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The Curry Tree (unusual plants)

The Curry Tree – Murraya koenigii

This graceful and attractive evergreen shrub or small tree, the precious Curry Tree, so huge a part of Indian and Asian cuisine, has been used to flavour curry dishes, chicken and meat as well as vegetable and lentil curries for centuries in its native Sri Lanka. Also known as Kahdi patta there, every household has a tree for it is the fresh leaves that are the best in cooking and for medicinal uses.

Quick growing but frost tender, the Curry Tree can be grown in a large pot but prefers to be out in the garden where its fragrant, small, white star-flowers scent the evening air. The flowers are followed by clusters of black berries, which are edible and much loved by the birds.

The compound leaflets, usually about 16 on a stem, have a strange pungent smell which, if 2 or 3 stems of leaflets are laid on top of the curry while it is cooking, will impart a fabulous flavour, but remove the leaves before serving. The fresh leaves can also be used to treat minor burns and skin eruptions, like boils, abscesses and bruises. Crushed and warmed in hot water, the pulp is then packed over the bruise, burn or boil and held in place with a bandage. A tea made of 4-6 fresh leaflets to 1 cup of boiling water (stand 5 minutes, then strain and sip slowly) is taken for stomach upsets, diarrhoea and even dysentery in Sri Lanka. A tea made of 2 full leaves (about 16 leaflets) in 2 cups of boiling water, cooled and strained, is used as a soothing wash for haemorrhoids and sore, rough feet, and if 4 cups of fresh leaves are boiled in about 4 litres of water along with 10 cloves and the skin of 1 lemon, for 15 minutes, then cooled and strained, this soothing brew can be added to the bath, or used as a wash for oily, pimply skin, or used to soothe aching feet and rough skin and burning soles.

The Curry Tree’s pretty fern-like look makes such an impact in landscaping, and you’ll be finding so many recipes in which to use the leaves that you’ll wonder how you cooked without it.

Plant your Curry Tree in full sun, in a deep, well-dug hole filled with compost and water it deeply twice a week, more in summer if it is very hot. Make a mini hothouse over it for winter to protect it from frost. The little tree forms itself into graceful shapes and for a small garden it is perfect as it can be pruned quite heavily to maintain its shape. In its native environment it can grow quite large but my 15 year old trees have only reached 3 metres in height.

I have also grown one Curry Tree against a hot concrete fence and it has covered a large area of it, beautifully spreading its fragile branches across it in exquisite abundance, espalier style, so it can be trained to cover as well.

With this unusual plant to start your spring planning, can you feel what a good season it’s going to be?

The Fruit Salad Plant and Curry Tree are available in the Margaret Roberts Malanseuns Herb Collection, which is available at most nurseries.

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We live in a country where water resources are limited and the threat of water restrictions is ever present. It is therefore not surprising that a common concern for many South African gardeners is the conservation of water.
These tips will enable you to protect this precious resource by establishing your own low maintenance, cost-effective waterwise garden.

The key elements involved in waterwise gardening include the following:

1. Knowing your soil

To find out what type of soil you have, perform a simple soil test. Dig down about 15 cm and lift a small sample into a glass jar. Add twice as much water as soil and allow the sample to stand, undisturbed, until the water clears.

The organic matter floating at the top of the water indicates the soil’s humus content. The richer the soil is in humus, the better the soil is at absorbing and retaining water, reducing water run-off and protecting the valuable topsoil.

If your soil is high in clay or sand it is necessary to apply compost frequently until the soil’s structure begins to improve, after which you can apply it less regularly.

The presence of soil borne creatures, such as earthworms, indicates a healthy, fertile soil. They recycle the organic matter in the soil and in so doing develop fertile soil. By moving through the soil they enhance aeration and drainage. To encourage them, keep your soil well mulched and add chopped organic material such as garden refuse and kitchen waste.

Avoid using pesticides and artificial fertilisers, as these are toxic to earthworms and other helpful organisms living in your soil.

2. Mulching

Mulching describes the practice of covering the soil with a layer of organic or inorganic material. Mulching is done primarily to reduce water evaporation from the soil, which it does by acting as a barrier that prevents the moisture in the soil from being transferred to the atmosphere.

