Spring is nearly upon us which means…gardening season! And plenty of planning whether you’re adding to, rejuvenating an established garden, or starting from scratch. But what to plant and where to source?
According to multiple sources, “South Africa is home to an estimated 22 000 indigenous seed plants from almost 230 different families”. The statistic furthers, “It is also the proud home of 10% of the world’s flowering species”.
Many of these indigenous plants possess one, or a combination of beneficial qualities including aromatic, medicinal, edible, and water-wise qualities. Above all, these indigenous plants are major contributors to the biodiversity and the ecological health of South Africa’s ecosystems which support an array of wildlife.
Why plant indigenous?
Founder of Veld & Sea, Roushanna Gray, whose mother-in-law, Gael Gray, used to run the renowned Good Hope Gardens Nursery in Cape Point, explains that indigenous plants are usually perfectly designed for their climates.
They are water-wise and hardy, and attract, and provide shelter and food for our local wildlife which will go on to pollinate and spread seeds, encouraging biodiversity.
Roushanna advises that it is important to know whether a plant is also ‘endemic’ to the region in which you want to plant it. “Find out what the perfect plant selection for your garden is, investigate what the endemic plants of your area are and the perfect growing conditions they require,” she says.
One of the best examples to illustrate Roushanna’s point is the case of the spekboom. Spekboom or ‘Pork bush’ is an indigenous succulent loved for its edible quality and mighty carbon capturing abilities. However, spekboom is endemic to parts of the Eastern Cape and can become invasive in other regions if not properly monitored and maintained.
Given the above, and the fact that it is a great way to learn about, and reconnect with nature, cultivating an indigenous garden seems like a no-brainer, so the next step is to source plants. With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of seven indigenous nurseries in South Africa worth paying a visit. With their indigenous plant recommendations and advice for beginner gardeners get your indigenous spring garden g(r)o(w)ing!
HAPPY BY NATURE
Near the top of Kloof Nek Road in Cape Town behind a bright yellow wall, HAPPY BY NATURE contains lifestyle tools to promote wellbeing including indigenous teas, essential oils, refillable natural soaps, shampoos, creams, books, a range of organic soils, compost, and locally-made pots and planters. But in the back garden is a nursery populated with exclusively locally-sourced, organically-grown, indigenous plants with a focus on medicinal, food, wildlife, indoor, balcony, and city gardens.
Co-founder, Dr Jimmy Symmonds says his favourite plant is Artemisia afra. Commonly known as ‘African wormwood’ in English, ‘Wilde Als’ in Afrikaans, ‘Umhlonyane’ in Nguni, and ‘Lengana’ in Sotho and Tswana, Symmonds explains that this easy-to-grow, perennial herb is the top indigenous plant medicine for colds and flu. A perfect example of biodiversity conservation in action, African wormwood is also a leading choice for an indigenous garden because it supports an abundance of ladybugs which are prolific aphid-eaters.
For beginner gardeners, Symmonds recommends starting with indigenous plants that are beneficial to humans and animals as food and medicine, that can cope with the sun and light levels available in your space, that are wind tolerant if exposed, and that are happy in pots and planters if your space is limited. A few of these include: blue sage, wild mint, num-num, bulbine, wild rosemary, baby sun rose, cancer bush, gasteria, aloes, sagewood, cape may, pigs ears, kei apple, impepho (liquorice plant), wild olive, rose pelargonium, spekboom, wild grape, dune spinach, and wild garlic.
HAPPY BY NATURE also offers an array of services from indigenous landscaping with Landscape Architect, Kazeka Mbekeni Kaz, to potting and repotting services, and planting and maintenance which include watering, pruning, weeding, feeding, mulching, and potting at your home or workplace.
HAPPY BY NATURE is in the process of compiling an extensive digital archive of indigenous plant profiles where you can read up on everything from a plant’s uses and benefits, to its nature, safety and toxicity, and various preparations.
Cape Flats Fynbos Nursery – FynbosLIFE
Launched to the public last year by the not-for-profit organisation, FynbosLIFE, The Cape Flats Fynbos Nursery is unique to other nurseries in that it categorises its organically grown, locally indigenous, wild plant offering — indigenous fynbos from the Cape Town lowlands, for the Cape Town lowlands — according to veld type. It encourages reintroducing naturally occurring plants that populated certain areas in Cape Town before urbanisation.
Click your way through their comprehensive website where they have mapped the entire City of Cape Town and surrounding areas according to vegetation type. Navigate the map’s pins to locate the area in which your garden is found which will help determine the veld type you need to focus on when greening your space, as well as guide you as to what vegetation will fare well in these conditions respective to the area’s soil type, climate and other environmental factors.
FynbosLIFE’s programme manager and botanical ecologist, Dr Caitlin von Witt says her favourite plant is the Drosera cistiflora more commonly known as ‘sundew’. Endemic to the Fynbos Biome, this plant is insectivorous (captures and digests insects) and the subject of Dr von Witt’s pollination research which she explains has given her an in-depth understanding of the complexities of plant interactions with the biotic (living organisms) and abiotic (physical, non-biological factors) local environment.
“If we import plant species or cultivars into an environment this could wreak havoc with these complex natural systems. This knowledge guides my restoration work and teaching, where I demonstrate the importance of planting locally indigenous species,” says Dr von Witt.
