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]]> (Darlene Roelofsen) June Fri, 23 Jun 2017 12:38:06 +0000
Falling for Fennel

Picture courtesy Nick WarnerDiscover what the people of the Mediterranean region have known about fennel for centuries, their many creative uses for this summer vegetable will have you falling for fennel! Many people are familiar with fennel only in the form of the seeds which are found in various spice blends, where they're hidden away amongst the other flavours. As a result, the first time they're exposed to fresh fennel, the mildly liquorice-like flavour can be a surprise. Like Marmite, or black jelly beans, fennel is something that you either love or hate, but if you fall in the love side, fennel will inspire you to try recipes from around the world, some that you would probably never even have imagined. Whether it’s starring in a salad, braised to melting perfection, or crumbed and fried until golden, this super-star is just simply delicious!

Although common fennel grows wild in most parts of temperate Europe, it is generally considered indigenous to the shores of the Mediterranean (southern Europe, western Asia, and North Africa). In these regions it is a common culinary ingredient, lending its anise flavours, together with a distinct bitterness and lemony citric sharpness, to a multitude of culinary delights. Think warm, Mediterranean flavours when cooking with fennel - like tomatoes, red onion and peppers.

Try a simple yet refreshing Italian "fennel citrus salad" – it’s really hard to beat the classic combination of crunchy fennel and sweet and tangy citrus fruit. "Finocchio al forno" (fennel baked in cream) is made with just three ingredients; fennel, cream, and Parmesan cheese. It is simple to make, and sure to delight the whole family.

Fennels sharp, lemony fresh flavour pairs beautifully with fish and shellfish and can be used to flavour a classic “bouillabaisse, or to simply garnish a “scallop and tuna ceviche”.  Bouillabaisse is traditionally a humble Mediterranean fisherman’s stew from the French port city of Marseilles, made with local fish and shellfish, fennel and olive oil. Other ingredients like saffron and orange peel are products of ancient Mediterranean trade; and the cayenne pepper, which is also a typical addition to the stew, is a New World ingredient from the great Columbian Exchange. Traditionally bouillabaisse was made with the leftover cuts of fish which the restaurants wouldn’t buy, and today, recipes for bouillabaisse vary from family to family in Marseille, with local restaurants disputing which versions are the most authentic. If you have ever travelled to this region, you are sure to have sampled this outrageously delicious bowl of human bliss!

The use of fennel is not only limited to Mediterranean cuisines, in Alsace, a historical region in north-eastern France, on the Rhine River plain bordering Germany and Switzerland, which has alternated between German and French control over the centuries and reflects a mix of those cultures, fennel seed is added to sauerkraut. In Iraq the seeds are used to flavour breads; and they are also is one of the five components of "Chinese five-spice powder", as well as the Indian five-spice mixture, "panch phoron".

You are likely to be so inspired by fennel that you want to try your hand at growing your own, and why not, fennel has been cultivated since classical times!  In fact, no garden should be without fennel, because not only is it delicious and very pretty, but it also has many medicinal uses.

Fennel seeds were an important trading spice, and mentioned by the Egyptians about 500 years before the birth of Christ. The ancient Greeks called it “marathon” depicting it on their flags and scarves. King Charlemagne, a medieval emperor who ruled much of Western Europe from 768 to 814, grew fennel on his imperial farms, and the roasted seeds became so popular that inns served them as digestives before, during and after meals.

The early Anglo Saxons, who have inhabited Great Britain from the 5th century, used both the leaves and seeds for the treatment of jaundice and biliousness, as well as a gentle laxative. Fennel seed was served to diners and became known as “anethole”. With travellers purchasing little pouches of these precious seeds to plant at home, the plant spread far and wide, and today, a mix of ‘digestive seeds’ containing fennel, caraway, aniseed and cumin are still served to diners in countries like Italy, Greece and Turkey.

Fennel has followed civilization, especially where Italians have colonized, and it has been naturalized throughout much of Europe, North America, Central America, South America, the Pacific (Hawaii, Fiji, New Caledonia, Niue and French Polynesia), and Australia.

In the wild, fennel is commonly found growing on dry soils near the sea-coast and on river-banks; flourishing on limestone soils. In the wild this hardy perennial herb of the parsley family can reach 2 to 2.5m tall, and is easily identified by its hollow stems, distinctly divided feathery foliage, and umbels of small yellow flowers in midsummer. Tiny seeds follow the flowers in late summer; and can be greenish, yellowish-brown or greyish, with yellow ridges.

Its tantalising liquorice like taste is still used today to flavour many dishes, and intensely flavoured oil is produced by the food industry from fennel seeds, to flavour sausages, processed meats, sauces, salad dressings and pastries.

The seeds are often added to liqueurs, and one of the ingredients used in making absinthe. Fennel seeds are also used extensively to flavour toothpaste, mouthwash, chewing gum, and in sweets formulated to sooth flatulence, colic and heartburn. Its fragrance is also used in soaps, perfumes and air fresheners.

Fennel is safe to use for babies and young children and is still used today in gripe water to sooth colicky babies. It is also a superb diuretic, flushing toxins out of the body, and has become known as the "slimmer's herb". It is an effective treatment for respiratory congestion, a common ingredient in cough remedies, and a soothing gargle for hoarseness and sore throats. One cup of sliced fennel bulb has 27 calories and contains 2.7 grams of fibre; and is a good source of vitamin C, calcium, iron, potassium, folate and vitamin A.

Anethole, the aromatic compound which gives fennel its aniseed flavour is also found in anise and star anise, and its taste and aroma are similar to theirs, though usually not as strong. All parts of the plant are edible and the bulb, foliage, stems and seeds are widely used in many of the culinary traditions of the world.

Fennel seeds can be used as a spice, either ground or whole, and are used throughout the Mediterranean for soups, stews and sauces. It is a mainstay in Italian cooking, and famous for giving Italian link sausages their distinctive flavour. A delicious Sicilian dish uses the finely chopped tender fronds for patties fried in olive oil, using egg, grated parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. Florence fennel bulb is a key ingredient in some Italian and German salads, often tossed with chicory and avocado. The seeds are also used for pickling, in herbal vinegars or oils, and when baking breads and cakes.

The tall, woody stalks are dried and often used in French provincial cooking when grilling various types of meat, and the bulb of Florence fennel is eaten raw, or sautéed, stewed, braised and even grilled.  In Spain, the stems are used in the preparation of pickled eggplants, called “berenjenas de Almagro”.

Many cultures in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and the Middle East use fennel seed in their cookery. In Syria and Lebanon, the young leaves are used to make a special kind of egg omelette called “ijjeh”; and it is also one of the most important spices in Kashmiri Pandit and Gujarati cooking.

The distinct aroma of Bengali and Chinese cuisine is mostly due to the blend of spices known as “Panch phoron“ or “Bengali Five-Spice blend” and “Chinese five-spice powders”. Fennel seeds are one of the ingredients in these traditional mixes.

Bengali “Panch phoron” is a colourful blend of flavourful seeds including: fennel seed, black mustard and nigella seeds, golden fenugreek and cumin seeds. Some variations may substitute anise for the fennel seeds or wild mustard for cumin, radhuni (celery) seed for mustard, and possibly black cumin for nigella. Generally the ingredients are added in equal proportions, though this can vary according to taste.

“Panch phoron” is usually fried in oil or ghee before adding anything else to the pot, flavouring the oil and releasing the aroma of the oils in the seeds and causing them to pop in the pan. Other ingredients are added at this point, and this mixture of spices will add sweetness and bring forward the flavours of vegetables, beef, fish or lentils.