This layer also inhibits weed germination and growth as it prevents sunlight getting to the seeds in the soil, thus the seeds remain dormant and eventually die.

Earthworms and other insects rely on mulch for protection from the extremes of the seasons and on organic mulch as a source of food. Providing them with their requirements ensures their continued and beneficial presence.

Mulches should be approximately 8 cm deep and can consist of organic material, such as pine needles, bark chips, straw, nutshells and fallen leaves, or inorganic material such as chipped stone and pebbles. Both are equally as effective and can, to an extent, be incorporated as part of your overall design theme.

3. Plant choice

Consider your climate when selecting the plants to be utilised in your waterwise garden. A good idea is to plant up a large part of your garden with endemic plants because they generally require less water than exotics.

Although you may think that this would make your garden look duller in winter, some indigenous trees have interesting bark patterns that can be incorporated as a feature.

You can also screen these sections by planting some evergreen species, ensuring that your garden remains aesthetically pleasing and functional throughout the seasons.

Plants that have adapted to survive on very little water can be recognised by the following characteristics:
· Hairy leaves
· Small or needle like leaves
· Closing leaves
· A waxy cuticle
· Grey foliage
· Lighter underside
· Fewer leaves
· A strong internal structure
· Succulent foliage
· Strong, deep root systems

4. Watering

Watering, possibly the most important aspect to a successful waterwise garden, is most effective if you water at the correct time of day and adapt your watering routine during the seasons. Appropriate plant groupings are also important in ensuring the least amount of water is wasted during watering.

· In summer, water early in the morning when evaporation levels are lower.
· In winter, watering periods should be shorter and later in the mornings.
· Group plants according to their moisture requirements – you could save up to 80% of your overall water usage by ‘zoning’ correctly.
· A professionally installed irrigation system is extremely economical in water usage as well as being convenient and timesaving.

By following these basic tips, you could save an immense amount of water over time, thereby contributing to saving the environment; all this without breaking the bank, destroying the theme of your garden or wasting your time.
You will also encourage soil friendly insects as well as other wildlife resulting in a natural, bio-diverse paradise on your doorstep.

Information supplied by Jo-Anne Hilliar Landscape Design Consultants ‘ (031) 765 8517 / 082 447 4824.

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Peace rose

The story of the ‘Peace’ rose is one that can be told over and over again because it encapsulates everything that we hold dear in roses – drama, love and greatness of spirit. This year marks the sixtieth anniversary of the naming of this enduring rose that remains an excellent garden rose, and a symbol of our desire for that ever-elusive peace. The creation of ‘Peace’ was beautifully chronicled in Antonia Ridge’s book ‘For Love of a Rose’ and it was something of a miracle that the rose ever saw the light of day.

In 1935, the French rose breeder, Francis Meilland, the third generation in a family of rose growers near Lyon, selected 50 ‘promising’ seedlings from his seedbeds. One was tagged 3 – 35 – 40 and over the next four years Francis and his father, Papa Meilland, watched its development with interest. In spite of war clouds gathering, the unnamed rose was introduced to friends and professional rose growers who gave it an enthusiastic ‘thumbs up’. But three months later Hitler invaded France and, with the nursery under threat of destruction, three parcels of budwood were hastily sent out of France, one of which was smuggled out in the diplomatic bag to America.

For the duration of the war the Meilland family had no idea whether any of the budwood had survived. In America their agent planted the rose in his own trial beds and gave it to other rose growers for testing in all the climatic zones throughout the United States. The rose did so well that it was decided to release it in the United States and thousands of plants were propagated. Although the war was still raging in Europe, the launch date was set for 29 April 1945, in Pasadena, California.

On the same day that two doves were released into the American sky to symbolise the naming of the rose, Berlin fell and a truce was declared. It was sheer coincidence. In naming the rose, this simple statement was read: “ We are persuaded that this greatest new rose of our time should be named for the world’s greatest desire: ‘PEACE’.”

‘Peace’ went on to receive the All American Award for roses on the day that the war in Japan came to an end. On May 8, 1945, when Germany signed its surrender, the 49 delegates who met to form the United Nations were each presented with a bloom of ‘Peace’ and a message of peace from the Secretary of the American Rose Society.