For beginner gardeners, Dr von Witt recommends Phylica ericoides (heath phylica), because it is “a compact, easy-to-grow fynbossie that flowers out of season (in summer) and attracts beetle and butterfly pollinators”.
Dr von Witt furthers with a few top tips for beginner greeners: She advises starting with hardy pioneer plants and moving on to specialist species once you feel more confident. Plant a range of species with a diversity of shapes, sizes, colours and scents, as well as different growth forms and flowering times, to support an abundance of local wildlife. “And don’t forget to include wild sage and wild rosemary, because they’re delicious (to people too)!”
Browse their catalogue of the over 147 local wild plant species (seeds and cuttings) that they propagate and read up on how to grow them in Cape Town.
Lalaphanzi Succulent Nursery
Explore the motley offering of the Lalaphanzi Succulent Nursery located at Lalaphanzi Farm on Plateau Road at Cape Point. Grab a freshly wood-fired scone with a blob of homemade jam and peruse their succulent range housed in quaint receptacles from old teapots to beach shells!
- Lalaphanzi Succulent Nursery and The Scone Shack are currently closed for winter break and will return in October
- Follow The Scone Shack here for updates
Good Hope Gardens: Closing Sale
After 36 years of growing indigenous plants for sale to other retail nurseries including Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and Table Mountain National Parks; and then to the wider public, Good Hope Gardens is closing its doors. But before it does, it is having one last hoorah! in the form of a big closing sale on a range of indigenous plants, both for the enthusiast and new gardener, at Veld & Sea’s Glasshouse venue located at 7976 Plateau Road, Cape Peninsula. On Sunday, 4 September, make a day trip through to the Glasshouse for the sale and pop-up tea garden featuring wild flavour teas and bakes. Follow @veldandsea for news on their sale, or subscribe to their newsletter where they will send out details for the event.
Based in Gauteng, Grow Wild is an indigenous nursery with an “emphasis on hardy Highveld plants including trees, shrubs, groundcovers, bulbs and aloes which will survive periods of drought as well as harsh winter temperatures”. Grow Wild offers a range of locally-sourced seeds and cuttings from a seven-acre property that is also entirely indigenous and organically grown.
“We live in an area where there are more horses than people so we collect the manure and turn it into compost into which we plant our seeds, cuttings, and bags,” says director at Grow Wild, Gretchen Grenville. Her favourite plant is the Aloe arborescens because “it is so cheerful at this time of the year and a feast for the sunbirds”. This evergreen, fast-growing, moderate frost-resistant shrub thrives in the sun and provides brilliant shades of orange and yellow when they flower in the winter, attracting birds and butterflies.
The Aloe arborescens is also a favourite of Grenville’s for its impressive medicinal properties. The leaf sap is used to promote wound healing as it is antibacterial, anti-ulcer, and anti-inflammatory (commonly used to treat rashes and burns). “I’ve used the leaf sap successfully for an allergic reaction to Ornithogalum leaf sap. I cut the leaves in half (lengthwise) and made them into bandages and they certainly did the trick!”
In the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal regions, the aloe has been used for stomach aches and given to chickens to prevent them from getting sick. “One of our staff puts slices of the leaves in the birdbaths for our chickens to drink – her granny taught her that when she was little”.
For beginner gardeners, Grenville recommends the Scadoxus puniceus which is commonly known as the Paintbrush lily. Although rare and slow-growing, this deciduous bulb has huge crimson flowers that open in spring adding a striking pop of colour to any garden and which Grenville says is worth the wait. “As it is deciduous (sheds annually) one doesn’t have to worry about it during a frosty winter and it prefers a very shady garden even doing well indoors,” adds Grenville.
View Grow Wild’s website for their extensive indigenous plant offering under their “Plant List”.
Random Harvest Nursery
Started by Linda De Luca who has over 26 years of experience in the industry, The Random Harvest Nursery offers around 800 species of plants including herbs, shrubs, flowering plants, bulbs, grasses, succulents, water plants, and one of the “most extensive stock ranges of indigenous trees for sale in Johannesburg, Gauteng” according to their website.
Browse their comprehensive South African indigenous plant catalogue to get an idea of what might suit your space.
After perusing their indigenous plant offering, choose from their selection of fresh, homemade food treats to go with a cup of tea in their tea garden surrounded by some of the indigenous flora also found in their nursery.
The Indigenous Nursery
Founded and fuelled by an eco-conscious gardening ethos, The Indigenous Nursery grows and sells indigenous plants specifically suited to the Pietermaritzburg climate.
From large trees to shrubs, groundcovers, and pot plants, SANBI reports that The Indigenous Nursery offers a range of special plants including mountain hard pear, Diascia, stonecrop, Thorncroftia, Portulacaria, Euphorbia, Streptocarpus, and aloes.
The Cape or African Mallow was recently recommended by the nursery in an Instagram post both as an “impossible-to-kill” shrub and to make any garden pop with shades of dramatic pink. According to the post, this shrub likes full sun, blooms between May and October, and attracts pollinators like butterflies and bees.
The nursery also offers a landscaping service on request.
- Follow The Indigenous Nursery here