Tag Archives: The Gardener

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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KALANCHOE thyrsiflora or White Lady has fat grey leaves edged with pink, reminiscent of a full blown rose, and bears a majestic spike (up to 1,5 m high) of white buds which open to bright yellow, scented flowers. The plants form wonderful rosettes and bear flowers within their second year, after which they die back leaving hosts of seedlings at their feet. They add texture to a bed and are superb in a pot.

Crassulas deserve a whole article of their own – many of them thrive in semi shade and all have nectar-rich flowers. Members of the Blues and Copper butterflies breed on this family. With 200 species of Crassula there will doubtless be some suitable for your part of the country. Shown here is
CRASSULA alba – most inappropriately named because the petals are not whitish but a deep ruby red and absolutely riveting in a garden. Lime green basal rosettes of leaves add to their attraction and they are hugely popular with bees and insects. Although they die down after flowering they bloom for many weeks in autumn and are quick to re-sprout with many seedlings. They are such a joy!

ALANCHOE thyrsiflora (White Lady)

One of the biggest pleasures in my garden comes from one of the smallest plants –
CRASSULA nudicaulis. Bright green foliage and little flowering spikes of minute white flowers enjoy pride of place in my succulent bed because of the life they nurture. When in flower, a cloud of tiny butterflies and other insects hover over them for 6 weeks; making them quite a talking point, which every visitor is taken to see! Do seek them out and plant them if you can.

CRASSULA sarmentosa tumbles and spills down banks and is equally electrifying in a pot. Handsome foliage and large heads of little pinkish white flowers will light up any spot in dry semi-shade. They also draw bees and butterflies like a magnet.

KLEINIA fulgens is a delight in a dry spot. Grey leaves (wonderful texture and contrast especially with lime green Crassulas) and bright red blooms provide months of colour in winter. They are also excellent in a pot provided they have good drainage.

While on the subject of pots, another rewarding plant isPLECTRANTHUS neochilus with its purple-grey succulent leaves and fat purple flower spikes – our indigenous equivalent of lavender. It will rapidly cover a bank and thrives in semi shade and full sun, though it flowers prolifically in the latter. A delight indeed!

So go ahead this winter – search out our succulent treasures and treat yourself to year round displays of colour, texture and form, not to mention butterflies.

In closing I mention a special Aloe which is fairly uncommon in KZN gardens.
ALOE pluridens is endemic to the east coast of SA and here’s the joyful thing about it – it loves the shade! The soft green leaves are handsome in their own right with apricot flowers borne in May and June. It grows tall, but suckers wildly from the stem so it always remains quite bushy – so useful for the shady difficult areas under the eaves.

ALOE pluridens

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The Fruit Salad Plant (unusual plants)

Forschungsanstalt fur Gartenbau Weihenstephan

The Fruit Salad Plant – SOLANUM muricatum

Sometimes known as the pear melon, this easy to grow, somewhat sprawling plant does particularly well in a big deep pot, at least 75 cm in diameter and height, where it can hang its luscious fruits and its soft branches over the sides.

The Fruit Salad Plant originates in the temperate Andean areas of Peru and Chile, and at the end of the 1800s it was taken to California in order to establish it as a commercial crop. When ripe the fruits have a fresh, slightly sweet flavour and have been a favourite ingredient for meat, stews and fruit salads for centuries – hence its name ‘The Fruit Salad Plant’. The green and ripe fruits are also used medicinally: thinly sliced over minor burns, scratches, grazes, blisters, corns and infected mosquito bites, covered with a fresh leaf or two and then held in place with a crepe bandage.

Plant SOLANUM muricatum in full sun in well dug, richly composted soil and water every day if it is in a pot, or twice a week if it is in the garden. Feed it twice-yearly with an organic fertiliser and compost and repot it every third year. When it becomes straggly and untidy after its long fruiting period, prune it back to about half its height. New buds will emerge within a few weeks and more fruits will emerge.

The fruit varies in size from granadilla size, to the size of an elongated tennis ball, covered in golden apricot coloured, brinjal-like satiny skin, often flecked with dark purple, stripy dapples. The pulp is crisp and melon-like though not as sweet, and it smells of pears and honey, hence the name pear lemon. Try it cut in wedges steamed with ginger and honey and sunflower seeds, and serve it on vanilla ice cream.