What is so touching about the story of ‘Peace’ is that back in France, the rose had been named ‘Madame Antoine Meilland’ in memory of Claudia Dubreuil, the wife of Antoine Meilland and mother of Francis. She had been the heart and mainstay of the Meilland family and died tragically young from cancer. At the same time news coming back from Germany and Italy where other budwood had been sent, revealed that in Italy the rose was called ‘Gioia’ (Joy) and in Germany, ‘Gloria Dei’ (Glory of God). For the family, all the names captured the qualities that they loved in Claudia.

The name ‘Peace’ seems to have outlasted all the others. The timing of its launch was perfect and it struck such a chord that within nine years some 30 million ‘Peace’ rose bushes were flowering around the world. But it wasn’t because of sentiment alone. ‘Peace’ truly was a superlative rose, superior by far to the roses before it in terms of vigour, hardiness, and the long lasting ability of its blooms. The colour was also magnificent, a pale, golden yellow deepening to red along the petal edges.

Its contribution to the rose world has been immeasurable. Because of its vigour and dependability, ‘Peace’ has been used in breeding programmes across the world. It is recorded that ‘Peace’ is the ‘mother’ in 150 varieties and the ‘father’ in a further 180 varieties. There would be many more if breeders always declared the parentage of new releases. Indeed it is probably safe to say that most of our modern roses are descended in some way from ‘Peace’. In South Africa a few of the great garden roses that have ‘Peace’ in their lineage are: ‘Double Delight’, ‘Casanova’, ‘Blue Moon’, ‘Soaring Wings’, and ‘Electron’.

‘Peace’ also breathed new life into the gardening world, which sorely needed reviving after the war. The huge amount of publicity it received internationally made people excited about growing roses again. I was told that in South Africa it was in every public park and the ‘must have’ variety for every garden. Because it grew so well and so easily, people were not afraid to try their hand at other roses and so the rose industry in this country took off, once again.

Although new varieties, like ‘Iceberg’ have become even more popular, ‘Peace’ is still a good garden rose with glossy green leaves and well shaped blooms that are slightly lighter than their European counterparts because of our bright South African sunlight. I recommend planting it with ‘Rudi Neitz’, which is a taller hybrid tea rose, more upright in growth, with fewer thorns and a deeper gold to red colouring that equals that of ‘Peace’ in Europe. A grouping of three ‘Rudi Neitz’ at the back and four or five ‘Peace’ in front makes a beautiful bed.

Francis Meilland died in 1958 but his son Alain and daughter Michelle and their children continue the Meilland tradition of breeding roses. After ‘Peace’ became so well known, Francis wrote in his diary: “How strange to think that all these millions of rose buses sprang from one tiny seed no bigger than the head of a pin, a seed which we might so easily have overlooked, or neglected in a moment of inattention.”

That’s the miracle of the rose!

Ludwig Taschner is the proprietor of Ludwig’s Roses Pretoria and Ludwig’s Roses Egoli and can be contacted on
(012) 544 0144.

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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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Top ten conifers

Wintertime is undoubtedly Conifer season in many gardens all around the world. These shapely and statuesque evergreens dominate the landscape in the colder climates where many of the trees and shrubs are dormant during the fall and winter months. Their significance and impact is further enhanced by the fact that cold weather intensifies the coloration of the foliage, often turning somewhat ordinary plants into eye catching features as the harshness of winter
bites harder. My choices for this month are:

CUPRESSUS macrocarpa ‘Gold Crest’
JUNIPERUS chinensis ‘Variegata’
JUNIPERUS horizontalis ‘Prince of Wales’
JUNIPERUS x pfitzeriana ‘Gold Star’
JUNIPERUS scopulorum ‘Skyrocket’
PLATYCLADUS orientalis ‘Aurea Gracilis’
PLATYCLADUS oreintalis ‘Aurea Nana Compacta’
THUJA occidentalis ‘Rheingold’
THUJA occidentalis ‘Smaragd’

This top ten selection includes a wide range of conifers to cover the whole spectrum of garden uses that they perform so perfectly. Formal gardens are increasing in popularity at the moment and conifers lend themselves to this style, as many of them can be used for hedges whilst others endure clipping into shapes and topiaries. As solitary garden specimens or stand-alone plants they are unsurpassed, growing with a natural, symmetrical shape.

