Renowned SA botanist Dr Elsa Pooley shares great spring and summer garden tips ahead of El Niño

Many are keen to create vibrant gardens with the arrival of spring, but the start of the El Niño weather cycle and the anticipated hot, dry weather need to be considered when choosing plants. Renowned South African botanist, landscaper, and author of best-selling field guides on wildflowers and trees, Dr Elsa Pooley, has shared her valuable input on the best plants to choose when considering hardiness, as well as aesthetics.

“The long-term weather forecast for this coming summer is that it will be a dry one, and with the potential challenges of global warming, indigenous gardeners are well placed to adapt to changing conditions,” explained Dr Pooley, who oversees the Renishaw Hills indigenous gardens on the KZN Mid-South Coast which recently hosted the prestigious Botanical Society Winter Gardens.

“South African plants are generally tough and adapted to erratic and low rainfall. With careful planting – such as placing plants in shade or sun as suits each species and mulching well – only limited watering is required once the plants are established. By using succulent species, water is generally only needed very occasionally, if at all.”

She describes this as an ‘exciting time of year for plant lovers’, as the warmth of spring is in the air, yet certain winter plants are still flowering: “The Common Coral trees [Erythrina lysistemon] started flowering in late May, and some are still in full bloom as we head into September. The Cape Chestnut trees [Calodendrum capense] are a sure sign of spring at the coast and are bursting into pink bloom.”

Dr Pooley said there are several beautiful flowering plants to look out for along the KZN South Coast and beyond: “You will find the Wild Dogrose [Xylotheca kraussiana] coming into fragrant white flower, and this can bloom throughout the summer. But a real harbinger of spring is the blossom-like Wild Pear [Dombeya rotundifolia], a small tree that is covered in bunches of white or pink flowers that show off against the rough dark bark. A pretty flowering shrub is the Natal Plane or Mickey-Mouse bush [Ochna natalitia], with bright yellow flowers, pretty coppery new leaves and followed in November by bright red and black fruits.”

Looking at coastal forests in the region, many indigenous plants are making themselves known, such as the ‘glorious red flowers of the Paintbrush lily [Scadoxus puniceus] are a sure sign of spring’.

“Some start flowering as early as July, but mostly in August and September. Look out for the River Lily [Crinum macowanii] with large bunches of beautiful white and pink flowers, fragrantly scented, particularly at night,” she continued. “The wild jasmine [Jasminum multipartitum] is also a sign of spring with massed bunches of white, tipped pink flowers with a lovely scent. It is slow-growing but tough and can handle all conditions!”

She also advises not to forget the daisies: “Daisies brighten up every garden, starting in spring with many of them flowering throughout the summer. We can grow daisies from around the country such as Barberton daisies [Gerbera jamesoni] which flower almost throughout the year but start in spring. Euryops species, which are the little bushes with bright yellow flowers, seem to survive all conditions, and the lovely blue daisy Felicia species might only last for one or two seasons but makes such a delightful touch of colour that it is worth the ongoing investment.

“Osteospermum hybrids should also be considered biennials, and worth it because of the brilliant colour they bring to the garden. The Dimorphotheca species, with white or magenta flowers, are good standards, flowering from spring and into the summer, and surviving for years. The Arctotis and Gazania species make colourful edging plants, some of them with grey foliage.

“Another great spring investment will be Pelargonium hybrids, better known to gardeners as Geraniums. The humidity at the coast is not the best climate for long-lived geraniums, but again, the investment is worthwhile for a few years of cheerful colour.”

The immaculate yet vibrant gardens found throughout Renishaw Hills, a mature lifestyle estate on the KZN Mid-South Coast, have garnered worthwhile attention, recently playing host to the prestigious Botanical Society Winter Gardens. Dr Elsa Pooley is a key visionary behind these gardens, the plant selection and ongoing maintenance.

Discover the floral beauty of Renishaw Hills by booking an in-person or virtual tour. This Scottburgh-based estate has just launched Phase 6, a series of high-end maisonettes boasting spectacular sea views and houses surrounded by coastal greenery. Email or click here for more information.



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