Winter delights

Winter is a thrilling time in the indigenous garden – full of fiery colour and warmth. Feeding the birds and other creatures is high on most people’s agendas especially as habitat (and with it food sources ) is disappearing so rapidly. While it is fun to provide fruit on a feeder in your garden you can do so much more by planting indigenous and thus providing a natural food supply. With this in mind join me this month as we explore two wonderful plants, the Tree fuschia (HALLERIA lucida) and Indigenous bugweed (SOLANUM giganteum).

SOLANUM giganteum is a somewhat unconventional choice I realise – but not for birds! Do not confuse it with the invasive alien Solanum mauritianum; although it is of the same family, it belongs here and is of great value to wildlife.

Somewhat tatty and spiny, the perfect place for this shrub is at the back of a bed where it can best show off its luminous red fruits. Solanum is so useful because it bears its fruit in huge upright bunches which ripen in succession over many months – a smorgasbord indeed!

In my garden it took some time before the word (chirp?) got out that the fruits were tasty and now there is a constant procession and fluttering around the plants.

They are not long lived, only a few years, but they will self seed over the garden. They rarely grow bigger than 3 m and do best on the sunny edges of tree clumps. They occur over much of the country on forest edges and clearings.

Unlike its weedy cousin bugweed no part of this plant is poisonous, in fact it’s quite the opposite as its leaves and fruits are used for a healing ointment.

Other common names are Healing-leaf tree or Red Bitter-apple. I urge you to be brave, throw convention to the wind and try one in your garden. The birds will be so pleased!

Although the HALLERIA lucida or Tree Fuschia is well known amongst the indigenous fraternity, it is such an exciting tree that it deserves a place in every garden, big or small.

April through to August sees great clusters of red or orange flowers bursting from the gnarled trunks. A flowering tree appears to be on fire and attracts a host of nectar-eating birds and insects. And if this is not enough, Halleria follows up with little green fruits loved by birds, from the smallest to the biggest – darling little White-eyes, Green pigeons, Natal robins and even Crowned hornbills. Could anything be more desirable?

I have a grove of them with a bench at their feet and it is an entrancing place to spend an afternoon. Even more perfect would be to plant one at your patio so you can look up into the tree. Growth form varies according to environment – out in the open they are bushy and make an excellent screen, with some shade they grow more upright and can be popped in almost anywhere.

Halleria is not fussy and often flowers within its second year, no test of patience needed here! It will tolerate moderate frost. If you cannot find space for one in your garden, why not donate this gem to a local school and do your bit for greening the planet.

Information supplied by Jenny Dean of Jenny Dean Wildflowers.(031) 7681209 or 082 4694686.

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