The key to growing healthy conifers is to ensure that they all have sufficient space in which to grow and develop without interference from surrounding structures or competing plants. Sunlight all around the plant and free air movement ensures that plants mature to a ripe old age. Most conifers attain their manageable garden proportions within ten years of growth, after which they can become large, disproportionate to the rest of the garden and generally untidy. Hence the mention of the two different sizes in the descriptions of each of the top ten. This is intended to make it easier to select the best conifers and plant them in the correct positions in your garden.

Your local nursery or garden centre will supply you with more useful information about growing conifers in your area. Most conifers will grow in most climates in South Africa, from the seashore to the very coldest regions. Perhaps the only parts where they battle are the arid, semi-desert climatic zones where dry soils and scorching temperatures hamper their growth.

PLATYCLADUS orientalis

‘Aurea Nana Compacta’ is a charming dwarf conifer of a rounded or globose habit and shape.

The tightly packed foliage is tipped with yellow, intensifying to burnt gold in winter.

It is ideal for small gardens and confined spaces, either as individual specimens or in group plantings.

It grows to a height of 80 cm in ten years and ultimately can attain 1.5 m.


A large, upright-growing conifer of conical shape.

Renowned for its rapid growth rate and dense foliage, it remains one
of the most effective and popular subjects for hedges and screening purposes.

Foliage is dull, grey-green all year round.

It grows to approximately 10 m high in ten years and can attain an ultimate height of 25 to 30 m.

JUNIPERUS scopulorum

‘Skyrocket’ is a narrow, pencil shaped plant with a sharply pointed growth tip which maintains a blue-grey colouring all year round.

The unusual shape makes this a popular feature or accent plant for confined spaces where height is necessary but space does not allow for any width.

It grows to 3 m tall in ten years with an ultimate height of around 7 or 8 m.

JUNIPERUS chinensis

‘Variegata’ is a pyramid-shaped, medium-sized conifer.

Foliage is sharp, needle-like, grey- green with irregular cream blotches, creating a two-tone effect.

It works well as a feature or specimen plant for large pots or simply out in the garden.

Grows to about 2 m tall in ten years with an ultimate height of 4 to 5 m.

THUJA occidentalis

‘Rheingold’ takes the form of low, neat and compact mounds of golden orange foliage that turns brown in winter.

Best planted in bold groupings in the foreground or in smallish pots, it is ideal for miniature landscapes of assorted conifers planted in a large pot.

It grows to 70 cm in ten years and can exceed 2 m when mature.

JUNIPERUS horizontalis

‘Prince of Wales’ is a flat, carpet-like ground cover.

It maintains a neat and tidy habit all year long. Its green foliage is often tinged purple by the cold of the winter season.

Forms a weed suppressing ground cover amongst other conifers, on banks and is highly effective in large landscape plantings.

It grows to 2 m wide in ten years and continues spreading indefinitely.

JUNIPERUS x pfitzeriana

‘Gold Star’ is vase-shaped, with a narrow base and wider top.

Branches are held in horizontal layers with distinctly drooping growth tips that maintain a golden colour throughout the year.

They contrast prominently with the rich green needles of the mature foliage. Ideal for mass planting on a large scale, it grows to 1,5 m tall and 2 m wide in ten years, getting increasingly larger over time.

CUPRESSUS macrocarpa

‘Gold Crest’ also grows to a conical shape.

Its large proportions and rich, golden foliage make this a dramatic landscape plant in local gardens.

The tightly packed scale leaves have a strong lemon fragrance if touched or crushed.

Colour changes form lime green in mid summer to rich golden yellow in winter.

Popular as a topiary plant as the foliage clips well and retains its colour, lustre and form.

Grows to 3 to 4 m high in ten years and ultimately 10 m or more.

PLATYCLADUS orientalis

Aurea Gracilis’ – a narrow, pyramid shape and tight compact foliage make this a highly sought after specimen plant.

The foliage is lime green with golden new growth tips.

The whole plant turns rich golden shades with hues of burnt orange in mid winter.

It grows to 2,5 m tall in ten years and ultimately reaches 5 m or so.

THUJA occidentalis

‘Smaragd’ – its neat pyramidal shape and glossy green foliage (Smaragd means emerald in Danish) throughout the year make this gem a near perfect feature plant for both formal and informal gardens.

