Your garden can look as good in winter as it does in February. You just need to plan ahead.
With everything at its green and leafy best, the last days of summer are often amongst the most beautiful of the year in the garden in South Africa.
Of course it’s always a good idea to succumb to temptation by lying back in your hammock under a shady pergola during this time of glorious warmth - but if you’re thinking of selling your home sometime in the next few months (and even if you’re not), a little hard work now should pay off when winter descends with its predictable regularity.
We’ve written before about the fact that spring and summer are known to be the best seasons for house sales (as Lizette Monk, of Jawitz Properties, Knysna, said, “Summer is better because the house projects better at that time of year”), but there’s plenty that you can do to mitigate for winter’s chapped and dreary skin.
February is the perfect time to start sewing winter-flowering annuals like Bokbaaivygies (Dorotheanthus bellidiformis), calendulas, Chrysanthemum carinatum, Iceland poppies, jewel of the veld (Ursinia anthemoides), larkspurs, lupins, pansies, Schizanthus (poor man's orchid), stocks, sweet peas, bitter gousblom (Venidium fastuosum), and violas - but a word of caution before you begin: some of these plants are exotic, and may need larger amounts of water than you might be able to provide. So especially in the summer-rainfall parts of the country, you might want to look rather at planting indigenous perennials for their show in winter.
BULBS FOR WINTER
South Africa is bulb heaven: in fact, the geophytes (bulbs and bulb-like plants) rank highly among the groups of plants that make the world’s smallest floristic regions - our own Cape Floristic Region - also the world’s richest in terms of the number and diversity of species that grow here. But remember that indigenous means different things in different parts of the country, so you should choose wisely in order to ensure that your garden will look good, and remain water-wise. (Heads up, residents of the summer-rainfall region: there’s a very useful resource for water-wise gardening here.)
Species to consider now for winter flowering include bergpypie (Gladiolus blandus); cape cowslip (Lachenalia); forest lily (or winter red hot poker: Veltheimia bracteata); March lily (Amaryllis belladonna); and mauve Afrikaner (or blou Afrikander: Gladiolus carinatus)
If you’re living in the winter rainfall areas of the Cape, now’s the time to plant your beetroot, bush beans, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, celery, coriander, flat-leaf parsley, lettuce, nasturtiums, onions, spinach, sweet basil, and Swiss chard; and if you’re in Gauteng or the Free State, you should invest in beetroots, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, globe and Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, lettuce, onions, radish, Swiss chard, and turnips for your garden.
Now’s also a good time to trim your herbs to encourage new growth (and to preserve - freeze, dry, or steep in olive oil - the cuttings for use in the kitchen during winter).
You should also keep up your composting programme, and your programme of mulching your plants to preserve moisture in the soil, and to protect the root systems from the heat (bearing in mind that February’s often our hottest month). And if you are going to feed your garden - do the planet a favour and feed with organics like seaweed-based liquid fertilisers.
And, of course, most important of all - enjoy!