Chinese five-spice powders include ground cinnamon, cloves, fennel seed, star anise and sichuan peppercorns (xanthoxylum peperitum) – a plant native to the Sichuan province of China and not related to black pepper. In many parts of India and Pakistan, roasted fennel seeds are consumed as “mukhwas”, an after-meal digestive and breath-freshener.

Chefs all around the world have mastered how to use fennel in so many simple, but mouth-watering ways, and so can you. Whether you are harnessing its roasted caramel-sweetness for warm dishes, or its raw lemony freshness in fennel “granite” - a type of Italian dessert similar to a sorbet - exploring the flavours of fennel will take you to places you never imagined!
The attractive feathery, blue-green or purple leaves of fennel have a fern-like appearance and look lovely if grouped with flowering annuals in the mixed flower or perennial border. The beautiful umbels of golden yellow flowers appear in midsummer attracting bees and butterflies to the garden; followed by a profusion of seeds.

Do not plant fennel near to coriander, caraway or dill, or they will cross pollinate, producing weak offspring with little flavour.

Common Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) does not form a bulb and is grown for its leaves, stems and seeds.

Bronze Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare"Purpureum") is a decorative garden plant which does not form a bulb, but the eye catching purple leaves have a sweet, liquorice flavour and provide contrast to flower borders. Treat it as a perennial by cutting back the flowering heads to encourage new leaf growth.

Florence Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. Dulce) is an annual crop which is grown mainly for its bulbous fleshy base that is relished as a vegetable, but the stems and seed can also be utilised. There are several cultivars of Florence fennel, and, for the best texture and flavour, the bulbs are generally harvested when they are about the size of a tennis ball.

Fennel is an evergreen perennial which is usually grown as an annual in South Africa, but in frost free regions it can be treated as a short lived perennial. In the cooler regions of South Africa, seed can be sown from spring to autumn; but because hot temperatures and humidity tend to induce bolting, in the rest of the country fennel is an excellent intermediate to cool season crop, sown in late summer or early spring before the weather gets too hot. Bear in mind that although fennel is hardy to frost, it does not always survive a cold and wet winter, and will need a sheltered position if grown in the winter rainfall regions.

Fennel seed germinates quickly and easily when sown directly into garden beds. Plant the seeds 1 to 3cm deep, and remember that this tall growing plant which can reach 1 to 1.5m also needs room to spread. Space the plants at least 50cm apart, with about 60cm between the rows. The seedlings transplant easily but will need to be shaded and protected from extreme heat and wind. Water well until they establish themselves, and about twice a week thereafter. Although fennel loves full sun, it will also grow well in semi shade or full morning or afternoon sun.

The plants need to grow fast in order to produce the best quality bulbs and leaves; so prepare your beds well  with lots of added compost or manure and a dressing of organic 2:3:2. Water moderately but regularly as irregular irrigation will result in the stalks splitting. Once the seedlings are growing vigorously, the plants will benefit from the addition of nitrogen fertiliser every two weeks, but care should be taken not to over feed Florence fennel, which will result in too much leaf growth, at the expense of the bulbs. Keep the beds free of weeds which compete for moisture and nutrients. Protect the plants from strong wind and stake the flowers if you wish to harvest the seeds.

Fennel crops sown in early to midsummer will be ready to harvest in about 14 weeks, while crops sown in autumn may take up to 20 weeks to mature.

Do not leave Florence fennel bulbs in the ground for too long or they will become stringy, and the flavour very strong. Remember, they depend on cool weather for bulb development, and if the weather becomes unseasonably warm, all types of fennel will bolt. This means it will produce flowers too soon and the bulb won’t form. If possible, use fennel bulbs right away while the flavour is most potent. If you can’t use it all immediately, fennel will store in an airtight plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week, but remember your bulb will begin to lose flavour as soon as it is cut; so try to only harvest what you need at one time.

Bronze and common fennel stalks, and the young, tender leaves can be harvested as required. Finish harvesting before the plants start flowering and the texture and flavour of the stalks is compromised. If you want to harvest some seeds as well, leave some stems on the plants to sustain the plant during this time. The perfect time to harvest the seeds is once they are fully developed but still slightly green in colour.

Fennel will self-seed itself prolifically in the garden if a few flowering stems are left on the plants.

If grown correctly, fennel suffers from few pests and diseases, but may be susceptible to fungal diseases like powdery and downy mildew. It is also susceptible to snails and slugs, eelworms (nematodes), cutworm and aphids.

Caution: Because fennel is a uterine stimulant, avoid high doses during pregnancy; but using small amounts in food is fine. Fennel essential oil (not the tincture, which is in an alcohol base) can cause respiratory problems, vomiting, skin irritation, and seizures at very low quantities.

]]> (Darlene Roelofsen) June Fri, 16 Jun 2017 11:32:41 +0000
Plan your Dream Garden

June is an interesting gardening month and the shortest day and longest night is on June 21, after which the days gradually start getting longer, but very slowly at first so that you hardly realise it! In the warmer regions, after about three weeks, you will notice that many plants have begun to grow again - spring in Durban starts in late July! In the warmer subtropical regions of the country the temperatures are perfect for gardening now, so while the rest of us freeze, why not get stuck into your garden and implement all those changes you planned on doing last summer, but just never got around too.

In the cold interior the chilly nights and frosts will slow down plant growth dramatically, making June a much quieter time for gardeners in these regions. The sap of plants will also slowly start to rise after June 21st; and many gardeners advocate delaying pruning until after this date, believing that their plants respond better afterwards.

The recent massive weather system which pummelled the entire country was particularly devastating in the Western Cape, breaking the back of the drought, but leaving massive destruction and loss in its wake. The fires in the Western and Eastern Cape were fuelled by gale force winds and raged out of control, taking many lives and consuming properties. Our hearts and prayers go out to those who have been affected by these catastrophes and floods. Don't give up - nature has a way of coming back beautifully.

Wherever you are - be it sodden or just extremely cold - why not cuddle up with Gardening in South Africa this winter. Put those winter woollies on, grab a hot cuppa and escape from the rat race for a while into the peaceful and fascinating world of plants. Gardening in South Africa was designed with just this in mind –no flashing banners and irritating pop-ups to distract you all the time – just peaceful gardening bliss.

Dream and plan you summer garden with us, no matter if you are a beginner gardener or an experienced one, you are sure to find our plant info and articles fascinating and very helpful. Good planning is vital for your gardening success and selecting the correct plants for each situation will also save you a lot of time and money in the long run. Our plant section documents in detail over 800 plants, enabling you to make informed decisions on which plants are the most suitable for your region and particular situation.

With good planning your dreams can become reality, so why not sign-up today and grow with us!

]]> (Darlene Roelofsen) June Mon, 12 Jun 2017 11:38:38 +0000
Colourful Winters

ViolasOne of nature’s gifts to us during winter is the sweet, fragrant face of pansies and violas. These gorgeous little plants really take the bite out of winter. Bring some joy to your winter garden with these special flowers which are extremely easy to grow! Pansies have bigger faces and leaves than their cousin the viola which is also known as Heart's Ease.

Vygies, otherwise known by their hard to spell name, mesembryanthemums, are quite possibly South Africa’s most colourful group of plants! What more could you ask for in a winter garden. Did you know that their most commonly used name which is Afrikaans in origin, ‘vygie’, means ‘small fig’? This is because its fruiting capsule resembles a small fig.


ViolasPansies and Violas

Both pansies and violas brighten up an early spring garden with their multi-coloured faces that are delicately perfumed and edible too. The blooms offer a soft, sweet fragrance that is most noticeable in the early morning and at dusk. For those of you who want to plant pansies for their smell, choose yellow or blue blooms; they have the strongest scent.