It grows to 1,5 m in ten years and can attain heights of 3 m or more.

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Boost immune system

Growing your own medicine chest has proved, through the centuries, to be of such value that medicinal gardens – first created by the monks in the early centuries in their cloister gardens – later were part of every citizen’s way of life. Medicinal herbs were grown in every cottage garden and often landlords and city fathers distributed seeds. Doctors planted what were then known as ’physic gardens’. One of the most famous, the Chelsea physic garden, still is maintained in London today.

Of even more importance is for us to grow our own medicinal foods and medicinal herbs now, and to make these remedies part of boosting our daily health. I consider the following plants to be vital:

Medicinal foods

Make adaily salad the rule, and include in it all or any of the following:


Grow your own lettuce. There are such stunning varieties of Lettuce that flourish in the winter months and that look exquisite as borders everywhere – for example I alternate the Red Oak Leaf with a Green Oak Leaf variety along a path. You pick only the outer leaves every time and they thrive with the picking. Butter lettuce, the curly bronze lettuces, all the varieties, are at your nearest garden centre or nursery now. Add pineapple, avocado, grated carrot and finely chopped chillis and peppers. Even though these are summer annuals, in the warmer areas you may be lucky enough to find some.


Sprouts are essential, specially Alfalfa (Lucerne) and buckwheat and, although they will take longer to grow in the cold months, they are still the most important things you can eat as a health booster, and they are delicious in the daily salad.


The tender tips, picked fresh and finely chopped in the salad with a few flowers, are packed with vitamins and minerals. Try growing one or two Lucerne plants in the garden – it is not only an interesting and attractive plant to grow but it is perennial and if it is cut back 2 or 3 times in the year it will offer you such energy packed sprigs that you’ll have enough energy to feel full of life, and the butterflies love it too!


Green spring onions, garlic and chives – this whole family is vital in fighting ‘flu, colds and bronchitis. It was once the first treatment given at the first sign of a sore throat – fresh onion slices were placed in a saucer, sprinkled with brown sugar and covered by another inverted saucer for the night. Next morning, the pungent juice was drained off and taken as a medicine. This was repeated night after night until the patient was fully recovered. Medical science has proved that the whole onion family is a natural antibiotic and the more you take during the winter the better the immune boost.


Garlic is, quite literally, an incredible immune booster and if you can’t stand the smell, be sure to include lots of fresh chopped parsley in your diet, as parsley is a natural deodorizer. Fresh garlic is always best, but if you really can’t bear it fresh, then consider garlic capsules from your chemist – deodorised garlic capsules are readily available.

Red Cayenne Pepper

Substitute red cayenne pepper for your much loved freshly ground black pepper. It’s a well known fact that chilli lovers, who include hot chillis and cayenne pepper and Tabasco in their diet, have fewer coughs, colds and ‘flu attacks than those of us who can’t take the heat! Better still, in summer grow your own, then dry the ripened cayenne peppers and mill them in a pepper grinder with a little coarse salt. The growing of chillis is fascinating. The new Helmet chilli – a pretty bell-shaped chilli – is a good way to begin. The ripened red flesh is sweet, crunchy and very mild but the seeds are pure fire!

Our grandmothers made a special sandwich to ’open up that blocked nose’. Made of fresh brown bread, spread with butter, topped with thinly sliced onion, a little salt, a squeeze of lemon juice and a generous sprinkling of cayenne pepper, it was eaten while sipping a hot cup of lemon tea that was sweetened with honey – no milk and no sugar.


Grow a lemon tree! Fresh lemons are one of the world’s most loved fruits and are so full of health boosting vitamin C and a host of minerals that a lemon should be part of our cooking every day. I have lemon with virtually everything. I can’t cook without it! I grow Cape rough skin lemons in abundance and Eureka lemons, smooth skinned and beautiful and Meyer lemons in big pots, and in this way I have fresh lemons all year round. Fresh lemon juice with chopped sage (SALVIA offinalis) and honey in equal quantities and mixed well in a small jar, is one of the old fashioned recipes for a cough mixture that is loved and respected the world over.

