning out of the canopy has been done, it is important to bring in mulch from decayed plant material like leaves and chopped up vegetation. It is best not to use dung of any kind as many indigenous plants are very sensitive to the acidity. Copying nature is always a good motto in gardening.
Creating the forest floor
On the list of essential plants to add to create a forest floor environment are ferns and asparagus species. Rumohra adiantiflormis is one of our largest and most rewarding ferns, essential for creating a truly indigenous forest floor. An essential addition to any forest floor is Adiantum poiretii – a delicate-looking, but nonetheless very hardy fern.
A must for any lush forest garden environment is Asparagus densiflorus ‘Meyersii’ (a.k.a. Asparagus Fern) – a very hardy and compactly curvaceous plant that can take a considerable amount of sun, great to use on the forest edge areas. It bears sweet smelling white flowers in summer, followed by round, red berries – a very decorative plant.
Polystichum pungens, Blechum attenuatum, and Stenochlaena tenuifolia are a few more striking indigenous fern species. A member of the fern family with a moss-like appearance is Selaginella kraussiana, which makes it suitable as a ground cover.
No forest environment is complete without forest lilies or Veltheimia bracteata. The coral-coloured one is my favourite, but there is also a yellow-flowering variety that beautifully lights up forest edges.
A vital prerequisite for a lush, shaded area are some species of Plectranthus and one of my favourites for small to medium gardens is Psaccatus. It is a delicately-leafed plant that likes to grow up trees and other supportive plants or structures, creating a beautifully lush environment with its abundance of pale lilac flowers. It flowers from autumn into early summer – even into late summer. The lilac-flowered one is the most popular and striking, but there is also a white-flowering variety.
We are blessed with 55 different species of Plectranthus in South Africa. Most of them are sensitive to frost but growing them under tree cover usually eliminates frost damage. They are generally shallow rooted and enjoy adequate watering, but they do also store water in their stems and hence are resistant to prolonged periods of drought. There are many ground cover types but do check first as some grow into large shrubs which may not be suitable for use in forest corners in small gardens.
Other essentials for a striking forest garden, are Clivias – both orange and yellow. They are usually tough, but flower more lushly and frequently if they watered regularly and given dung-free compost at least once a month with the onset of autumn.
Other must-haves for a diverse and lush forest environment are Chasmanthe lilies in yellow and orange, white or pink Watsonias and bright orange-and-yellow Crocosmias aurea. With these three species of bulbs in your garden, you’ll have a display of colour and diversity all year around.
No forest area is complete without a Hypoestes floribunda – one of our toughest and most abundantly flowering shade-loving shrubs. And then of course, there is the delicate Streptocarpus species. There are 51 species of Streptocarpus in SA and many are regionally endemic. My personal favourite is Streptocarpus primulifolius with its beautiful blue flowers softly lined with darkish lines running from the white centre. The flower typically has two lips, the upper is two-lobed and the lower three-lobed.
A lush forest corner with the gentle sounds of water cascading over several layers of a well-placed water feature can be a real haven during those hot summer months. And even during the cooler months of winter it can be a delight to observe with all its colourful diversity from a hammock on your veranda!
Erina Botha is a professional landscaper of indigenous gardens. She can be contacted on 082 920 6559 should you need advice. Check her out on www.facebook.com/dreamscapes.co.za