Work your garden this autumn

by Justin

By Erina Botha, indigenous landscaper at DreamScapes

Autumn is a good time for planting generally as the heat of winter dissipates. In the Cape it is also the start of the rainy season. And in large parts of the country the weather is cooler, aiding new life in gardens, writes Erina Botha for us.

Here is how you do it

Tip 1:  Cut back

One of the important ways of regenerating gardens is by cutting back and thinning out existing trees in the garden. The branches removed to let in more light, can then be turned into wood chips and be used as a compost ingredient, rather than just having them dumped at a waste site.

If trees are trimmed back in autumn, you get a show in spring. White watsonias glowing in spring after an autumn pruning of a tree to allow more light through.

Tip 2: Contrast

Another way to rejuvenate gardens is by introducing contrasting colours and a diversity of shapes and textures. Contrast adds character and intrigue to gardens. We have a wide choice as we’re blessed with the world’s richest floral kingdom in the Cape region (CFK), and as a country, we’re blessed to have the third richest floral diversity worldwide.

The indigenous Cape garden illustrates the point of both contrasting colours and textures well. Yellow Pin Cushion, Purple Vygies,  Pelargonium Acculatum (the pale red plant) and lacey lilac Scabiosas on their tall thin stems which sway lightly in the breeze against the sturdy dark green backdrop of bold, strong and tough fynbos shrubs .

What to plant

Restios are one of those fynbos species that provide endless options for contrast, but be careful about the species you select for a particular spot. Some species grow up to almost three metres high and can end up obscuring rather than enhancing.

The use of Chondropetalum tectorum ‘Fishhoek’ restio is recommended as it is medium-sized and it’s tufts are light. It is a very striking plant with a fine appearance and a height of only 60cm. 

Among the many interesting boldly textured plants available in the CFK are succulents from families like Senecio, Cotyledon and Kalanchoe.

There should be space in every garden for the trusted favourites such as Agapanthus, Tulbaghia, Dietes and Clivias. Not only are they strikingly beautiful, but extremely waterwise and resistant to pests. A row or grouping of Agapanthus can be enhanced by interplanting them with fine-leaved and flowering plants, such as Chironia, Geranium, Lobelia or Hermannia.

The Crassula family also have a variety of interesting species of hardy ground covers that provide great contrasts to sculpturally structured species such as Strelitzia and Kniphofia.

Trailing Gazanias or Arctotis can form a great feature that is relatively easy to maintain, but mass plantings can tend to look a bit boring. An effective way of adding some ‘spice’ to a bed or pavement covered in Gazanias/Arctotis of the creeping type, is to plant the tuft-like species of Gazanias along the border areas, or intersperse the beds with clusters for a lovely contrasting effect.

How to nurture the soil in your garden with mulching compost

  • Branches cut to thin out trees or reduce their size should ideally be chopped up with an axe or a special wood chipping machine.
  • Adding the leaves and the wood chip to the vegetable skins, peels and leftovers, adds a lovely coarse texture to the other organic waste in the compost heap.
  • Layers of sand should also be added weekly.
  • The compost heap should be watered weekly when it doesn’t rain so that it can decompose into a dense, heavy, healthy organic mulch to layer flower beds with.

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