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Friday, 30 August 2013

The wonder of Echeverias

It is only when we are aware of the earth and of the earth as poetry that we truly live. 
- Henry Beston, 1935, Herbs and the Earth 

The Genus Echeveria is a member of the Crassulacae family and are natives of Latin America — specifically Argentina and Mexico. There are around 150 species and they are a wonderful succulent to have in your collection.

My fascination with Echeverias started in the 1980's, when my father gave me a pot with five Echeverias, which turned out to be E. glauca. At first I wasn't much interested in them and planted them in some obscure corner of the garden and completely forgot about them. How great was my surprise when, a couple of months later, I noticed that they had spread and made a beautiful display - I was hooked!

Echeveria glauca, my personal favourite, also called "Hen and Chicks", is one of the most popular. E. glauca is desirable for its blue-green colour, attractive arrangement of foliage, for their hardiness and their colourful, bell-shaped flowers on pink stems in early summer. Break them off when blooms have faded, this encourages more flowers.

They are one of the easiest succulents to grow indoors where a sunny window is a perfect spot for them. But be careful of too much direct sun through the glass as this can burn them. During summer and spring water them regularly, reducing watering in winter.

For me, growing them outdoors is a total struggle. E. glauca prefers average summer temps of 18ºC - 21ºC (65ºF - 70ºF). and in winter, cool to 10ºC (50ºF). In summer, the temperature here in Tarlton often exceeds 30ºC. And even though our winter temperatures rarely dip below 10ºC, we get a particularly bad frost that doesn't kill them but stunts their growth, making it harder for them to recover in summer.

They need a well-drained soil and our soil tends to compact quickly and become as hard as rock, even with lots of compost and sand added.

So slowly, as the years have passed, I've taken them out of the garden and put them in pots, baskets and anything else I can lay my hands on.

One can see the difference in the Echeverias that get brought in for the winter and those that stay outside. 

Echeverias in pots allow me to give each one individual attention, tending to the soil and watering and being able to keep an eye on them

 Rescued out of the garden and planted in an old printer's tray until they've formed some roots, then I can put them in some pots

My Echeveria garden before the heat (due to a tree that had to be chopped down) took its toll

Echeverias spread by making pups (babies), which can be harvested and re-planted but are easily propagated by taking a cutting (or by a leaf for the most of them). Besides propagation from leaves, if the main stem of the Echeveria becomes long and bare, you can cut the rosette off, let the wound dry for a week or so, and re-root the rosette. An expert recommends suspending the rosette just barely out of reach of a layer of growing mix. The rim of the pot can act as support. The rosette will send roots reaching down towards the mix. When you see a good amount of roots, it's ready to plant in the soil. 

Most Echeveria are summer growers. Once established they can tolerate extended dry periods without watering but will grow stronger if they receive adequate water during their growing season. Free draining, porous soil is essential to prevent root rot. Echeveria are shallow rooted plants and therefore benefit from good levels of organic matter in the soil. Good ventilation is important for minimising pest and disease risks. Mealey bug and aphids find them irresistible so regular drenching with a suitable pesticide during the warmer months is advised - use Neem Oil which works well and is 100% organic. Generally, the more sun they get the better they will display their colours and shape, but protect them from excessive sun during hot weather.

A specimen that spends every winter inside - the lack of direct sunlight causes the rosettes to open slightly, but they correct this when going outside for the summer again

Marigolds make great companions for Echeverias, keeping many insects at bay

All pics taken in my garden (Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa).

And here are some lovely ideas I found on the internet for displaying your Echeverias :


Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Clivias and Spring

I planted my Clivias (C. miniata) about 3 years ago and it's been a constant struggle to keep them alive. I planted them in an area which got a bit of morning sun and shade the rest of the day. But every winter seems to take its toll and the chickens don't help either, trampling all over the plants.

However, this winter has been fairly mild and for the first time they're actually flowering! After flowering, the seeds are carried in rather large, bright orange berries, which have about 10 seeds in them. If I'm lucky enough that they produce seeds, I'll be saving those to plant in pots and pamper them. Clivia miniata can be propagated by seed or by removing suckers.

Miniata are always found under tree cover in evergreen forests, and as mine are not planted directly under any trees, the flowers are showing some signs of frost-bite. Maybe time to move them...?