Medicinal herbs


Sage is a hardy perennial that loves full sun and well-drained soil; do not over water it. I grow it for sage tea which is excellent for sore throats, coughs, colds and ‘flu (it is also an excellent companion plant for grapes, to ensure a sweeter crop, and for tomatoes for a superb flavour). Sage has antibacterial, antiseptic and antiviral properties. Make sage tea by pouring 1 cup of boiling water over ¼ cup freshly chopped sage leaves, let it stand 5 minutes, strain, add lemon juice and honey and sip slowly.


Its winter abundance is in the shops now and it is simply delicious in salads and on sandwiches, and if you are not lucky enough to have a gently flowing river at the bottom of the garden where watercress flourishes, then grow Landcress (LEPIDUM sativum) in the garden in spring.

Mustard and Cress

Trays of mustard and cress grown on cotton wool are loved by children and are packed with health boosting vitamins and minerals. The little sprouts are delicious sprinkled on soups, stews, cold meats and salads. All the cresses are natural expectorants and will clear catarrh, sinus, excessive mucous, coughs and bronchitis. They are also superb immune boosters. Rich in vitamins A and C, we should seriously pay more attention to the cress family.

Echinacea (ECHINACEA purpurescens)

Easy to grow, Echinacea or purple coneflower, is a spectacular garden perennial that dies down in winter, and huge research worldwide is proving what the American Red Indians knew since the earliest times. Echinacea boosts the immune system so decisively it is currently being used in the treatment of pneumonia, AIDS and other autoimmune system diseases. Make a plan to plant some Echinacea soon – seeds are readily available at most nurseries, and they’re easy to grow.

Sutherlandia or Cancer Bush (SUTHERLANDIA frutescens)

An indigenous plant that, through the centuries, has been used to treat everything from TB to cancer. Recent research has found it has excellent immune boosting properties and the potential for beating depression, boosting energy, treating arthritis and diabetes and many more ailments. Grow it in the garden as a feathery, airy, little shrubby plant, with orange flowers in midsummer followed by balloon seedpods in autumn. Short lived and fascinating to grow, as
it is so unspectacular yet so very important as a medicinal herb. Every leaf is packed with health boosting benefits – so find a space for it. Interestingly Sutherlandia is classified now as an adaptogen. An adaptogen is a herb that assists the body to adapt to the environment through an increased ability to fight viral and bacterial invasions and to handle stress better, be it physical, biological or a bombardment of chemicals, so that energy, endurance and the immune system functions are increased.

Make a tea of ¼ cup fresh leaves, pour over this 1 cup of boiling water, stand 5 minutes, strain. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and a little honey, if liked. Sip slowly, 1 cup a day only. Capsules and tablets are available from pharmacies.

Elder (SAMBUCUS nigra)

This is one of nature’s wonder herbs. The precious ripe berries of the Elder tree are one of the most incredible cough mixtures. Boil 2 cups of the berries (discard the stems) with ¾ cup of honey and ¼ cup water with a thumb length piece of cinnamon and 6 cloves for 15-20 minutes in a double boiler. Then stand aside and when cool, strain and take a teaspoon of the dark and precious juice frequently to ease the cough. It is safe, gently soothing and children love it.

Growing an Elder tree is an experience. The exquisite white flowers can be eaten and the black berries can also be made into jam, syrup and wine, and as they are high in vitamin C and a mass of minerals, they are superb for coughs, colds, ‘flu, bronchitis, sore throats, insomnia and anxiety, and these are only a few of the uses. An attractive large multi-stemmed shrub – no garden should be without an Elder. t is called the ‘medicine chest tree’ in its native Europe, and an old saying was: “When all else fails, remember the Elder”, and that is most definitely so with coughs that take forever to clear. Elderberry juice is like gold!

Tissue salts

I cannot live without these easy to take little health boosters. Every pharmacy and health shop has them. The ‘flu, coughs and colds salts are:
No. 1: Calc fluor
No. 4: Ferrum phos
No. 5: Kali sulph
No. 9: Nat mur
No. 11: Nat sulph

Take 2 tablets of each, 1 for children, and suck them under the tongue often, at least 6 times during the day, at the first sign of a sore throat. Get to know the tissue salts and the foods and herbs they are present in.

NB. Always consult your doctor before starting a home treatment.

For further reading:
* The Essential Margaret Roberts: My 100 Favourite Herbs
* Tissue Salts for Healthy Living by Margaret Roberts
Both published by Spearhead.