Pansies generally have fewer blooms per plant, but make up for it with much larger flowers. Violas have small, dainty flowers, but they are very florific. Both perform well in a sunny or partially shaded position, so planting under deciduous trees in autumn is ideal. Violas are even happy in quite shady positions, so are perfect for brightening up dull areas. If we happen to experience a hot “Indian (late) summer, be Vygie sure to mulch well around your newly planted seedlings as they don’t like warm soil.


Technically classed as succulents, vygies are excellent for those areas that are experiencing drought or even prone to drought conditions. The best know spring-flowering vygies are Drosanthemum, Delosperma and Lampranthus species. With a range of colours to impress even the fussiest gardener, these species include everything from shrub-like plants to ground covers.

Depending on what you choose from the vast selection at your disposal, you can plant them anywhere from rockeries to borders, containers and even as ground covers in beds that receive a lot of sunlight. The key really is that they are sun lovers and don’t require a lot of maintenance, so make sure they’re not paired with anything requiring regular watering.


Broccoli is now one of the most favoured of all veggies to grow because of its health properties. If you’ve ever eaten shop bought broccoli that was so tough it was barely edible, you’d be forgiven for not enjoying this incredible vegetable much. The good news is that this unfortunate by-product of the way they are stored is something that can be avoided when you grow your own!

When harvesting your broccoli, it’s never good to leave them too long in the hope that they will get bigger, only to let them go past their best. The heads should be tight when harvested and at the first sign that they are separating, they should be harvested immediately.

Dianthus Carnation

The dianthus family includes the well-known perennial carnation, dianthus caryophyllus, perfect for picking with its long history of being used as an expression of loving care, encouraging them to flower more, another reason to love them! Pot carnations, specifically bred for containers, are also available to brighten up those patios during winter!

Information supplied by the Bedding Plant Growers Association. For more, go to

]]> (Darlene Roelofsen) June Mon, 05 Jun 2017 08:33:38 +0000
Abelias are among those old fashioned shrubs that the modern gardener simply can’t do without!

Abelia 'Cardinal'Not only are they renowned for their beauty and good looks all year round, but also for their reliable performance in gardens around South Africa. These carefree shrubs are perfect for eco-conscious gardeners, as they suffer from no pests or diseases worth mentioning, or spraying for.  They will grow in sun or semi-shade, and being low maintenance, perfect for our rushed modern lifestyles too.  


While many of us delight in the cheery bursts of seasonal colour perennials and annuals add to a planting bed, all good gardeners know that a well-designed garden relies on evergreen shrubs to define its “bones” and give it structure. It is around this permanent structure that we build the rest of our gardens, so selecting the right shrub for the job is most important.

Abelia 'Sunrise'Abelias are among those old fashioned shrubs that modern gardeners simply can’t do without, because they are available in all sizes, from petite to large. There is an ideal one for your size garden - even if you only have a small balcony, it can boast a dwarf potted Abelia!

Smaller gardens need smaller shrubs, and it can be a challenge to find shrubs that remain small without the need for ruthless pruning. Plant breeders recognised this need and were delighted when they persuaded Abelia to produce more petite offspring. These new and exciting cultivars are genetic dwarfs and simply do not grow as large as their parents. This breakthrough led to a wonderful selection of these adorable babies, with the same graceful form as their parents, and a wonderful selection of leaf colours, including lemon, gold, cream or even pink variegations, not forgetting the profusion of tiny bell-shaped flowers Abelia is loved for.

Abelia is a large family of plants belonging to the beautiful honeysuckle family and there are both evergreen and deciduous species. They are native to eastern Asia, from Japan to the Himalayas, as well as Mexico; the species from warm climates are evergreen, and those from colder climates are deciduous.

Abelia 'Edward Goucher'The Glossy Abelia (Abelia X grandiflora) and its many garden hybrids are evergreen to semi-deciduous in South Africa. In the warmer regions they remain evergreen and in the colder regions they become semi-deciduous. Winter hardiness varies considerably amongst its hybrids, so visit your local garden centre to find those most suitable for your garden.

All have a densely bushy habit, with gracefully arching branches and small glossy leaves that taper to a fine point. The young summer foliage has bronze to golden tints that only intensify as the weather becomes cooler in autumn. Several bursts of blooms appear throughout summer and into autumn, smothering the shrubs in clusters of small white to pink, tubular flowers, and in some species the reddish sepals persist long after the flowers have faded, providing additional colour in late summer and autumn.

Abelia X grandiflora is commonly called the “Glossy Abelia”. This medium-sized shrub is fully hardy and can reach about 2 to 3m tall with a spread of about 1.5m to 2m. Its arching branches bear small glossy, dark green, leaves, often tinted with bronze. Clusters of slightly fragrant white flowers, flushed with pink, appear in flushes over a long period in summer. This Abelia became such a stalwart in English gardens that The Royal Horticultural Society gave it its Award of Garden Merit.

Abelia X grandiflora 'Edward Goucher' is a compact shrub which grows about 1.5 to 2.5m with an equal spread. It has lilac-pink flowers and the new summer growth is a lovely bronze, turning bright green. In colder regions the leaves turn a burnished bronze in autumn. Although it is hardy to moderate frost, it is not as hardy as the glossy abelia, and in extremely cold regions it will need winter protection.

Abelia x grandiflora 'Francis Mason' is also known as the “Golden Abelia” because the leaves are a beautiful golden colour and centrally blotched with bright green. Its white flowers are flushed with pink, and this compact shrub grows about 1.5 to 2m tall with a slightly wider spread, and is excellent in containers. The leaf colour is more intense in sun than in semi-shade, and in cold winter regions the leaves become beautifully tinged with bronze. This abelia will take moderate frosts but in very cold regions will need winter protection.

Abelia x grandiflora ‘Cardinal’ var Confetti has tiny pure white flowers and dark mint-green leaves with narrow white margins. The new growth is a pretty pinkish-brown. It grows about 1 to +-1.5m tall with an equal spread and is excellent in containers. This abelia will take moderate frosts but in very cold regions will need winter protection.

Abelia x grandiflora 'Sunrise' is one of the best variegated forms with its compact vase-shape and distinctly red new stems. The glossy, dark green leaves are edged in yellow, and the new growth is pinkish-brown. In cold weather, the foliage develops attractive bronzy hues. This extremely compact abelia grows about 1.2 to 1.5m tall with a wider spread of approximately 1.5 to 1.8m. It is excellent for container growth. This abelia will take moderate frosts but in very cold regions will need winter protection.

Abelia x grandiflora ‘Kaleidoscope' is a very petite hybrid which only gown about 70cm tall with a 90cm spread. This delightful shrub has ever-changing foliage; the fresh spring growth is bright yellow around the edges with light green in the centre of the leaves. In summer the bright yellow changes to a golden yellow and the centres turn deep green. In autumn, the leaves turn yellow and orange and by winter they are mostly fiery red. ‘Kaleidoscope' is the perfect feature plant for smaller gardens and grows beautifully in containers. This abelia will take moderate frosts but in very cold regions will need winter protection.

Abelia x grandiflora 'Dwarf Gnome' var. Dwarf Queen is a very compact abelia which only grows about 50 to 80cm tall, with an equal spread, making it perfect for tiny gardens and containers. Its leaves are bright green, contrasting beautifully with the pure white flowers. This abelia will take moderate frosts but in very cold regions will need winter protection.