The Clivia (pronounced Clee-via) is indigenous to Southern Africa where they grow wild in forested woodland areas. The flowers are carried in clusters on stout stems and range in colour from rich oranges to shades of deep red.

Prized for their ability to flower in shade, they are an ideal plant for massed planting under trees or in shady areas. Clivias are extremely hardy and drought-resistant but do not thrive in direct sunlight or frost areas. They grow to a height of around 80cm, so I'm really looking forward to seeing that!

The Aloe ferox are coming to the end of their winter-flowering period and this is actually the time when they're richest in nectar as the flowers are completely open and almost ready to fall off.

Aloe ferox, also known as Cape Aloe, Bitter Aloe, Red Aloe and Tap Aloe, is a species of aloe indigenous to South Africa's Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, and Lesotho.

Flowering occurs between May and August and mine started at the beginning of July. Aloe ferox is most famous for its medicinal qualities, as it contains cleansing properties, is a natural detoxing agent, has more vitamins, minerals, amino acids and polysaccharides than aloe vera and is traditionally used to stimulate cell renewal.

My 20-year old peach tree also started budding early in July and last week she burst forth all her blossoms. The old girl is gnarled and bent and every season I have to prune off another dead branch, but then she just sprouts a new one in it's place. We've been having almost summer-like weather with beautiful warm days and everything and everyone in my garden has decided it is spring!

Peach trees grow in the warm regions of both the northern and southern hemispheres. Because of cold winters, diseases, and pests, peach trees can usually only live about 10 to 12 years in our Gauteng climate. However, if a peach tree is fertilized properly, and taken care of in the right way, it may live many more years. My Peachy is regularly pampered with extra compost and lots of water in summer and I hope to still have her with me a couple more years. Her fruit is not that great anymore, but the birds don't seem to mind!

And so winter seems to be at an end (although there is a cold front forecast for the coming weekend, hope it's just a passing phase!) and I'm looking forward to planting a few new plants which, hopefully, will escape the onslaught of the chickens. I have fewer now as I managed to find a lovely new home for five of them, leaving me with eight scratching, eating-anything-green, sand-bathing feathered demons (to a garden, that is!) I love my chooks and wouldn't give them up for anything in the world. My garden has had to adapt and evolve around them, not an easy task I might tell you...


Monday, 26 August 2013

My garden, plain and simple

Well, my "new garden" has now become "my garden", a well-deserved accolade after almost 10 years. I dare say, after ten years, that I can now call it "established". Some of my trees are now a nice eight to nine meters tall and home to many birds and insects, which is the primary object of my garden. I get a thrill and a sense of well-being when I see wildlife in and around my home and garden. Because of how life happens, my lawn and garden beds tend to look a little more unkempt and a little less manicured than I’d like to, to the point where I expect to receive disapproving glares from neighbours. However, this lack of regular pruning, mowing, and trimming produces an unexpected bonus: more natural areas that are welcoming to wild creatures.

I've learnt what to plant and what to NOT plant, I've changed and moved plants around to more suitable locations and unfortunately also lost many plants and a tree or two.

My Umbrella Thorn only just starting to sport new green leaves almost at the end of summer in November 2006, already a sign that it is not doing too well.

One that succumbed to a particularly cold winter in 2009 was the Umbrella Thorn, Acacia tortilis, and even though I knew that it was frost-tender when I planted it in 2004, I hoped against hope that it would do well here. It provides excellent cover for birds against predators like hawks and kestrels and is favoured by many birds for nesting sites.

Acacia tortilis tends to grow in areas where temperatures vary from 0 to 50 degree Celsius and rainfall is anywhere from about 100–1,000 mm (3.9–39in) per year. We rarely get temps below 0°C, but some years we do get a heavy, severe frost, known as 'black frost', which I suspect is the culprit that killed it.

Black frost is a popular term that originally denoted any freeze not accompanied by white frost. According to the Weather Bureau, the term now generally signifies a "killing freeze" (the vegetation turning black) without the formation of the ordinary or white frost. Black frost, however, is not used officially by the Weather Bureau, which classifies freezes as light, heavy and killing. Basically it is a dry, invisible killing frost that turns vegetation black.

