Last week, I discussed some well-known garden plants from South Africa, but because the post was fairly lengthy, I reserved the South African bulbs for their own separate post and designated them to be my feature plant for August! Even though, I know officially that it is the 31 July today, given that tomorrow is the first day of August and gladioli are known as the Flower of August in the Northern Hemisphere, I wanted to start the month with my feature plant post and specifically, gladioli!!!
‘Our Glads‘ were made famous in Australia, as well as the rest of the world by Dame Edna Everage (Barry Humphries), See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqGeQXCmRJI; http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2117434/Dame-Edna-Everage-creator-Barry-Humphries-reinvented-comedy-TV-chat-shows.html; and http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-18973102, though in reality, these particular showy large-flowered varieties hail from the Cape region in South Africa!!!The genus belongs to the Iris family Iridaceae and contains 260 species endemic to South Africa; 76 species endemic to Tropical Africa and 10 species native to Europe.Also known as Sword Lilies, the Latin diminutive for ‘gladius’ meaning ‘sword’ and referring to their sword-like leaves, they also bear tall flower spikes, over 1 metre tall, in Summer, though here in Australia, successive planting can ensure a continuous display from early Summer to early Autumn. In Europe, they are known as the Flower of August.They are very popular in the cut flower trade and have a long vase life, their flowers opening from the base up. They should be bought when the two lowest flowers are showing strong colour, with at least 5 buds up the spike showing clear colour. Avoid spikes with most of the flowers open, as they will not last long.Gladioli were introduced to Europe between 1739 and 1745, the first hybrid produced by William Herbert in 1806, with hundreds of varieities bred by the 1850s. Today, there are over 10 000 registered cultivars of a variety of solids and bicolours, brights and pastels, and colours ranging from pink, red, purple, white, yellow orange and even green. Tesselaars has a good range of cultivars, including Dame Edna’s Delights: https://www.tesselaar.net.au/gladioli.
The corms should be planted in late Autumn and Spring in a warm, well-drained sunny position, protected from the wind. They don’t like damp feet and may need staking once their stalks reach a certain height. Plant 10 to 15 cm deep and 8 to 15 cm apart, with the point of the corm facing upward, in soil, which has been pre-prepared with a little blood and bone, aged cow manure or complete fertiliser. Often planted at the back of borders, they also look good in clumps.While we inherited two of the large hybrids, a mauve one and a soft yellow, I think I prefer the slightly daintier varieties. I have just planted some G. nanus ‘Blushing Bride’ beside the house. Each corm produces strong compact stems, 45 cm tall, which do not need staking, and two or three flower spikes, each with up to 7 white flowers with pink markings.
They multiply rapidly and are tolerant of heat and frost, so should do well in my white bed at the feet of my Tea rose, Mrs Herbert Stevens, along with another South African bulb, also in the Iridaceae family: Freesias.
Named after German botanist and physician, Dr Friedrich Freese, freesias are native to Southern Africa from Kenya to South Africa, with the most species found in the Cape Provinces.Most of the freesias sold today are hybrids of crosses made in the 19th century between F. refracta and F. leichtlinii, as well as with the pink and yellow forms of F. corymbosa. They have fragrant funnel-shaped flowers in a range of colours from whites and yellows to pinks, reds and mauves, over a long period from the end of Winter through Spring. The most fragrant of all are Grandma’s freesias, R. refracta alba, but some of the Bergunden and semidouble forms have good fragrance as well.The flowers are zygomorphic, all growing on the one side of the stem in a single plane. However, because the stems turn at right angles just below the bottom flower, the upper part of the stem grows almost parallel to the ground and the flowers bloom along the top side of the stem, pointing upwards. They are popular in wedding bouquets and have a long vase life.They can be grown from corm and seed, the plants naturalising well in lawns, beneath trees and along roadsides and embankments. Corms should be planted from late Summer to early Winter in well-drained soil in full sun or light shade. They look wonderful in massed plantings and really brighten up the Spring garden.I originally planted Grandma’s freesias in my cutting garden and despite the subsequent move of their corms to the embankment above the tea garden, they are still popping up in amongst their old neighbours, the Dutch Iris. They compete with the couch grass and are naturalising well and their white flowers with splashes of gold complement the white and gold colour scheme of the Tea Garden.This year, I decided to splash out with the brighter colours with some mixed massing Freesias and have planted these with my Blushing Brides in the bed on the front wall of the house.