Abelias are virtually maintenance free garden plants that are easy-to-grow. They remain attractive throughout the year and flower abundantly, making them great candidates for the mixed shrub border and containers. Because their roots are not invasive, they are often used to hide exposed foundations of buildings. An added bonus is that they are fire resistant and can be planted on the borders of large properties or country estates that are prone to veld fires.

Because they all respond well to pruning, abelias make excellent formal hedging plants; and un-pruned, they make wonderful informal screening plants to block off unsightly areas like a compost heap or refuse collection area.

Although the glossy abelia (Abelia X grandiflora) is hardy to cold and frost, hardiness varies considerably amongst its hybrids, and most are not suitable for regions which experience severe winters. In colder regions they need a warm, protected spot in the garden, away from freezing cold winds. If the roots are thickly mulched in winter and the plant is cut right down to the ground by the frost, it will most likely shoot again in spring.

Abelia 'Francis Mason'Abelias thrive in full sun, but will take some shade. In extremely hot regions they will appreciate a bit of shade in summer from the fierce midday sun. They tolerate sea air and windy conditions, and are moderately drought hardy once established, but for best results water regularly during long, dry spells.

Although abelias will adapt to almost any garden soils such as clay, clay loam, loam and sandy loam soils, as long as they drain well, they prefer to grow in soils with medium fertility. Adding compost to sandy soils will give the young plants a good start. The plants are sensitive to chlorosis (yellow) leaves in alkaline soils. Fertilise yearly in spring with a balanced organic fertiliser and mulch the roots with compost, to save on watering.

If left un-pruned, the shrubs will take on a graceful shape of their own, often spreading as wide as they grow tall, or even wider. The only pruning required would be to cut out very old branches completely at ground level - taking entire branches out at ground level will ensure that their beautiful shape is retained. The plants respond well to pruning and can be pruned at any time.


Plants are easily propagated from softwood semi-hardwood and hardwood cuttings taken in spring, summer, or autumn. The plants will also root easily if layered.

Pests & Diseases:

Abelias are virtually disease and pest-free if grown correctly but are occasionally susceptible to fungal infections; anthracnose, leaf spots, powdery mildew, and fungal root rots may occur.

Toxicity: Abelias are not known to be poisonous to humans or pets.

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]]> (Darlene Roelofsen) May Mon, 29 May 2017 09:16:27 +0000
Spring Festival 2017 – ‘Colour My World’

28 July to September 3

Spring means new life, new energy and a fresh start for the garden. Trying out something new, or planning a new look, doesn’t necessarily mean starting from scratch. That’s the idea behind this year’s Spring Festival at Garden World, from Friday 28 July to Sunday 3 September.


Last year’s show gardens have been retained, but chances are, you won’t recognise them because this year’s festival offers ingenious ideas for creative ‘tweaking’ that won’t blow the budget. The theme is ‘Colour My World’ because colour never goes out of fashion. Changing colours, trying new combinations, or just going simpler and bolder, can make all the difference. Each of the 18 show gardens has been given the same brief; brighten up our lives with colour; we need it!

Along with water wise gardening, the emphasis will also be on attracting bees to the garden, because bees are under threat world-wide. This year’s Kirstenbosch South Africa Chelsea Exhibit, designed by Internationally recognised designers Ray Hudson and David Davidson, will be re-created by them at Garden World and this year it is being supported by Starke Ayres.

The spring festival programme of talks and workshops includes an afternoon of music and garden mayhem with Tanya Visser, Richard Cock and Paul Vonk, of Mayford Seeds presenting ‘In Tune with Nature’.

Other annual attractions at the festival are the school gardens, children’s box gardens, and floral exhibits of Interflora and the Gauteng Flora Union.

Garden World is on Beyers Naudé Drive in Muldersdrift.
For information on the Spring Festival and booking for the talks, workshops and music contact:
Garden World on 011 957 2545 /011 956 3003 or 083 997 6142.

For more information on the festival visit

]]> (Darlene Roelofsen) May Wed, 24 May 2017 10:10:24 +0000
South Africa wins 35th Gold Medal at the Chelsea Flower Show

The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) team at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Chelsea Flower Show were jumping for joy this this morning when they learned that they had won South Africa’s 35th gold medal in 42 years of exhibiting at the prestigious show.

And, in an additional accolade for the team, the display was also awarded with the prestigious President’s Award.

Designers David Davidson, Ray Hudson the SANBI team, staff and volunteers had been on tenterhooks since Sunday night, when all the finishing touches to the exhibit were complete and it was ready for judging and a visit by Queen Elizabeth who tours the exhibits after the judges have made their decision.

“The waiting is so difficult,” said Lihle Dlamini, SANBI’s Director of Marketing and Communication, who is part of the team at the show. “But this makes all the hard work worthwhile. We are so proud to be receiving another gold medal as well as the President’s Award for South Africa. It is just fantastic!”

The euphoric designers, David Davidson and Raymond Hudson, said that receiving the President’s Award was beyond their wildest dreams. They could not stress enough that this win was a team effort and it would not have come together without the help of the wonderful group of SANBI staff and volunteers.

With its theme Windows on Biodiversity, the circular exhibit with its stunning backdrop of Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden is a rich and varied voyage of discovery.
On display are plants that represent all ten of South Africa’s National Botanical Gardens: Free State, Hantam, Harold Porter, Karoo Desert, Kirstenbosch, Kwelera, Lowveld, KwaZulu-Natal, Pretoria and Walter Sisulu.

 “The richness of our biodiversity is one of South Africa’s greatest natural assets,” said Dr Tanya Abrahamse, SANBI CEO. “South Africa is home to nearly 10% of the world’s plants and contains three regions that have been declared global biodiversity hotspots, so it is fitting that we celebrate this heritage this year at Chelsea.”

SANBI CEO Tanya Abrahamse had high praise for the team. “They have given of their best, and can be very proud of their success. I am so grateful to be completing my tenure as CEO on such a high note.”

A win at Chelsea has a far-reaching effect. The SANBI stand is one of the “must-see” attractions of the Chelsea Flower Show, drawing many of the over 150 000 visitors to the grounds of the Royal Hospital over the five days of the event.

“Once again the important role that botanical gardens play in contributing to the country’s tourism statistics is underscored,” Dlamini said. “Our exhibit provides a snapshot to the country’s botanical heritage and many people decide to visit our country after seeing what we have on offer here.”

As always, the success of the stand depends on the enthusiastic team of volunteers who join the designers and SANBI representatives in ensuring that our display is perfect in every way.  This year the SANBI team will include Lihle Dlamini, Lufuno Nenungwi, Mashudu Nndanduleni and Felicity Poole.

]]> (Darlene Roelofsen) May Wed, 24 May 2017 05:56:02 +0000
There’s so much more to cabbage than coleslaw!

Pak Choy. Picture courtesy Alison AriansNext time you’re out grocery shopping – grab some cabbage! It’s easy for cabbage to get lost amongst its “sexier” counterparts like curly kale, vibrant beets, Swiss chard and pretty little cauliflower or broccoli florets, but this is a shame because cabbage is packed with goodness, and half the price of other spotlight-grabbing superfoods!

Cabbage – the unsung hero in the kitchen – may also be the most versatile one in your arsenal - you can stuff it, sauté it, stir-fry it and so much more. With the abundance of recipes available online, like traditional slaws, delicious Indian-inspired curries, healthy fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, cabbage deserves to play a leading role in the kitchen.

