Plant for future generations

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SHARON WALKER

This is the first article in a series on plants suitable for the cold, dry Free State. I have tested them personally and they have all been planted and are growing on the SmartStone premises just outside Bloemfontein. They are all either indigenous or waterwise. Please take note not all indigenous plants are waterwise nor are all waterwise plants indigenous! This series is inspired by a visit to the farm near Dewetsdorp where my husband was raised. The place has been uninhabited for around 25 years and I knew the English Country Garden style only from photographs and his mother’s proud recollections. It was devastating to see that after years of neglect and having to survive on natures water rations there was virtually nothing left. The structures were still there, albeit delapidated, but there were just about no plants except a lone straggly lilac bush and a small patch of periwinkle. I could not believe it, even the established exotic trees hadn’t made it. And so I was reminded again on how important it is to plant relevant to the area in which one lives. Although our gardens give us great pleasure now, we should all be planting for the enjoyment of future generations. So let’s begin with one of my favourite plants, Hypoestes Aristata. This is a fast growing indigenous shrub, which in our region does best in semi-shade to shade. It can be planted in full sun but will then require more water. Hypoestes flowers in autumn just when your summer garden is starting to look sad and tired. It has purple flowers that reminds one of the ribbons that florists curl on their arrangements and hence its common name of ‘Ribbon Bush’ or in Afrikaans ‘Lintbos’. It is difficult to say exactly how big a hypoestes can become; in our region it is normally affected by frost and subsequently cut back and then has to grow out basically from almost ground level all over again. What’s great, however, is that it grows like wildfire! Those planted in my garden grow easily to a meter and a half by one meter wide each season. There is a variety called ‘Purple Haze’, which has a more compact habit and neater darker green foliage. Hypoestes is wonderful for the shady southern side of the house or under trees. Remember that if it is planted under trees it will need a bit more water as it will be competing for moisture with the tree roots. It is also a wonderful plant to encourage birds to your garden. It attacks insects which then attract insectivorous birds like robins, thrasher and barbets. It can be propagated from seed, cuttings and even large clumps of division. Cuttings would be taken in autumn when the bush is trimmed back after flowering. Cuttings would root over winter and spring and then be planted back out into the garden. For those worried about poisonous plants – do not worry about hypoestes, in some areas of our country it is eaten as a type of spinach so it is completely non-toxic. Hypoestes is not a greedy feeder but benefits from a mulch of compost at its roots and regular feeding in summer with an organic fertiliser rich in potassium.