Going wild in the wetlands

Going wild in the wetlands

Chris Dalzell

Durban – January has been a very wet month, with nearly 22 days of rain recorded.

That’s great for us gardeners but the weeds are out of control. We are never satisfied: no rain and we complain, too much rain and we complain. I would rather have rain than no rain.

As we move through February and the days start to shorten, we also move into the hottest and most uncomfortable time of the year with high humidity and generally lots of rain. It’s also an incredibly beautiful time as many of the spectacular flowering trees bloom in February.

It is also that time of the year to start your winter veggie garden, which most of us did during lockdown. It’s fun and picking veggies from your own garden is extremely healthy, even if monkeys make it quite difficult.

I was recently at Silverglen Nature Reserve and its indigenous nursery. Driving through the reserve, I noticed one plant in flower in all the wetland areas in the grasslands.

A close up of the pink wild tibouchina

February in Durban is when the South American tibouchina tree flowers with its magnificent pink and purple blooms and the little plant now flowering all over the greater Durban region has a flower remarkably like it, thus the common name of the pink wild tibouchina. Dissotis canescens, better known by its other common name of pink marsh dissotis, mostly grows in wet, boggy grasslands. Under ideal conditions it can grow to 1.5m and a 1m spread that flowers from December to April. It does go dormant in winter. It has several medicinal properties, one of which is to treat hangovers.

Dissotis gets its name from dissos, meaning “twofold”, referring to the two different types of anthers, and its specific name, canescens, from the greyish-white hairs on the plant. It must have lots of water in summer, so best to grow this plant in wet areas in your garden or in a pot that is kept very wet. You will find it growing along the highways where water collects and in many of the nature reserves around Durban. If you go to Memorial Park in Kloof you will find magnificent examples of this plant in full bloom growing in the protected grasslands. It prefers to grow in full sun and thrives in well-composted soils. Easily grown from seed in spring or from cuttings in spring and summer.

Bulbs, small shrubs, and several grassland Aloes also flower in February, attracting many butterflies. All you must do to attract butterflies is put food and nectar plants in your garden.

The ceratotheca triloba or wild foxglove

Plants that flower in February

Trees and shrubs:

  • Gardenia thunbergia – white forest Gardenia. Fragrant white flowers. Ideal for small garden.
  • Dissotis canescens – pink wild tibouchina. Ideal for wet marshland gardens.
  • Karomia speciosa – mauve or southern Chinese hat. Very attractive summer-flowering shrub.
  • Plectranthus zuluensis – Zulu spur flower. Purple flower that grows best in shady parts of your garden.
  • Plectranthus ecklonii – large spur flower. Comes in purple, pink or white. Can grow well in full sun and in dappled shade.
  • Erythrina humeana – dwarf coral tree. Ideal for a small garden or in a pot. Red flowers that stand up above the foliage.
Karomia speciosa: the mauve or southern Chinese hat

Bulbs, aloes and groundcovers:

  • Bulbine natalensis – broad-leaved bulbine. Yellow flower that stands up above the foliage. Best grown in semi-shade.
  • Scadoxus multiflorus subsp Katharinae – blood flower. Specimen plant that does well in pots or in wet areas of your garden. Red flowers in January-February.
  • Aloe cooperi – Cooper’s aloe. Grows well in grasslands as the flowers stand up above the grasses. Flowers red.
  • Aloe greenii – stemless aloe with green leaves and white spots on both surfaces. Flower inflorescence stands up to 1.3m. Grows well in shade and sun.
  • Chlorophytum bowkeri – grows best in deep shade and has flower spikes that produce delicate white flowers. Easily grown from divisions.
  • Brunsvigia radulosa – giant candelabra flower. Pink flowering bulbs found mostly in mist belt grasslands.
  • Kniphofia sp – red hot poker. Grows well in wetlands and flowers from January to March. Best grown in full sun.
  • Gomphocarpus physocarpus – milkweed. Food plant for African Monarch butterfly. Fruits from January to April.
  • Eucomis autumnalis – pineapple plant. Flowers in summer in grasslands. Goes dormant in winter.
  • Ceratotheca triloba – wild foxglove. Grows and flowers in grasslands from January to March.
Brunsvigia radulosa, the giant candelabra flower

Things to do this month

With the continuous rains we’ve had, you will find many plants have rotted due to too much water. Remove them and replant for the drier months. Gazanias do not like too much water so most of them have suffered.

Living in the sub tropics you will find most plants have thrived under these wet conditions. I’ve noticed many of my shade-loving plants such as the Plectranthus and Chlorophytums have done extremely well and are all flowering well. Once they have passed their flowering period you can lift, split and replant for the next season.

Continue fertilising for the next three months. With lots of rain, heat, and long days still around until late March, there is still lots of growth. Wait until it rains before using fertiliser so it can be evenly distributed throughout the soil and to the root system of the plants.

Remove any dead or diseased leaves and branches. Fungal problems caused by the rains can result in your losing the plants. Remove the worst-infected parts by using a sharp pair of secateurs. Ensure if plants are in pots that they do not get to much water as this will rot them.

Continue cutting your lawns at least once a week, but leave as much growth on them as possible and just remove the top. Continue feeding at least once a month with a high nitrogen fertiliser such as 5.1.5. Apply a handful per square metre.

Mulch flower beds with leaves that have fallen from the trees or buy well decomposed compost and apply a thin layer over the root base of the shrubs.

When the time is right, lift groundcovers that have become overgrown or are starting to rot. For fungus, treat with a broad-spectrum fungicide and when the time is right, lift, split and replant. Agapanthus, Tulbaghia and Dietes all need to be lifted and replanted every few years. Make sure you prepare the soil well with lots of compost, which must be turned into the soil. Water well for the first few weeks after planting. The new growth will be much healthier and within a few months produce flowers.

Check for invasive aliens in your garden. I will write next month on the most common alien weeds in your garden and how to eradicate them.

Happy gardening.

  • This article is sponsored by Chris Dalzell Landscapes, specialising in landscaping, consultation, plant broking and Botanical tours. Email questions to cgmdalzell@gmail.com or visit www.chrisdalzellinternational.com

The Independent on Saturday