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Aloes in Wonderland and other plants that flower in winter

Aloes are architecturally interesting, easy to grow, don?t need water and flower in winter

By Chris Dalzell | June 27, 2019 | Category

Durban - I was in Santa Barbara, California, in March, collecting plants for Gardens by the Bay in Singapore.

I stayed with a very good friend of mine, Jeff Chemnick, who has a magnificent garden in the hills surrounding Santa Barbara. In 2009 they had a huge fire that swept through these hills destroying many houses, Jeff’s home being one of them. Luckily he was well insured and managed to then build his dream house surrounded by his favourite plants: aloes, cycads and succulents from around the world.

He named his garden Aloes in Wonderland after his favourite plant from Madagascar and the Arabian peninsula.

Sadly I was there just after the big flowering, which is in winter, but still got the leftovers of what must have been a spectacular sight. In California, aloes are one of the main feature plants in roadside planting, private and public gardens and in botanic gardens all over the state.

Fortunately we are coming into that really beautiful aloe flowering season with many already in full bloom or some that have already flowered.

My home garden is a sight for plant and bird lovers as I have planted all those species of plants that flower in winter. Aloes, Leonotis leonurus, the wild dagga, Hypoestes aristata, the ribbon bush are just a few of those plants. Many of the aloes I planted 12 years ago are now very mature plants such as Aloe arborescens with some having up to 80 flower spikes on the one plant.

This past weekend my wife Pamela and I sat on our deck with our binoculars and enjoyed watching all the sunbirds and butterflies darting from flower to flower unaware of our presence, feeding on the sweet nectar. My Xylotheca kraussiana (African dog rose), is a mess because most of the leaves have been eaten by the hungry caterpillars of the Red Acraea butterfly that feeds on this tree. But that is fine because my garden is now ablaze with red butterflies fluttering from one flower to the next feeding on the nectar and assisting with the pollination of these plants

If you plant these food and nectar plants birds, butterflies and monkeys will frequent your garden, that then makes gardening fun. On Sunday we were visited by a large troop of monkeys that often visits our garden because we have lots of large fruiting trees around the property. One in particular is the buffalo thorn, Ziziphus mucronata, which produces reddish-brown round fruit that is eaten by humans and animals alike.

The monkeys in particular enjoy this tree and watching them gorge on the fruit is always fun because you know you have provided a safe haven for them and provided them with food, which in winter can be scarce. But without these trees we would not have the monkeys who then have to look for food elsewhere which then becomes a problem. Don’t feed the monkeys because they then become a problem not just for you but for others.

When I designed my garden I made a decision that the majority of the plants would flower late autumn and into winter. The winter landscape is one of the great sights in life as you have the stark brown of the grasses blending with the flowering trees, shrubs and groundcovers which are mostly orange, blue and red. Just take a look at some of the islands around the Kloof CBD and you’ll see how we have co-ordinated the planting of grasses with the flowering aloes, then adding succulent groundcovers to finish off the outline of the flower beds. 

Many of these plants flower only in winter, such as the different species of aloes, Cotyledon orbiculata and Crassula multicava which complement the brown waving grasses of Aristida junciformis and Melinis nerviglumis or mountain red top. These are all forgiving plants that require very little care, maintenance and water except for the rain they get in summer. I have planted a large bed of Hypoestes aristata, ribbon bush, which come in different colour forms from pink to bright magenta and which is now in full flower. The butterflies in particular enjoy this plant because it is delicate and easy to access nectar.

I cannot emphasise enough why aloes must be a big part of your garden. With more than 500 known species, plus many hybrids,this plant is one of the easiest to grow because it is a succulent and so requires very little care and is native to tropical and southern Africa, Madagascar, and Jordan to the Arabian peninsula.

Why use aloes?

Form, architecturally interesting, easy to grow, doesn’t need water and flower in winter. What more can I say? Aloes that are easy to grow and that are readily available in nurseries include: Aloe arborescens, Aloe ferox, Aloe chabaudii, Aloe vanbalenii, Aloe cooperi, Aloe marlothii, Aloe thraskii and the tree aloe, Aloe barberae.

Here are a few of the top winter flowering trees, shrubs, groundcovers and succulents to plant in your garden.

- Most aloe species that flower from late May through July:

- Hypoestes aristata (ribbon bush) with its purple flower.

- Leonotis leonurus (wild dagga) with its variations of flower colour from orange to white.

- Strelitzia reginae (bird of paradise) that flower for many months

- Kniphofia praecox (red hot poker) that flowers best in wet areas

- Tecoma capensis (Cape honey suckle) especially the orange variety

- Plumbago auriculata - This comes in both blue and white.

- Erythrina species (coral tree) with its red and orange flowers

- Barleria obtusa (bush violet) with its blue flowers.

- Becium obovatum (cat’s whiskers) with creamy white flowers.

- Crassula multicava (fairy crassula) with its pinky red flowers.

- Bulbine natalensis (broad-leaved bulbine) with its yellow flower.

- Plectranthus zuluensis (Zulu spurflower).

- Melinis nerviglumis (mountain red top).

- Cyrtanthus mackenii (Ifafa lily).

- Haemanthus albiflos (White paint brush).

The Kloof Project, which is a non-profit organisation in Kloof that maintains all the gardens in the CBD of Kloof, will be doing a big tree planting ceremony on Saturday, August 31 to celebrate Arbor Day. With the schools and the community of Kloof we plan to plant 500 trees along the railway line and areas that have been affected by the recent pipeline that was installed through our village. If you would like to be a part of this initiative and assist financially or help plant a tree, please contact me on my email at the bottom of the page.

Happy Gardening.

This article is sponsored by Chris Dalzell Landscapes, specialising in landscaping, consultation and botanical tours. If you have questions please contact me at [email protected] or check out my website

The Independent on Saturday