Gardening through the heat of summer

Text and Photographs Anno Torr

Gardening articles so often focus on the weather, and understandably so since it is what governs most of our gardening choices. Or it should be. Planting a locally indigenous suite of species provides a display that thrives in the soils, temperature, seasonal variations and rainfall of the area. As an extra bonus, because a local palette also supports local wildlife an active community of birds, spiders, frogs, insects and reptiles help to keep perceived pests under control. Having said that, city structures, and even a neighbour’s tree, create numerous micro-climates within our gardens, so an indigenous species from another area may be the best choice in certain situations. But as long as your out-of-area choice does not require any extra watering and feeding to remain healthy, nor spread unchecked into adjacent natural areas, your Kloof Conservancy Chairman will be happy!

Our current unpredictable weather has homeowners battling both torrential downpours and long hot, dry spells within weeks of each other, making ground management an imperitive for all who tend a patch of this precious earth.  One of the most helpful of plant categores to protect against extremes of weather is the groundcover; through days of heavy rain or hot, drying sun and wind, they are our garden’s best soil protectors. Excellent multi-taskers, they also attract pollinators, provide cover for reptiles and frogs, and stabilise soils on steep banks.

Plant these tough groundcovers to protect your soils


The Crassula family is outstanding in this regard. Many evolved to deal with the careless feet of heavy browsers so will take a few knocks and trampling. Damaged sections and pieces that break off from the mother plant will quickly root making them excellent choices to edge paths and patches of lawn where children and dogs play. They attract bees, butterflies, beetles and other insects. Tired of the widely used though attractive and useful Crassula multicava? Try the following:

Crassula sarmentosa

Crassula sarmentosa, photo by Anno Torr

Crassula sarmentosa, Bushy Crassula, grows to 30 cm in sun and light shade though I find those in the sun form neater mounds. In dry conditions, leaves are tinged red. Flowers are white/ pink and form dense heads from summer to autumn.

In the image above the rigid, spiny leaves of Aloe chabaudii combine beautifully with the soft frothiness of C. sarmentosa.

Crassula spathulata

Crassula spathulata, photo by Anno Torr

Crassula spathulata is an attractive and useful creeping groundcover between perennials and bulbs. Low-growing, it forms a dense mat that retains moisture and discourages weeds.  Flowers are typical of the Crassula family, white to cream and star-shaped, on show from summer through autumn.


Delosperma is a predominantly summer rainfall genus. Occurring mostly in grasslands, many species grow in rocky places and crevices where they don’t have to compete with grasses and forbs.   Planted in garden beds, delospermas have a creeping habit and form dense mats that hold the soil, protecting against compaction from raindrops and baking sun, and prevent wind and water erosion. They attract a variety of insects.

Delosperma cooperi

Delosperma cooperi, photo by Anno Torr
Delosperma cooperi, Free State Vygie,  is the most commonly available species with bright purple/cerise flowers. It grows in both sun and shade. Blooming from late winter through to summer.

Delosperma rogersii

Delosperma rogersii, photo by Anno Torr
Delosperma rogersii is an Eastern Cape species with yellow flowers, prefering full sun. Many other colour forms are now available. Flowers from spring through summer.

Delosperma tradescantioides

Delosperma tradescantioides, photo by Anno Torr

Delosperma tradescantioides, Trailing Vygie, ranges from Eastern Cape, through KwaZulu-Natal, and into Mpumalanga. While some growers suggest a neat growth habit, my experience with this vygie suggests it needs room to spread. A fast grower, the strong, deep roots make it a perfect choice to hold soil on banks, or to cover an expanse of ground in full sun. While Eastern Cape plants appear to have dark pink flowers, the local variety has creamy-white flowers that are larger than most other delospermas.

Gerbera ambigua

Gerbera ambigua, photo by Anno Torr
Gerbera ambigua, known commonly as the Pink and White Gerbera, is a local species and a hardy garden plant. It seeds prolifically and clumps soon spread but never get out of hand. Large crisp leaves have silver/ white felt-like underside, and each 20 – 30 cm long stalk carries a beautiful daisy flower. Petals surround a dark purple centre, white above with a blush of pink below. Flowering is on and off through the year. Plant in full sun. Flowers are visited by a variety of insects.

Plectranthus ciliatus

Plectranthus ciliatus, photo by Anno Torr
Plectranthus ciliatus (Speckled Spur-flower): one of the tougher of the Plectranthus genus, this lovely groundcover does best in light shade but will take some sun through the day. It forms neat mounds of green/ purple leaves, and in March through to May, is covered in w hite to light purple-pink flowers sprays that stand well above the leaves. It can droop a little if it gets too much sun during a dry winter but soon picks up in the spring rains. A good butterfly plant.

Oplismenus hirtellus

Oplismenus hirtellus, photo by Anno Torr
For the wild gardener, Basket Grass, Oplismenus hirtellus, is a beautiful groundcover for dappled to full shade. Perfect for the understorey of forests and woodlands, it grows to 30 cm tall at most. Preferring relatively moist conditions, it spreads quickly to form dense mats and does not like being trampled. Seeds feed Mannikins, African Firefinch, Waxbill and Green Twinspot.

Special species in flower through summer


Specials: highlighting two of the lesser known members of the well known Thunbergia family. The common orange-flowering T. alata, or Black-eyed Susan, is a typical climber in our region, but for those in need of soft pastels, try the following:

Thunbergia atriplicifolia

Thunbergia atriplicifolia, photo by Anno Torr
Thunbergia atriplicifolia: the Natal Primrose is a grassland perennial that deserves to be seen more in local landscapes as it makes a beautiful garden plant. Growing to 40 cm high from a woody base, blue-green leaves are softly hairy. Flowers are 5 cm in diameter, a pale creamy-yellow with a darker yellow tube, and cover the plant from October to March.

Thunbergia natalensis

Thunbergia natalensis, photo by Anno Torr
Thunbergia natalensis (Dwarf Thunbergia): this small shrublet with soft blue flowers can be seen popping up on forest margins and grasslands in natural areas around Kloof at this time. It grows as a single unbranched stem, up to 1.2 m high from a woody base. Flowers are 8 cm wide, blue-mauve with a pale yellow throat.
Anno Torr Leopard's Echo

About the author

Anno Torr is the editor of The Indigenous Gardener digital magazine, chairman of Iphithi Nature Reserve and sits on the Botanical Society of South Africa KZN Coastal Branch Plant Fair Committee.