Growing on the back wall of the house along the entrance path at the opposite time of the year, these wonderful Autumn bulbs provide welcome colour, when everything else is winding down for the year!
Also called Guernsey Lily, after naturalising on the island’s shores, they are not true lilies and are members of the Amaryllidaceae family and are more related to Lycoris and Amaryllis. Native to South Africa with 20 to 30 evergreen and deciduous species, they were named after Nereis, the sea nymph in Greek mythology, who protects sailors and their ships.They bear clusters of up to 15 flowers with narrow reflexed petals in a range of colours from white to gold, orange, red and pink. In many species, the flowers appear before the leaves and require full sun to flower well, however, my nerines bear flowers and foliage at the same time and flower quite happily in the shade, so I suspect they are N. flexuosa alba.Nerines are the ultimate low maintenance flower. Very tough and frost hardy, their only stipulations are to be left to dry out during their dormant period (Summer) and to be left to their own devices and not disturbed! Only lift and divide if overcrowded, as the plant will not bloom for two years after lifting.Arum or Calla Lilies Zantedeschia aethiopica
Named for the Italian botanist Giovanni Zantedeschia (1773-1846) and hailing from South Africa north to Malawi, these so-called lilies are also not true lilies, belonging instead to the family Araceae. Classified rather as herbaceous tuberous perennials, they grow from fleshy rhizomes and form 1 m high, large dense clumps, wherever there is good water.There are eight species in the Zantedeschia genus, as well as many hybrids with a colour range from white and pink to yellow, orange, purple and black. See: http://www.gardeninginsouthafrica.co.za/index.php/1243-november/zantedeschia-hybrids-are-easy-to-grow-and-offer-gardeners-a-vast-array-of-rainbow-colours-to-enjoy.
Popular with florists, especially in bridal and funeral arrangements, these elegant plants have attractive, lush, glossy green, upward facing, arrow-shaped foliage and a rigid vertical flower stalk, ending in a spathe flared funnel with a yellow spadix, followed by yellow oval berries. The variety I inherited in my hydrangea bed is called Green Goddess and has a creamy white spathe, splashed with green on the outer edge.
However, while I love their elegant blooms, I have also am a bit wary of them! These vigorous plants love moist sunny areas like creek banks and swamp edges and spread easily by seed and rhizome offsets, so have naturalised easily throughout the world and in some areas are so invasive that they are declared pests and banned from sale. They can also tolerate full shade (like my hydrangea bed!), invade pasture in moist sites and have caused stock deaths, being highly toxic on ingestion. Their irritating sap can also cause eczema. Below are photos of the elegant black form.Another hardy invasive South African bulb, with invasive tendencies is:
Monbretia Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora
Belonging to the Iridaceae family with 8 species and many hybrids, Crocosmia hails from tropical and eastern South Africa, its name coming from the Greek words: ‘krokos’ meaning ‘saffron’ and ‘osme‘ meaning ‘odour’, referring to the saffron-like odour produced when water was spilt on a dried specimen.Monbretia is a hybrid bred in France from a cross of C. aurea and C. pottsi, then introduced as a garden plant in the United Kingdom in 1880. By 1911, it had escaped the garden, then spread rapidly throughout the UK and Europe (as well as all states of Australia except for the Northern Territory) both naturally (by rhizomes) and the disposal of garden waste in the late 20th century. It is now considered an invasive weed and is banned for sale in the UK, as well as in New South Wales! It thrives in moist well-drained soils sun or part shade and is frost- and heat- tolerant.Its strappy, upright, spear-shaped, bright green leaves emerge from underground corms in early Spring and are followed by long, arching, zigzag spikes, bearing bright orange to red tubular flowers with long stamens in late Summer and Autumn. Despite its bad reputation, I am still happy to have it in my old garden, as it is very much a plant of my childhood and I still love its nodding stems and its pretty bright orange dainty bells, which complement the neighbouring agapanthus so well, both in the garden and in floral arrangements! For more information on other species and hybrids, most of which are not invasive at all, see: https://www.pacificbulbsociety.org/pbswiki/index.php/Crocosmia and https://www.gardenia.net/plant-variety/crocosmia-montbretia.
