You have decided to learn about gardens using indigenous South African flowers — great job! This is a wonderful project to take on not only for your personal enjoyment, but for so many other reasons. Whether it’s to be water-wise, to encourage the local birds and butterflies to visit, or celebrate nearby nature, there are endless positive outcomes. Your garden (and pocket) will thank you.
The best indigenous South African flowers for you
When approaching the concept of indigenous gardening for the first time, it’s important to consider several factors. Indigenous plants are distinctive from native plants. A native plant is an umbrella term that covers a broad area like a country, whereas an indigenous plant naturally occurs in a particular region, like a valley or forest. This is important, as South Africa consists of nine provinces which house nine unique biomes (these are specific geographic areas, known for the species living in them). We have a great example of this concept for suitable summer plants for the highveld and grasslands region. To make it simpler, we will be looking at two general regions: the arid and the coastal.
If you want to have more information on the best plants for your region’s rainfall, visit The Plant Library, a great resource specifically for South Africa.
A large amount of South Africa struggles with drought, especially in the drier climates and regions. These areas look to solutions like rainwater collection tanks or using grey (recycled) water. While they are both great ways to make use of limited access to water, the best answer comes down to be being smart with your plant choices. If you are creating a garden in one of the drier, harsher spaces of South Africa, we have some essential tips in choosing your best blooms.
Features to look for:
- Fleshy: look for succulents, which retain moisture in their leaves, which sees them through the dry seasons. Think of aloes or vygies — not only water-wise, but aesthetically pleasing with their bright blossoms.
- Waxy: a waxy layer acts as a seal for the leaf, retaining moisture. Think of kalanchoe, with a wide range of colours.
- Hairy: Hairs on leaves are another incredible way these plants retain water. Try a golden everlasting or strawflower — a yellow flowering plant which is quite common along grasslands and add a lovely yellow glow to any garden.
- Small or needle-like leaves: with smaller leaves, water evaporation is greatly reduced. Choose from a vast number of Erica species, with a range of pinks and purples.
- Lighter underside of leaves: A truly remarkable feature of these plants include their ability to turn the underside of their leaves upwards to reflect the sun when parched. A great choice is the African daisy, with gorgeous bright colours, which provides great ground cover.
- Deeper root structure: Flowers with root structures deeper in the ground are able to find and source ground water, staying hydrated and protected from surface ground conditions.
- Oils in the stomata: This adaptive feature protects against water loss by secreting oil and coating leaves. Try lavender; both a sturdy and fragrant option.
While coastal plants may have access to more water than other regions, they still need to be able to withstand a number of environmental hardships. These include being durable enough to survive seasonal coastal winds, resisting damage from heavy rains, sun and salt, and grow in sandy soils.
Features and characteristics to look for:
- Grey, leathery and tough: like the arid flowers, these are also key components for water retention, but also to deflect heat. A great example are beach salvias.
- Coating (shiny or waxy): Again, a great feature that reflects the intense sun, reduces surface evaporation and deflects salt. Think of more aloes and the Natal plum.
- Tiny needle-like leaves: Another clever adaptation still found on the coastline. A fun flowering bush to try – the confetti bush.
Additional tips for these battered beachside blooms include protecting them by creating a windbreak with trees, shrubs or hedges. You can also improve their soil’s water-retention firstly by adding a large amount of compost, and mulch afterwards. Secondly, when watering, focus directly on the plant’s root zone just below the outer edge of the foliage.
Now armed with basic knowledge, you can take on your new garden featuring indigenous South African flowers. For more information or questions, contact our experts or check out our offerings from our online shop.