Seeds mentioned in this article are produced by BallStraathofs and available at leading garden centres and retailers.

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Snapdragons are the sergeant majors of the garden, upright and regimental in their stance, and providing a brilliance of colour that’s as appealing as the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.

For gardeners wanting an easy growing winter annual it is worth re-stating all the good qualities of ANTIRRHINUMmajus, the Snapdragon. They may be a tradi­tional favourite, but from another perspective they can also be the new fusion plant of the flower garden. The taller-growing varieties, ranging from 70 cm to 100 cm in height, provide excellent background height and colour in beds. Their mix of colours, mainly yellow, red, bronze, rose, pink and cream, blend beautifully with most other garden plants.

Consider planting them as a back­ground to spring flowering bulbs like Daffodils, Ranunculus, Anemone or Sparaxis or front them with a border of bold Pansy Evita’s or Pansy XXL. No one will be able to pass the bed with­ out commenting on it.

The other good thing about the tall growing Snapdragon is its upright, formal growth habit. It does not take up space, its growth stays neat, and the dark green foliage topped by the multicoloured spikes of flowers, packs a huge amount of flower power in limited space. In formal gardens they will provide a uniform height of flower that can create a hedge effect, even more so if surrounded by a lower-growing dark­coloured hedge.

The final point in the Snapdragon’s favour is that its blooms make excellent cut flowers. They last well in the vase and the flowering spikes look dramatic on their own or when softened by foliage like Goldenrod (SOLIDAGO rugosa). The flowers are also edible, and can be tossed into a salad.

There are two more varieties of Snapdragon that deserve a mention here, the dwarf and the trailing varieties. The dwarf varieties, which include the ‘Tom Thumb’ varieties are low-grow­ers, seldom reaching more than 25 cm high. They can be used as multicoloured borders, around perennials or spring flowering bulbs. They can even be inter-planted with bulbs, so that when the bulbs die down, the Snapdrag­ons are still going strong.

The final type of Snapdragon is the trailing variety, the best known of which is the vigor­ous-growing ‘Luminaire’, a branching, mounded plant covered with big beautiful flowers. It is more informal in appearance and will trail over raised beds, containers and hanging baskets. Luminare is not available in seed form.

Snapdragons like sunshine but not intense heat, so they flower best in winter and early spring. Plant them in fertile, well-prepared soil, spacing dwarf varieties about 15 cm apart and the taller varieties about 30 cm apart. Most of the bedding plants available from garden centres will have been sown in March so you can expect flow­ers in June and July. Cut them down after flowering and they will send up new shoots for another flush. Seed can be sown directly into the beds or in seed trays all year round, although the best time is early autumn. Provide plenty of water during the dry season. During winter it is best to water on sunny mornings so that the foliage can dry off by evening, otherwise rust and mildew could de­velop. During the rainy season spray with fungicide to prevent rust.

Here are some varieties to look out for:

Tall growers: Animation (100 cm), Rocket (75-90 cm), Panorama (75­90 cm), Tetra (70 cm), and Madame Butterfly (70 cm). The Tetra Mixed and the F2 Fancy Show Mixed are available in seed packets.

Medium-height growers: La Bella mixed (45-55 cm) and Ribbon For­mula mixed (45-55 cm).

Dwarf varieties: Tom Thumb mixed (20 cm), Magic Carpet mixed, Dwarf Chimes (15-20 cm) mixed and in single colours of bronze, cherry, laven­der, pink, purple bicolour, red, rose bicolour, white and yellow and Bells mixed (20-25 cm) which has open florets.

Trailing: Luminaire, available in shades of red, deep purple, pink, bronze and yellow, orange and yellow, yellow and white.

The open area

Last month I introduced you to the four habi­tats that make up an ideal wildlife garden. Now we take a more in-depth look at one of these four habitats, the ‘open area’. Most gardens have an open area, in the form of mowed lawn.