I have trialled this fascinating plant for 10 years in the Herbal Centre gardens and love it more every year. I add surplus fruits to stewed apples, to berry jams and to pumpkin fritters and to fruit smoothies, and if Australia and New Zealand sell it in their markets, what are we waiting for?

With thise 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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In 50 to 60 million years cycads have changed very little and as such are often referred to as ‘living fossils’. The word cycad is derived from the Greek word ‘cyckos’ meaning palm-like and they are often confused with palms and tree ferns, but in fact are unrelated. Cycads belong to a group of plants called gymnosperms (meaning ‘naked seeds’) where the reproductive organs are produced in cones and not flowers as in other species.

These cones are the part of the plant that has poisonous properties. The seed kernels are highly toxic while the pulp around the seeds is generally considered non-toxic, but could have trace elements of the toxins cycasin and macrozamin. The amount of these toxins will differ from species to species. Cycads are listed in the top ten plants most commonly responsible for poisonings recorded by hospitals in South Africa. Symptoms of poisoning include vomiting, diarrhoea, headaches, dizziness and seizures. The toxins are known to cause severe liver damage in humans and are also carcinogenic. A case of poisoning occurred during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902 when nearly 70 men including General Jan Smuts and two of his lieutenants fell ill after eating fruit from ENCEPHALARTOS longifolius (Zuurberg Cycad). General Smuts was said to have been extremely ill and this incident is regarded by some as a turning point in his personal military strategy in the Cape.

The bright orange to red cones attract many animals including baboons, vervet monkeys, dassies, fruit bats and birds. After eating the fleshy covering, the animals spit out the poisonous kernels and disperse the seeds. In South Africa cycad stems have in the past been used as a food source, hence the Afrikaans name for cycads ‘broodboom’ (bread tree). The pith was removed from the stems, tied up in an animal skin, fermented and then ground into a meal.

All cycads in South Africa are now protected by law and the trade in cycads is strictly controlled due to over-collection from the wild in the past.

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Aloes range from the tall-as-a-tree ALOE barberae (formerly A. bainesii), with its rounded crown, curved terminal leaves and masses of pink flowers loved by birds, and A. dichotoma, the ‘Quiver tree’ or Kokerboom, down to the tiny A. aristata and others, and some have a rambling habit. At all times, they make a statement, and when they are in flower, they are assertive indeed. Members of the Liliaceae family, they are far removed, in many ways, from those elegant and graceful liliums.

Through the centuries, long before the gel of ALOE arborescens was used to alleviate the radiation burns suffered by the survivors of the Hiroshima bombing, aloes have been valued as medicinal plants. The ash of aloe leaves is used as an insecticide, and the leaves are also burnt to dry clay pots. A. arborescens is of great use in rural areas for planting as a closely growing hedge.

Being able to withstand dry conditions, aloes are valued for planting in rock gardens, dry sandy banks and places that are seldom watered, but if they are planted in very well drained soil, they can be mixed with other plants. It is important to give thought as to where your aloe originated, whether from mountain tops, beach sand or misty grasslands, and try to copy these conditions as closely as possible. Aloes will not accept waterlogged soil, and water should not be applied over the plant because of the danger of the water settling in the centre and rotting.

Plant one tall aloe close to the house or patio and, for weeks in season, you can watch the birds come to feast on the nectar. In the garden, try ALOE striata, with its red–margined, finely–striped, well-shaped leaves, from which the branched flower stems arise.For an attractive security hedge, A. arborescens will fit the bill. Take stems from an established plant, dry them off for a day or two, then plant them quite close together and keep them damp, not waterlogged. Later, it may be necessary to thin them out.

Aloes are good hybridisers, and a famous aloe grower once stated that A. arborescens was the ‘sexiest’ aloe, willingly crossing with any other aloes, with striking results. Aloes can be grown from seed, taken on a hot dry day when the seed capsules are starting to split open. Keep the seedlings in a sheltered place, just damp and, after planting out, give them weekly doses of weak liquid manure.

Aloes are prone to scale but first let the ladybirds come to feast on them, then gently brush the dead scales off with a fine brush. Aphids and weevils may be removed by hand and fungal pests such as rust can be sprayed with a suitable fungicide. Other inhabitants could be spiders, who spread their webs between the leaves, shining beautifully on a dewy morning, and birds, which have been known to make their nests within the leaves. You may even find a lizard languidly taking in the sun in the curve of a leaf.

Highly ornamental, extremely useful and truly South African are our aloes. They need our protection as well as our admiration.

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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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