For the most nutritious and fresh organic cabbage, try growing you own at home in garden beds or pots. It’s easy, economical and most rewarding! Although most gardeners opt for the familiar, round-headed cabbages, today there are hundreds of different varieties to choose from, including flat, round or conical shapes; and tightly packed or loose leaves, in green, white, red and purple colours. Cabbages also vary greatly in size; and with small, medium and large varieties available, there is one suitable for you no matter how small or large your garden may be. These cultivars can also be harvested at different times throughout the year, so you can now grow and enjoy cabbage all year round.

Cabbage 'Copenhagen Market' Picture courtesy wild ancestor of the round-headed cabbage we know today (Brassica oleracea) belongs to the mustard family, like cauliflower and broccoli. It is found in the Mediterranean, Southwestern Europe, and Southern England. The plant is salt tolerant and inhabits rocky cliffs in cool, damp coastal habitats, retaining water and nutrients in its slightly thickened, turgid leaves. It was possibly one of the kales, that the ancient Greeks and Romans held in such high regard. This uncultivated species produces stalks and few leaves and flowers, with little resemblance to the round-head cabbage we purchase in supermarkets today. Though it is difficult to discover exactly when cabbage became a cultivated crop, botanists estimate from a few hundred to a few thousand years BCE.

Cabbage in the form of sauerkraut was a familiar essential at the medieval table, and some historians believe that the idea of pickled cabbage was brought to Europe by the Tartars and developed into sauerkraut by the Celts, who were cultivating the headed variety of cabbage around 200 BCE. The Greeks knew about cabbage at least as early as the 4th century BC; and the Greek philosopher Theophrastus (371 – 287BC), who is also considered the “father of botany”, mentions cabbage in his texts. In Rome, cabbage was considered a luxury and many regarded it as better than all other vegetables. They also used it for medicinal purposes, to treat gout, headaches, and the symptoms of poisonous mushroom ingestion.  Pliny the Elder (AD 23 - AD 79), a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, wrote about seven known variants of cabbage which include; Pompeii, Cumae, and Sabellian cabbage.

Mongolian horsemen learned to preserve cabbage in brine and it became the staple food of the builders of the Great Wall of China in the third century BC, and today, pickled cabbage is still served as an accompaniment to meals in China.  From ancient times to the present day, the Chinese people have harvested and dried cabbage leaves to store for winter use. Rehydrated in water, they came to life again and offer nourishment when added to soups or stir-fries.

Cabbage' Red Jewel' Picture courtesy also knew about cabbages, but the ancient Egyptians didn't use them until the times of the Ptolemaic dynasty. The Ptolemaic dynasty controlled Egypt for almost three centuries (305 – 30 BCE), eventually falling to the Romans. Strangely, while they ruled Egypt they never became Egyptian, but isolated themselves in the capital city of Alexandria, a city envisioned by Alexander the Great, and Greek in language and practice.

On the Scandinavian table, from the eighteenth century dating back to the time of the Vikings, cabbage played an important role because of their harsh winters. They prepared their summer harvests with a focus on foods that could be smoked, dried, or salted, and cabbage along with beets, onions, apples, berries and nuts were some of the staples they stored for winter.  Cabbage gained in popularity and soon became a common vegetable throughout Europe; birthing a plethora of simply delicious peasant dishes, like Germanys ‘mainstay’ and hearty meal of cabbage, pork, sausage, lentils and rye bread.

The first round-headed cabbages appeared in England in the 14th century, and mentioned in texts as the food of both the wealthy and the poor. From the 14th to the 19th centuries the lowly cabbage played a central role in the diet of Russian peasants, who sustained themselves with soup made from pickled cabbage, served with rye bread, buckwheat groats, and “kvas”, a mildly fermented beverage Russians still enjoy today.

From Europe, cultivated variants of cabbage spread to Asia and the Americas. It was brought to India by colonizing traders from Portugal somewhere between the 14th and 17th century. Oddly, cabbage was unknown in Japan until the 18th century.

Because of its high amounts of vitamin C, which prevent scurvy, cabbage became a necessity on long ocean journeys, like those undertaken by Captain Cook, and a ship doctor that sailed with him in 1769 used sauerkraut to treat the wounds of sailors and prevent gangrene.

Today, China is the largest producer of cabbage, followed by India and Russia. Russia is also the biggest consumer of this vegetable.

Cabbage 'Chinese' Picture courtesy Cabbages

If you’re a little bored with Swiss chard and kale, grab some Chinese cabbages next time you visit the grocery store. As with most greens, they can be steamed, stir-fried, stewed, braised, chopped into salads, and cooked in dumplings or soups. You are sure to enjoy them so much you will want to grow your own, and the good news is - they are as easy to grow as, well, cabbage!

Once considered an exotic ingredient, Chinese cabbage was one of the first Asian vegetables to take root in western cultures, and can now be found in most well-stocked grocery stores across South Africa, and these delectable greens have probably found a place on your table at one time or another in a stir fry, soup or delicious fresh salad.

With more and more varieties available to South African gardeners, we have quite a good selection to choose from. Napa cabbage is the variety we mostly associate with Chinese cabbage, with its delicate, mild flavour. White stem pak choi and bok choy are used extensively for their cabbage flavour, with just a hint of mustard, not forgetting the pretty flat cabbage, tatsoi, with its tender dark green leaves, also with mustard undertones.

Although Chinese cabbages are thought to be a native of China, it is difficult to pinpoint their true origins, as it is difficult to determine exactly which plants are referred to in the ancient writings. Many scholars believe that the various plants we now often group together and call "Chinese Cabbages” are probably the descendants of the wild plant mentioned in the first Chinese treatise dealing with plants, written by Ki Han, of the Chin Dynasty (A.D. 290-307). Some scholars today even suggest that Chinese cabbages may have originated from natural hybridization between a turnip and pak choi.

Chinese cabbage is also listed as a vegetable in a treatise by an Imperial Prince, the fifth son of the first Ming Emperor, Hung Wu (A.D. 1368-1398). At first it was grown principally in the Yangtze River Delta region, until the Ming Dynasty naturalist Li Shizhen popularized it by bringing attention to its medicinal qualities, and promoted the cultivation of these plants throughout China.
From China, the plants spread to Korea, and although they did not show up in Japan until the late 1800's, since then, Japan has produced many delicious hybrids. During the Chinese diaspora in the early 19th Century, Chinese cabbage spread with the people to the rest of Asia, Europe, America and Australia.

Cabbage is one of the most popular vegetables in South Africa and although it is grown country-wide, commercial production is more concentrated in Mpumalanga and the Camperdown and Greytown districts of KwaZulu-Natal.


Cabbage is packed with nutrients that are good for your health, and will banish many beauty woes. It is low in calories and has negligible fat content, making it great for weight-watchers. The juice is rich in anti-ageing properties and considered to be extremely beneficial for the skin. Drinking cabbage juice as well as applying it to the scalp can help prevent hair loss and renders smooth, shiny and lustrous hair. Apart from this, since cabbage is enriched with fibre, it aids in smooth digestion and keeps constipation at bay.
This vegetable is also loaded with antioxidants and Vitamin C which is great for strengthening immunity and fighting diseases. Just half a cup contains almost 50 percent of your daily dose of vitamin C, plus it’s brimming with cancer-fighting, cholesterol-lowering, and ulcer-curing compounds.

Researchers have learned that phytochemicals found in foods of the cabbage family inhibit the growth of breast, stomach, and colon cancer. A University of Utah School of Medicine study on 600 men revealed that those who ate the most cruciferous vegetables like Arugula, Bok choy, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, and Collard greens, had a much lower risk of colon cancer.

A well-known remedy for healing peptic ulcers is drinking cabbage juice. A medical study at Stanford University's School of Medicine gave thirteen ulcer patients five doses a day of cabbage juice. All were healed within seven to ten days with the vitamin U contained in the cabbage juice.

