Cape of Good Hope

March 6, 2016

For anyone who grew up cultivating flowering bulbs such as Freesia and Lachenalia (as well as other non-bulbous flowers like members of the genus Pelargonium – often referred to incorrectly as ‘geraniums’), seeing such plants in the wild within South Africa is both exciting and informative. My longstanding friendship with Terry and Lindsey Hatch of Joy Plants has ensured an active interest in many South African bulbs (with non-weedy tendencies), due to their suitability as garden plants for Auckland’s climate.

One genus that has become increasingly important within our work over the years is Haemanthus; an intriguing genus with ‘paintbrush’-like flowers in shades of red, pink or white. Most recently, we have planted a considerable number of Haemanthus coccineus and Haemanthus humilis ssp. hirsutus at City Works Depot, for the red and pink flowers that these species provide in autumn and late summer (respectively).

H. coccineus is a fairly common species in many older New Zealand gardens, and was one of the earliest South African flowers to be cultivated in Europe – from collections made at the Cape of Good Hope (where it grows on cliffs, as can be seen at the top of the photo, above right). Its bright red flowers emerge from the layered bulbs prior to the appearance of the leaves.

We also have a particular interest in the potential of restiads (the reed-like characters in the image above) in an analogous role to grasses within Auckland’s warm climate. Despite the increased popularity of many grass and sedge species in recent decades, much of their use is founded on visions of tussockland from the south of New Zealand, which are not adaptable to Auckland.

In addition to better consideration of which native grasses and sedges are well suited to our northern climate, South African restiads offer a range of textures and (most importantly) scale for naturalistic gardens. Their appeal is only enhanced by the fact that the viability of seed on many species is associated with smoke (from wildfires), making them a safer option than many exotic grasses or grass-like species.

Another plant that we have previously cultivated in New Zealand is Salvia africana-lutea, an attractive shrub with flowers that fade from an initial yellow colour to the rusty-brown hue exhibited below. As in the case of Haemanthus coccineus, the sight of how this species fits into subtle natural associations offers insights into how such plants may be used in a profound manner within our own gardens – especially when integrated into a predominantly native, naturalistic framework as a source of seasonal colour.