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Spring gardening: White is the colour of the season

No matter where you are, spring is generally a colourful time.

By House & Garden South Africa | September 27, 2021 | Category

Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Many deciduous trees flower in spring before the onset of leaves. One standout colour in and around Durban in spring is white. I made it a project to name a few of my favourite white plants flowering in September, which you can use in your gardens, no matter its size. It is never too late to add new plants.

I get queries all the time from the public who have read these articles, asking how they can improve their gardens and what plants will bring birds, bees, and insects to their gardens. Often, you will have a garden with the most interesting plants, but they have been planted incorrectly or in the wrong place. All you need to know is the plants’ preferences and move them around, so they maximise your space.

Trees

Dombeya rotundifolia (wild-pear). Flower best in the cooler and drier parts of KwaZulu-Natal but in the Upper Highway area of Kloof and Hillcrest they flower very well. I have five large trees in my garden which have been flowering for five weeks and still have a few more weeks of flowers. Flowers are white and scented and found at the end of branches. It is fast growing to about 5m and makes a lovely garden specimen.

Xylotheca kraussiana (African-dogrose). Small semi-deciduous tree. Forms a lovely focal point in your garden with white, sweetly scented flowers that appear in late August and September. Tree can grow to 10m under ideal conditions but normally grows to about 3 to 5m in private gardens. Fruits are yellow, woody and, when they open, expose seeds that are black with a red aril. It is the food plant for the blood red Acraea butterfly. Very rewarding tree for a small garden.

Gardenia thunbergia (forest gardenia). Flowering shrub or small tree with showy, very fragrant white flowers, especially at night. An evergreen shrub or small tree, the sweetly scented flowers open at night and flower for only one day, but continue to produce flowers for many weeks, but particularly in late spring to summer. Ideal for a small garden. Best to plant in semi shade. The fruits remain on the plant for many years until they finally fall to the ground.

Rothmannia globosa (September bells). Small evergreen tree that grows to about 7m, producing sweetly scented white bell-shaped flowers in September. Mostly evergreen, this is an ideal tree for a small or large garden that has lots of shade.

Tabernaemontana ventricosa (forest toad tree). Small to medium sized evergreen tree that produces sweetly scented white flowers throughout the year. Very rewarding for any sized garden and attracts lots of wildlife, birds and insects. Produces a large seed pod that is smooth and evergreen that splits in half, revealing an orange pulp with embedded seeds. Can grow in dark shady gardens.

Shrubs

Mackaya bella (forest bell-bush) Large shrub or small tree which bears glossy, dark green leaves and beautiful sprays of showy, white to mauve, bell-shaped flowers in spring and early summer. Perfect if you have a very shady garden. The flowers are pollinated by honey and carpenter bees, and it is the food plant for the blue pansy butterfly.

Mackaya bella (forest bell-bush) Large shrub or small tree which bears glossy, dark green leaves and beautiful sprays of showy, white to mauve, bell-shaped flowers in spring and early summer. Perfect if you have a very shady garden. The flowers are pollinated by honey and carpenter bees, and it is the food plant for the blue pansy butterfly.

Carissa bispinosa (num-num) is an evergreen shrub with handsome glossy foliage and produces fragrant, starry-white, jasmine-like flowers in spring.

Carissa bispinosa (num-num). This evergreen shrub produces handsome glossy foliage with fragrant, starry-white, jasmine-like flowers in spring. Carissas, if left to grow, form attractive, ornamental shrubs and can be trained and clipped to form excellent hedges or along walls to cover ugly spaces. Grows well in sun and shade. Easily grown from seed.

Turraea obtusifolia (small honeysuckle tree). Produces masses of showy white flowers in summer and decorative orange-red fruits in late summer to winter. The flowers are large, showy, pure white and produced abundantly in small clusters among the leaves during mid to late summer (January and February.) I have had one in my garden for 14 years which is covered in flowers and seems to flower all year. In shady areas it becomes a scrambler, so best to grow this shrub in full sun to maximise its beauty.

Groundcovers and bulbs

Dietes grandiflora (wild iris). This is a very common groundcover found in most gardens, but it is ideal to hold banks, cover ugly walls and create some hight in your garden. It is the best filler plant for open patches, especially in the shade. The plants grow from an underground rhizome, perennial, and evergreen, and can grow into large clumps. The flowers are produced in mass, normally before or after a summer rain and are white with yellow nectar guides within the flowers. Easily grown from divisions or from seed, this is probably the easiest and most attractive of all the known groundcovers for your garden.

Crinum macowanii (river lily). A deciduous, summer-growing bulb, with large 1m-long fleshy, strap-like leaves with underlying margins. The large bell-shaped, sweetly scented white lilies with dark pink stripes are produced on umbels of five to 25 flowers on the tip of a long stalk from September through December. It is fast growing, requires full sun and needs lots of water during summer. During winter when the plant is dormant, it does not require much water and does not like to be disturbed, especially the delicate roots. If the roots are damaged it will affect its flowering. Watch for the amaryllis caterpillar which feeds on the leaves. If you have a wet part in your garden, plant the bulb there because it will grow and thrive in those conditions.

Anthericum saundersiae (weeping Anthericum). Perfect grass-like plant that covers quickly and produces numerous small, white, star-shaped flowers which attract bumble bees. It’s a good filler in flower beds. It grows up to 400mm high, spreads very quickly and can be cut back once a year to allow new growth in spring. Requires full sun and lots of water.

Chlorophytum bowkeri (giant chlorophytum). A hardy, evergreen, perennial groundcover that grows up to 1m tall mostly in shady areas and need water. Can be split and divided once a year to produce many more plants. It forms large, dense clumps of many, strappy, bright green leaves. Flowers are clustered on long spikes at the top of thin stems, with more than one flower per bract. The pure white, star-shaped flowers are very showy, which will close at night. It flowers in summer (November to February).

Asystasia gangetica (creeping foxglove). Quick-growing groundcover, flowers nonstop and grows easily from cuttings. Not for small gardens because it is very vigorous and will cover most of your garden in a few months. It produces a cream-coloured flower with tessellated purple markings on the palate (lower petal of the corolla) in spring and summer. Perfect for banks that need covering quickly. They grow best in shade but can take some sun.

Things to do this month

We have such a palate of plants to choose from in South Africa, so when planning, make the most of what is available and try being locally indigenous.

Ornamental lawns use the most water of any crop in the world? With water becoming more scarce every year, we need to be conscious of using as little water as possible. The only lawn I have is on my verge and I leave this to the elements of nature. The only water it gets is rainwater and I make sure that in winter I never cut my lawns or add any water or fertiliser other than when it rains which is not often in winter. When I do cut my lawn (once a week in summer), I cut it as high as possible to allows a healthy root growth and more leaf growth to absorb photosynthesis.

Take all the leaves that have fallen from your trees in winter and spread them in your flower beds. Mulching prevents water loss, adds nutrients to the soil and prevents weed growth. It is a simple process that is Mother Nature’s best way of adding and improving your soil quality.

Prune shrubs and trees that are overgrown or finished flowering for this season. Pruning stimulates growth and now is the time to cut them back to allow these plants to produce a new flush of growth for summer. Check your shrubs for insects, in particular scale insects that attack the old unhealthy parts of the plant. Remove infected parts and allow the dormant buds to initiate a new flush of growth for summer. Always monitor your plants for insects. If you need to spray, use a natural product that does not damage the environment or kill off beneficial insects.

Go for a walk. It is good for the soul.

Happy gardening