On the side of caution, however, consuming excessive amounts of cabbage may contribute to thyroid problems, so always consult with your physician before starting a home treatment programme, especially for serious ailments.

In the Kitchen:

Cabbage is a vegetable whose culinary expanse is as wide as the ocean - from coleslaw to kimchi - the world has turned this humble vegetable into an exciting list of delicacies. It’s bright and crisp when raw yet it mellows and sweetens the longer it's cooked, so whether it's a quick salad, fuss-free sandwiches, zingy accompaniments, or a full course meal like stuffed cabbage rolls, this super versatile vegetable can be used with almost anything, from a pizza topping to a low-carb noodle substitute!

Various types of cabbage are used in cuisines around the world, with so many recipes – far too many to mention here, so search online for your favourite flavour of the day!

Stuffed cabbage leaves are a favourite throughout Eastern Europe and Turkey as well.  Savoy cabbage with its tender and sweet leaves is the better choice for stuffed cabbage leaves since the leaves are more pliable and stand up better to longer cooking times. A cabbage roll called “Gołąbki” is common in Polish cuisine during the Christmas season and on festive occasions such as weddings. They are made from lightly soft-boiled cabbage leaves, wrapped around minced pork or beef, combined with chopped onions, and rice or barley. They are baked in a casserole dish and usually served with a creamy tomato sauce.

Traditional German "Rotkohl" (sweet/sour red cabbage) is a beloved side dish found in virtually every restaurant and home throughout Germany. It is easy to make and is served on a regular basis with Sunday roasts like "Rouladen" and “Sauerbraten”. Rouladen is a German meat dish usually consisting of pork, onions, mustard and pickles wrapped in thinly sliced beef, and served with delicious gravy. Sauerbraten is a dish consisting of beef that is marinated in vinegar with peppercorns, onions, and other seasonings before cooking. “Surkå” (sour cabbage) is a traditional North-European side dish which is usually served with pork dishes. The cabbage is cut and slowly cooked with caraway and cumin seeds, apple, vinegar, sugar, salt and butter.

There are all sorts of cabbage recipes in Indian cuisine - from North to South, East to West, no matter where you look, you'll find the leafy green stuff. In China and Thailand sliced bok choi or napa cabbage are familiar additions to stir fries and soups; and the Japanese serve pickled cabbage and cucumbers called “Tsukemonoas” as an appetizer. The Koreans get daily benefits from cabbage in the form of “Kimchi” which they eat at nearly every meal. Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish made of seasoned vegetables and salt. It is also a main ingredient in many other Korean dishes.

Be adventurous when cooking with cabbage, there’s a world of recipes to choose from!
When cooking cabbage, the briefest cooking methods, such as steaming or stir-frying, are best, because, apart from red cabbage, which benefits from long cooking, overcooked cabbage releases sulphur which reminds many people of bad boarding school meals! Red cabbage may turn a greyish blue when cooked in hard water. Cooking in stainless steel pots and adding vinegar, or another acid like lemon when cooking, is used to counteract this.

Cabbage can be stored in a plastic bag and refrigerated for two weeks or longer.

Cabbage 'Baby Green Pandion' Picture courtesy & Varieties of Cabbage:

All cabbages are good intermediate to cool season crops which grow best in autumn and winter, or early spring and summer, depending on your region. They require full sun and need to grow very quickly, making them greedy feeders; so prepare your beds very well with lots of compost and some organic 2:3:2. Feed your plants every 4 weeks with a balanced fertiliser that is high in nitrogen, and water your crops regularly. Cabbages also resent soil disturbance, so do not dig around them, rather pull the weeds out gently by hand.

Ball-head Cabbages (Brassica oleracea capitata)

Several types of cabbage are grown in South Africa, which are grouped into conical or sugarloaf-headed, ball-headed and drum-headed, based on the shape of the head and the savoy.  They can also be classified according to their colour and growth cycle. The leaves may be green or red, and smooth or wrinkled. New hybrid varieties allow you to sow cabbage virtually throughout the year in South Africa, but May, June and July are not good months for sowing seeds if you live in very cold regions.

Cabbage 'Savoy' Picture courtesy Cabbage originated in Italy and is essentially a ball-head cabbage, but the leaves are crinkled rather than smooth. The savoy types are tolerant of cold conditions and are grow in the same way as other winter cabbage, except the cutting season tends to be a little longer.

Ball-head Cabbages are good intermediate to cool season crops which prefer a relatively cool and humid climate, and in very dry atmospheres the heads may not develop as well. The optimum temperatures for growth and development are from 15°C to 20°C, and these cabbages are fairly resistant to frost, surviving temperatures as low as -3°C without damage.

Cabbage can be planted out in early spring for an early summer crop, or in autumn for a winter crop. For success with cabbages it is essential that you purchase the correct varieties for you region and planting season, so consult with your local garden centre for the best regional advice.

For summer crops, sow seeds indoors in seedling trays 6 to 8 weeks before your average last frost date. Keep the soil warm (about 24°C), until germination. Then provide direct sunlight for the plants to prevent them from getting leggy, and keep the temperature around 15°C. When plants are 4 to 6 weeks old, transplant them into the garden approximately 30 to 60cm apart, in rows 45 to 80cm apart (see your seed packet for specific instructions). A closer spacing is generally used for smaller, early varieties, and a wider spacing for larger, late-season varieties.

Seeds can also be sown directly into garden beds as soon as you can work the soil in spring and will germinate at soil temperatures as low as 5°C.  Sow the seeds 1 to 2cm deep, and once germinated, thin them out once or twice, until they are spaced according to the instructions on the seed packet.

For winter crops, transplant or sow directly into garden beds when the temperatures have cooled down considerably, but early enough to establish your plants before the really cold weather arrives.  The advantage of winter crops is that they have a lot less insects to contend with.

Cabbage 'Baby Red Primero. Picture courtesy successive crops plant out seedlings every 3 to 4 weeks

When ball-headed varieties start to mature, avoid watering them overhead, as this can cause blemishes and rot.

Cabbage is ready to harvest when the heads feel firm, but before they start to crack or split. Heavy rains may cause splitting at harvest time, so keep a watchful eye on the weather and your crops at this time. Generally ball-headed cabbages should mature within 10 to 16 weeks after transplanting, depending on the variety.

Did you know that in addition to harvesting the mature heads of the cabbage, you can also harvest a later crop of small heads called “cabbage sprouts?” These delicious sprouts will develop on the stumps of the cut stems if you harvest the head as close to the lower surface of the head as possible, leaving the loose outer leaves intact on the cut stem. Once you have harvested all these cabbage sprouts, pull the stalks out of the ground as they could provide living space for various insects.

Ball-head cabbages will happily store on slatted shelves in a cool, dry and dark larder for months. Slatted shelves allow airflow, or you can hang them in nets. Before storing, remove the loose outer leaves as well as the inevitable slug hiding in there somewhere as well! A quick rub with salt is a good idea to catch any slugs you’ve missed.

TatsoiChinese Cabbages

There are two groups of Chinese leaf vegetables: the Pekinensis Group (Napa Cabbage) and the Chinensis Group (Bok Choy). Both have many variations in name, spelling, and scientific classification, especially the bok choy cultivars. This can become quite confusing, so visit your local garden centre for the best advice on which varieties will do best in your region. They are grown at the same time, and in the same way as ordinary cabbage.