The Umbrella Thorn beautiful and lush in December 2007 - it seemed to have a sudden spurt of coming right 

It did seem to be doing OK for a couple of years, but after a very severe winter in 2008 it was dead but I only cut it down the following winter, just to make sure it wasn't still alive.. It was impossible getting to that part of the garden due to the masses of thorns now permanently exposed and let me tell you, getting stuck in them is no joke! They can inflict painful pricks which don't heal easily due to the fact that the point of a thorn often breaks off in your flesh, leaving the area swollen and infected.

Throughout Africa, these thorny branches are used to erect cages, pens and cattle kraals, even keeping predators like lions and leopards at bay. The thorns are also used by African women for sewing.

Some thorns collected from my Umbrella tree 

Finally, in May 2009, my Umbrella Thorn was officially declared dead and cut down.

And so one lives and learns. I have many favourite plants that just do not cut it in our climate and I've had to harden my heart and avoid planting them again.

A quick catch-up on the past year - February 2013 and summer is slowly coming to an end...

In April I was forced to cut down the Karee that had died, even though I knew how much the birds like to sit in it, catching the morning sun. But it was leaning dangerously close to the roof and I must say, it was quite a business cutting it down. Solly climbed to the top and cut piece by piece until we could do the bottom bit. Hopefully never again...

May brought beautiful Autumn colours but the weather was so beautiful, it utterly confused my 20-year old Peach Tree, who was already sporting some new buds! This could be disastrous if some real cold hits us...

The pond area

 Torti's hide-out - she's in there somewhere!

July brought a fair bit of cold weather, and the lawn slowly started disappearing. The pond area where Torti, my Leopard tortoise, lives, was devoid of any vegetation and we had to supply her with lots of grass where she was cuddled up in one of her hide-outs for winter.

 Torti catching up on a bit of sunshine

Torti having breakfast

Leopard Tortoises don't do the full hibernation thing in winter. Weather permitting, she often surfaces to have a snack and catch up on baking in the sun, warming her body temperature in readiness for the cold night ahead.

The best part of winter - when the Aloes are flowering! Not only do they give a beautiful splash of colour to the garden, but they attract Sunbirds, bees and other insects, providing a great source of nutrition in the cold months.

This 2013 winter proved to be exceptionally mild and my peach tree has managed to hold onto her buds, with tiny pink spots now appearing. another bounty of fruit awaits us this season!


Sunday, 25 August 2013

My New Garden : Progress 17 - Jan-Dec 2012

"If we love our children
we must love the earth with tender care
and pass it on, diverse and beautiful,
so that on a warm spring day
10 000 years hence
they can feel peace in a sea of grass,
can watch a bee visit a flower,
can hear a sandpiper call in the sky,
and can find joy in being alive"
- Hugh Ilitis 

January - in the full heat of summer...

February - a dead tree - I seem to have lost one of my White Karee's. but the Fiscal Shrike certainly loves the vantage point...

After the rain, self-seeding Marigolds have spread all over the garden and mushrooms on the lawn...

March - a quiet month with lots of rain and green lawns ...

April - a cooling down of the hot summer days...

June - clear blue skies, bare branches and winter in full swing

The Echeverias looking great and the Tree Fuchsia (just to the right behind the pot) still bright and green

July - cold, frosty days and Aloes in full flower...

A winter chore, adding some crusher stone to the edges of beds to liven things up a bit (and also to act as a deterrent for the chickens having a sand bath)

Adding a basket, some ornaments and crusher stone to a shady empty spot...

August - and spring is in the air! Peach blossoms and my Aloe ferox still flowering...

September - the first rains of the season and the Arum lilies, which have spread beautifully, still flowering...

October - beautiful weather and time for a new garden path...

November - mid-summer and still lots of rain...

December - a beautiful end to the year...

The Agapanthus are in full bloom...

The Fiscal Shrike has her larder in the White Stinkwood (Celtis africana)...

... and enjoys a snack at one of the bird tables

Aaaah, Christmas roses! (Hydranges) in full bloom, telling us the festive season is here!

And so ends my progress report on 9 years of gardening in my "new garden", which is from now on going to be referred to as "my garden", plain and simple. Hope you had a lovely 2012, like I did, and see you a bit later!


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