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Gardening Month by Month - Gardening in South Africa

The Heartleaf Bergenia is a tough, reliable little plant that is a joy to behold in late winter and spring.

Bergenia cordifolia 'Red Beauty' Picture courtesy TuberfloraBergenia cordifolia 'Red Beauty' Picture courtesy TuberfloraHeartleaf Bergenia
(Bergenia cordifolia)

Bergenia is a fast growing evergreen perennial that produces showy clusters of waxy bell-shaped flowers on long red stalks in late winter and spring. Numerous garden hybrids have been bred, providing colours ranging from deep purplish pink to pale pink and occasionally white. The rounded to heart-shaped and sometimes puckered leaves are a glossy dark green and remain attractive even after the flowers fade. Bergenia is an excellent plant choice for families with young children, as the plants are non-toxic. The handsome leaves provide strong contrast for most garden plants, but especially when combined with fine leaved plants like ferns. They make excellent woodland plants and grow well in moist conditions. They are also excellent groundcover and border plants for the shade garden and grow easily in pots.

When he was feeling ill Peter Rabbit's mother gave him chamomile tea to drink - and most likely your own mother also occasionally brewed you a cup of this soothing tea to help ease an aching tummy, or to help you sleep well.

German Chamomile lining a pathwayGerman Chamomile lining a pathwayChamomile, Camomile, German Chamomile, Roman Chamomile  (Chamaemelum nobile & Matricaria chamomilla)

Chamomile is viewed as a very beneficial herb that is safe to use even on babies and pets. It is a wonderful remedy for stress and restlessness and is widely used as a sedative and tonic. It is also well known for making a delicious tea which is very popular in Europe as an aid to digestion, especially after heavy meals. Chamomile is considered a tonic for anything you grow in the garden and is used as a 'companion plant' to help keep neighbouring plants healthy and free of diseases and pests. It improves the flavour of cabbages, cucumbers and onions; and is invaluable in vegetable gardens because it is loved by bees and other pollinators. It is also one of the safest and most versatile pet remedies around, with scientifically proven uses for both human and pets.

Alluring Alyssum

Could the meaning of a name, in the language of flowers, be any more incredible than that of sweet alyssum, meaning “worth beyond beauty” or “sweetness of soul”? One would be hard pressed to match a description so daintily apt.

It’s quite a contrast then, to know that the name alyssum actually comes from the Greek word “lyssa” meaning “rage” or “madness” and the “a” meaning “against” giving it its meaning today, “without madness”. History tells us that it was used to treat rabid animal bites which makes sense of its more common name, healbite. In modern day it is obviously no longer thought to help calm angry souls or be effective in treating rabies so is not readily used in any medicinal capacity.

Your garden in July

Camellia japonica 'Jurys Yellow'Camellia japonica 'Jurys Yellow'All Regions

In July it may be cold outside but our gardens and the veldt are aglow with brilliant displays of flowering aloes, various species of our indigenous wild pear, or as they say in Afrikaans ‘drolpeer ‘; and an array of indigenous berries. Not forgetting the non-indigenous but trusty old firethorns, which are much appreciated by our feathered friends at this time of the year. July is also camellia season, and they remain the most beautiful and rewarding shrubs, beloved by gardeners worldwide. Sasanqua Camellias bloom in early autumn; and Japonica and Reticulata Camellias bloom in winter and early spring. The Saucer Magnolia and Star Magnolias also bloom in late winter and spring; so if you don’t have any of the above in your garden, now is a good time to choose some from your local garden centre.

Coping with Scale Insects

Magnolia Scale Picture courtesy Scott CamazineMagnolia Scale Picture courtesy Scott CamazineScales are tiny parasitic insects that adhere to plants and live off the plant's sap. They look like bumps and are often mistaken for a disease. There are some 7,000 species of scale insects, varying greatly in colour, shape and size. Scales often go unnoticed by the gardener, but they can do damage out of all proportion to their size. They can quickly infest leaves, twigs, branches and fruit, and are found all year round.

Scale is more prevalent in shady or protected places of the garden like walled courtyard and patios, than in open areas. They can be hard or soft and like aphids, mealy bug and Australian bug, scale insects secrete honeydew which attracts ants. Ants crawling up and down the plant are a sign of possible scale infestation.

An unsightly black sooty mould often grows on the honeydew. The ants 'farm' the scale for its honeydew, and in return protect the scale from predators. Get rid of the scale as well as the ants and the mould will disappear.

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