Far more politically correct in growth habits, though perhaps not its alternative name, Kaffir Lily, is another bright orange South African bulb, the Clivia, a member of the Amaryllidaceae like the nerines.
Clivias : Clivia miniata
Indigenous to woodlands in South Africa (Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and eastern Mpumalanga) and Swaziland, Clivias were named after Lady Charlotte Florentina Clive, the grand-daughter of Robert Clive (Clive of India), the species name ‘miniata’ meaning ‘cinnabar red’. There are only six species of clivia, all of them having pendulous heads except for Clivia miniata, whose flowers point upwards. The other species can be seen at: https://www.pacificbulbsociety.org/pbswiki/index.php/Clivia ; http://www.australiaclivia.com.au/clivia.aspx and http://www.melbournecliviagroup.org.au/articles/clivia-species/.
Clivia miniata is the most common form in Australia, their low water requirements and preference for shade making them popular under-plantings for trees here for more than 150 years! They are often found in old gardens like ours, where they are growing under the big old pepperina tree. We divided the old clumps last year and replanted them, in a bid to increase their mass, as a sea of bright orange clivias in full bloom is a marvellous sight!Forming large clumps, they have evergreen strappy leaves and clusters of bright orange flowers on 40 to 60 cm long stems from August to October, followed by fruiting heads, which turn from green to a luminous red. They have been hybridized extensively in Belgium, China and Japan to now include pale yellow, lemon, apricot, pink, deep orange and red and bicolour, single and double blooms, and even variegated leaf forms.Rhodohypoxis baurii
A small genus of tuberous flowering plants in the family Hypoxidaceae and native to South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, where it forms carpets in grasslands and rocky places. Tufts of grassy leaves appear from rhizomes in early Summer, followed by clusters of pink, red or white star-shaped flowers in Summer, then the plant dies back in Winter.The genus name derives from the Greek: ‘Rhodon’ meaning ‘rose’ or ‘red’; ‘Hypo’: ‘Below’; and ‘Oxy’: ‘Pointed’, while the species was named after Rev Leopold Baur, a pharmacist, missionary and plant collector, who first collected this plant in the Cape in the 1800s.
While R. baurii is the most common species, there are a number of other species and cultivars.See: https://www.pacificbulbsociety.org/pbswiki/index.php/Rhodohypoxis.
They like well-drained acidic soil with a high organic content, full sun, adequate water in Summer and dry Winters. Often planted in alpine rockeries, I grew mine in my treasure garden, but suspect I have lost it to the frost, despite the claims of frost tolerance on the tag, and I understand other nurseries have experienced the same. See: https://www.ballyrobertgardens.com/products/rhodohypoxis-baurii!
I hope that you have enjoyed this brief taster to some of the more common South African flora, which we grow here in Australia. I would love to visit South Africa one day during its peak flowering season. It sounds amazing!
South Africa is home to more than 22,000 indigenous seed plants from almost 230 different families and representing 10 per cent of the world’s flowering species. Their enormous diversity and abundance, coupled with the varied climates and topography, supports 9 distinct biomes: Fynbos; Succulent Karoo; Desert; Nama-Karoo; Grassland; Savanna; Albany Thicket; Forests; and the Indian Ocean Coastal Belt. The Cape Floristic Region alone contains 6210 species of endemic plants. For those readers, who would like to know more about South African flora, I found these sites very informative: https://www.sa-venues.com/plant-life/ and https://www.thesabulbcompany.co.za/.
And for those of us, who may never make it to the actual source, a good place in Australia to see South African plants is the Wittunga Botanic Garden: https://www.environment.sa.gov.au/botanicgardens/visit/wittunga-botanic-garden/gardens-collections.
For the next four weeks, I am describing some of my favourite embroidery books, before featuring the Viburnum family for September’s post.