Napa cabbage (Brassica rapa)

This delicious cabbage resembles a cos lettuce rather than a cabbage. The heads are less densely packed than ordinary cabbage, with a finer texture and a delicate flavour. Napa cabbage is grown in the same way as ordinary cabbage, but is not hardy to heavy frost, so plant it in a protected part of the vegetable patch. Space your plants 30cm apart in rows about 40cm apart. The outer leaves can be harvested singly, until the main head starts to form.

Bok Choy & Pak Choi (Brassica rapa subsp. chinensis)

This type of Chinese cabbage is known by a myriad of names, which can be quite confusing - In Hong Kong over twenty varieties of bok choy are available! It is also widely popular in the Philippines, Korea and Thailand. These cabbage varieties have a mild but bright cabbage flavour, with a hint of mustard. They do not form heads and are easily recognisable by their bulbous base and distinct green leaves which grow from a central white stalk. Bok choy is well worth trying to grow at home, because it is a very hardy plant. For a continuous supply, sow or plant out small quantities at a time. Transplant the seedlings 10cm apart in rows about 30cm apart.

Chinese Flat-headed Cabbage, Tatsoi (Brassica rapa var. rosularis)

This unusual little cabbage does not grow tall and would make a pretty pot or border plant if combined with winter violas or pansies. It is low-growing, and once mature forms a rosette of dark green leaves in regular, concentric circles. This cabbage is very hardy and easy to grow, germinating and growing extremely quickly. It is tougher and stronger tasting than bok choy, but cooking mellows this. The white stalks are also very tender. Space the plants about 25cm apart, with 30 to 40cm between the rows. Individual leaves can be harvested as required or the whole plant harvested when mature.

Petunia grandiflora 'Burgundy'Companion Planting:  

Petunias make excellent companions for cabbage and will act as a tonic plant. Cabbage plants are helped by aromatic plants, which have many blossoms such as dill. Table celery will help prevent grubs; and borage, chamomile or caraway will improve the flavour. Cabbage grows well with broccoli, beetroot, cucumbers, lettuce, leeks, parsley, potato, spinach and, Swiss chard, but does not like growing near tomatoes, onions or garlic.

Problems, Pests & Diseases:

If the growth of your plants is stunted and the leaves are wilting and discoloured, look for the maggots of the cabbage fly that eat the roots of the plant, causing them to become black and rotten. Pennyroyal mint, planted underneath cabbages will deter the cabbage fly and keep aphids away. Prevention of cabbage root fly can be achieved by placing a 15cm diameter collar of carpet or underlay around each plant. This will prevent the fly from laying eggs on the soil near the plant. Lots of other materials can also be used, such as thick cardboard or any materials which do not rot too quickly and allow water penetration to the roots of the plant.

Watch out for snails and slugs, as well as the caterpillars of cabbage white butterflies and greater cabbage moth caterpillars, which eat holes in the leaves. To deter the cabbage moth plant cabbage with table celery, celeriac, rosemary sage and thyme.

Cabbage can be susceptible to fungal diseases, so to help prevent this, try to water in the morning so the leaves are completely dry by the evening.

]]> (Darlene Roelofsen) May Fri, 12 May 2017 12:14:11 +0000
Autumn Delights

Iceland Poppy If it’s the “wow” from flowers you are looking for, then Iceland Poppies (Papaver naudicaule) are just the thing for you. Planted in autumn temperatures, they will help transform your garden into a winter wonderland. While some gardeners are loath to buy seedlings when they can’t see any blooms on the little plants, this shouldn’t be a concern. Poppies offer their best when planted early in the season, soon providing blooms that will keep on appearing right through to late spring.

Sweetly scented sweet peas are a must for the autumn garden, not only for their gorgeous smelling and looking blooms in the garden, but also to bring a little of the garden into your home when it’s a bit chilly to spend time outside because sweet peas make excellent cut flowers.


Sweet pea Poppies

Cheerful additions to any landscape, there is a wide variety of poppies on the market. Striking new hybrids are available in mixed colours as well as in single colours for those with specific colour schemes and for pastel lovers there are lovely pastel shades. Poppies work very well with spring bulbs, as well as inter planted with low growing annuals like pansies.

Poppies love gardeners that like to pick for the vase – the more you pick them the more they flower for you. If you don’t pick the blooms it’s essential that you deadhead the spent blooms to keep them flowering.

Sweet pea

Sweet peas, most often grown from seed, can also be found as ready to plant seedlings in many leading garden centres, which is wonderful if you’re impatient or don’t have time to nurture them from seed. Transplanting can be slightly tricky so take care to pick pots that can be planted straight into their new home, like peat pots, or individual earth friendly trays so seedling roots don’t need to be separated before planting.

CorianderSweet peas enjoy a bright and sunny spot with rich, moist soil. To make life easier, plan ahead and ensure you have easy access to them so you can pick flowers whenever the mood grabs you. Feel free to use supports to help them stand upright but make sure to put the stakes in the ground before planting your seedlings out to avoid damaging the roots.


One of the most used and loved herbs around, coriander is a must for any edible garden or kitchen windowsill, or even just for anyone who enjoys food. It is incredibly fast growing, can be eaten fresh or used in cooking and both the leaves and roots are edible, offering different flavours for your dishes.


Potting with penstemon is quite possibly the best way to bring some colour to your patio. With their long blooming bell-shaped flowers that are so brilliantly coloured, it’s impossible for them not to make a statement to remember. They prefer moist, well-draining soil and thrive in full sun, although semi-shade positions will be equally adequate for these stunners. If you want to be rewarded with more blooms for longer, remember to deadhead.

Information supplied by the Bedding Plant Growers Association. For more, go to

]]> (Darlene Roelofsen) May Thu, 04 May 2017 10:33:23 +0000
Cyclamens are simply irresistible and bloom for months on end.

Cyclamen 'Friller' Scarlet. Picture courtesy never fail to delight gardeners with their swept-back flower petals resembling shooting stars, and their heart-shaped leaves embroidered with intricate, silvery patterns. Florists’ Cyclamens (Cyclamen persicum) start showing up in grocery stores and garden centres throughout South Africa in autumn, and for many people their first encounter with these fascinating plants is when they are given one as a gift. If cared for correctly the plants will bloom continuously all winter and spring, but sadly most will wither and die, much to the horror of their owners! The good news is, if you provide cyclamens with the conditions they love, they will multiply and miraculously appear again every autumn when the weather cools down, freely providing their abundance of beautiful blooms year after year. 

Florist’s cyclamens are hugely popular as houseplants, but if given the right conditions will also flourish outdoors in garden beds or containers. They have been bred for more than 150 years, providing us with an astounding selection to choose from. Breeders have concentrated on increasing the extent and intensity of the leaf patterning on their gorgeous heart-shaped leaves. They have also developed all sizes, from small miniature plants which flower profusely to stunning giant varieties, with huge flowers and leaves - and every size in-between! Whether you have space for only one small pot indoors or on your balcony, or want a massed display in the garden, there is a perfect cyclamen just for you.

Cyclamen' Smartiz' Mix. Picture courtesy of the work with florist cyclamens occurred in England, Netherlands, Germany, and Japan. Hybridization has spoiled us for choice concerning colour, and today cyclamens are found in many single and bi-coloured shades of lavender, pink, rose, maroon, red, or white; including breakthrough hues like true red and pale yellow.

Modern cyclamen hybrids have many interesting flower traits including size, ruffled petals, double flowers, and the delightful ‘picotee’ flowers whose edges are a different colour than the flower's base colour. New cultivation methods and new F1 hybrid varieties now also offer longer-lasting, hardier and more regular flowering varieties. More recently, hybridization efforts have focused on re-introducing the lovely scent of cyclamens, which was sadly lost during the development of larger plants, so watch out for these.