Although this area may look ster­ile, it is an ideal habitat for certain wildlife spe­cies, particularly birds with long legs such as the Hadedas, Plovers and Dikkops. These birds prefer a clear view around them as well as a ‘runway’ for taking off. The lawn supports a huge insect population as long as chemicals are not used, and these provide a source of food for many wildlife species. The Fiscal shrike will sit on a branch at the edge of the open area and swoop down as soon as movement is detected. Hedgehogs will venture into the open area at night and then retreat to the exclusion zone as dawn breaks. The Olive thrush and other avian species can be seen dragging worms out of the lawn in the early morning.

The lawn is an important area for controlling the flow of rainwater. By ‘dishing’ the lawn, run-off water can be trapped and given time to soak into the ground. The lawn can also be used to channel the water into a pond or an area of the garden that has a high water re­quirement. This is far more preferable than hav­ing the water run onto the street and into the storm water drains. A soil that is wet to a depth of 500 mm or more ensures that less irrigation is required, thus reducing costs and preserv­ing a valuable resource.

Then the children have left the home and there is less need for a mowed lawn, the open area can be modified to reduce the high main­tenance. Planting indigenous veld grasses gives the landscape a unique African feel. Veld grasses can be limited to a section of the open area or the brave may even wish to replace the whole lawn. Most retail nurseries will not carry veld grasses as a stock item but they can be ordered. Alternatively, seed can be ob­tained from farming cooperatives. The veld grasses will attract certain butterfly species and you will have the great pleasure of watch­ing the finches feeding on the grass seeds rather than jostling on a feeding table. Instead of veld grasses, groundcovers may be used to replace the lawn. There are a large number of prostrate groundcovers which will provide colour all year round.

Pathways through the veld grass or groundcovers will make the gar­den a more interesting place to visit. Rocks and logs can be scattered throughout the open area to create wildlife habitats and make the land­scape more attractive.

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Labyrinths and Mazes

How many of us remember those ancient stories of the dreaded Minotaur, that legendary beast with a bull’s head and human body, who fed on human flesh and was kept in a labyrinth on Crete? Theseus slew it and used a thread to find his way out of this place of dark caves and passages, with innumerable twists and turns, which, to many of us, was an apt description of a labyrinth.

Labyrinths go far back into antiquity, one of the most famous being that created in Egypt, which had three thousand different sections, half of them underground and those above filled with art treasures.

Through the centuries, they were laid out in many countries, and during the thirteenth century were created in many cathedrals as a representation of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land during the crusades. The accurately geometric design of that at Chartres Cathedral is used today throughout the world, to foster a renewed interest in labyrinths, which started in the nineteen nineties.

The labyrinth has deep significance for many people, and is regarded as healer of past sadness and the bringer of a sense of release. These people talk of a sensation of deep peace, of meditation, as they walk the winding path. A labyrinth has no dead ends, but has just one path which leads, after complex meandering, to the centre, where a pause for meditation is taken before taking the same path back and out. It can take an hour or more to walk a labyrinth. A labyrinth may be drawn out on a level surface, to a specific design and may be planted, usually with low growing plants such as succulents. Or even painted stones.

This renaissance of labyrinths is world-wide, and can often be seen in public places, where people go to find peace and healing.

In Africa, labyrinths have been part of traditional ceremonies and in South Africa, they are now scattered throughout the country – one school encourages pupils to walk their labyrinth prior to taking exams.

There is no doubt that the labyrinth has come to possess great significance for a large number of people who come to walk what is known as the sacred path.

Apart from full sized labyrinths, the laying out of which involves great mathematical precision, some people take
pleasure in creating finger labyrinths, meticulously carved in wood.

At one time, and according to older reference books, a labyrinth and maze were classed together but now there is a strong dividing line between the two. A maze is regarded as a puzzle to be solved in a lighthearted way, as barriers are met, forcing one to turn back.

A labyrinth has no such barriers, with only sharp turns to slow down the walker. England has many mazes, meticulously laid out and planted with high clipped hedges to enclose the paths. Frustrating indeed to feel one is close to the centre, only to be met with a living barrier to turn one back, but certainly diverting. The Hampton Court maze is centuries old, and many country houses have an accompanying maze.

It is wise, if you are entering one of these, to make sure there is someone close at hand to rescue you.

nbsp;he labyrinth depicted above is in the midlands of KZN, and is based on that of Chartres Cathedral, a design which was used in many European cathedrals, and is the most widely used today. Dawn and Deborah Carter removed the grass to demarcate the path meticulously.

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