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, 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 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 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.
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:
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.