The wild species from which the many florists’ cyclamen hybrids are derived is Cyclamen persicum, which grows in a typically Mediterranean climate with hot dry summers and warm wet winters. In these regions it can grow in great drifts of thousands of plants, filling the air with their sweet scent. Cyclamens grow wild in North Africa, the eastern Aegean and the northeast corner of the Mediterranean. They are found in Algeria, Tunisia, Karpathos, Rhodes, Symi, Chios, Cyprus; and from mainland Turkey through Syria, Lebanon, Israel and into Jordan.

Cyclamen 'Silverado' Purple Flame. Cyclamen' Smartiz' Mix. Picture courtesy thrive from sea level to 1200m, mainly in open situations, on “terra rossa” soils. Terra rossa is Italian for "red soil" and this type of red clay, typical in Mediterranean climates, is produced by the weathering of limestone. When limestone weathers, the clay contained in the rocks is left behind, along with any other non-soluble rock material. Under oxidizing conditions, when the soils are above the water table, iron oxide (rust) forms in the clay, giving it a characteristic red to orange colour. Compared to most clay soils, terra rossa has surprisingly good drainage characteristics, making it a popular soil type for wine production.

Cyclamens belong to the beautiful Primrose (Primulaceae) family of plants and have always fascinated gardeners. Cyclamen persicum is only one of 23 species, but by far the most well-known. It was introduced in Europe at the end of the 16th century, but for a long time remained a rare curiosity in specialty collections. There are many rich stories about cyclamen, and at the beginning of the 16th century Leonardo Da Vinci favoured the cyclamen and columbine by covering the margins of his manuscripts with them. The 17th century Flemish painters scattered cyclamens on the meadows of their paintings depicting Jesus picking flowers under the watchful eye of the angels. Louis XIV received them in bunches, along with many other flowers, to adorn the lounges of Versailles, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau spoke in his Promenades of the wild cyclamens he discovered in the Alps. By the 1800s the cyclamen was prized by the Victorians for its winter colour, and quickly became a popular Christmas decoration - a tradition that has grown into a huge business today. So enamoured were the Victorians that they started breeding with the plant, and this led to the multitudinous number of cultivars that we see today.

Although cyclamens have been used as ornamentals for the last 400 years or so, they have been used medicinally for over 2000 years. The Greek doctor and botanist, Dioscorides, documented several medical uses for cyclamen that include its use as a purgative, to speed up the delivery of babies, to cause abortions, to make hair re-grow, and as an amorous medicine which caused the person taking it to fall violently in love. The Roman naturalist, Pliny the Elder, described how cyclamen tubers and roots were used to poison fish.  If eaten raw, cyclamen tubers are poisonous to people and can cause violent diarrhoea and even death, however, people in the Near East, dry and roast the tubers to break down the toxins, and eat it as a delicacy. Cyclamen flower petals are also used around the world to make tea.

Florists’ cyclamens bloom in autumn, winter and spring, providing colour when little else is flowering, particularly in late winter or early spring.  They remain one of the most popular flowering indoor pot plants but can also be cultivated outdoors. Cyclamens are highly recommended for window boxes, hanging baskets and pots. They are ideal for naturalising under trees, on banks or in a shady border, together with other early-flowering woodland plants such as snowdrops and primroses.

Some species of cyclamen are hardier than others, but the florists’ cyclamen is tender to frost. However, it can be grown outdoors in frosty regions as long as the plants are sited beneath evergreen trees and shrubs, or under a roof or overhang, which will protect them from frost.  Also, select a sheltered spot, away from freezing cold winds. If you are planting tubers or potted plants into garden beds, ensure that you do not plant too deep, ensuring that the top of the tuber is still visible above the soil.

Cyclamens growing outdoors thrive in dappled shade, and indoors they like good light but no direct sunlight. Although cyclamens grow extremely well in slightly alkaline soils, they are very tolerant of diverse soil types, as long as they are reasonably fertile and drain well. If you feed your cyclamen during the growing season, using a regular houseplant fertiliser for flowering plants, it will reward you will blooms continually.

The plant is a bit fussy about watering and more plants die from overwatering than under watering, so allow the soil to almost dry out completely before watering. Also, the plant can rot from the crown if watered overhead, making drip irrigation perfect for cyclamens growing in garden beds. Potted plants should always be watered from the bottom, or the leaves can be gently lifted and the plant watered around the edge of the pot - not over the tuber. The easiest way to water potted plants is to stand the pot in a shallow drip tray filled with water. Allow the plant to soak up what it needs before discarding the excess water. Do not allow the plant to constantly stand in a tray of water.

Because cyclamens do not like heat, and temperatures above 20°C may induce the plant to go dormant, one of the tricks to growing them successfully is to keep them cool. This is especially important if you are growing them indoors, so keep them well away from heat sources, and do not place them in hot rooms.

To keep plants blooming, remove flowers as they finish by cutting the stems near the base of the plant. Sometimes the petals will fall off and leave a round seed capsule that resembles a flower bud - remove these too, as well as any unsightly yellow or withered leaves.

As the weather warms up in early summer, cyclamens growing in the wild naturally go dormant, but in gardens where they receive summer watering, the leaves may persist. This is not a problem as long as rainfall is not excessive and the soil has perfect drainage. Because it is best to leave the tubers virtually dry during their summer rest period, many gardeners move their potted specimens to a spot outdoors which is sheltered from excessive rainfall and heat. As the growth cycle starts again in autumn, start watering and feeding regularly again.

Cyclamens can be propagated by seed, or division of the tubers. Tubers can be gently lifted and divided in winter when the plant is dormant, and seed can be collected at home and sown immediately.

The fruit is a round pod that, at maturity, opens by several flaps or teeth and contains numerous sticky seeds Natural seed dispersal is by ants, which eat the sticky covering and then discard the seeds. So, you need to collect the seed after they are mature, but before the fruit opens. Ripening seed changes colour from white to light brown, turning dark brown when fully mature.  If the plants are happy where they are growing, they will self-seed themselves in the garden.

Since the seed have no dormancy requirements, they are best sown fresh and will germinate in 2 to 4 weeks. They can also be dried and stored for a year or so if needed, but the longer the seeds have been stored, the more erratic the germination will be. Soak the seeds overnight in warm water before sowing. Use a mixture of equal parts seed compost and washed river sand, and cover the seeds carefully with a thin layer of fine compost, as light can inhibit germination. Mist the soil to moisten it lightly, and cover the container in a clear plastic bag. Keep in light shade, at a minimum temperature of 16°C. The germinating seeds will first form a small tuber, followed by a single leaf, and at this early stage they can be planted into small, 6-pack seedling trays to grow on until they are transplanted into their individual pots. With good care, your cyclamen should start to flower in about 18 months, at which point they can be planted into the garden.

If cared for properly, cyclamens are relatively pest and disease free, but they are susceptible to botrytis or grey mould which occurs mostly in cool, humid conditions. If you notice this greyish growth on your plants, spray the plant thoroughly with a fungicide, and remove the dead leaves and flowers. They can occasionally be attacked by aphids, thrips and mites, but these are easily controlled with organic sprays.

Caution: Cyclamen is toxic to dogs and cats. If ingested, this plant can cause increased salivation, vomiting, and diarrhoea. If an animal ingests a large amount of the plant’s tubers, heart rhythm abnormalities, seizures, and even death can occur. Raw cyclamen tubers are poisonous to people too, so keep them away from small children and pets.

]]> (Darlene Roelofsen) April Wed, 26 Apr 2017 15:22:47 +0000