A touch of summer

By Megan Mackenzie 19 November 2020
Protea pincushions, image Unsplash

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” wrote Charles Dickens in 1859, in his historical novel A Tale of Two Cities. In fact, the British writer and critic could have written these words in 2020.

We all need some joy and brightness to cheer us up during these grim times, and summertime, that wraps gardens around the country with its glorious colours and scents, might just be the antidote we need. As George Gershwin who in 1935 composed  Summertime for the opera Porgy and Bess, wrote: “summertime and the livin’ is easy…”

And indeed, colour is so easy to introduce into our life, no matter the size of one’s home. Pot up used tins with herbs and marigolds (yes, they are back!) and place on your kitchen windowsill. Marigolds make perfect companion plants in vegetable gardens too, due to their pest-repellent properties.

Plant climbing roses outside your front door. Think Eden Rose, Perfumed Breeze or the gentle Compassion – which is so suitably named for these times. Or wire bright, generous bouganvillia up your walls.

Fill wooden barrels with hydrangeas, also known as Christmas flowers, that love growing near the sea air; although remember to keep them away from the hot afternoon sun.

Hydrangeas (photo Unsplash)
Hydrangeas (photo Unsplash)

Another option is to introduce a Mediterranean theme on your balcony: fill terracotta pots with lavender, rosemary, shorter roses such as My Granny, which rose expert Ludwig Taschner describes as “a spreading shrub covered with lush green foliage and blooms of the lovely full rosette form. Basal stems soon start forming large clusters of blooms which, with their weight, arch gracefully”, and ocarina; or lovely fluffy grey artemisia, bright petunias and blue agapanthus.

Agapanthus (photo Unsplash)

Add scent with the evergreen glossy-leafed star jasmine, the beautiful coffee jasmine shrub and a small citrus tree; the bees and butterflies will be grateful, too.

Jasmine (photo Unsplash)

And of course, the common drought-tolerant agapanthus praecox gives a glorious show at this time of year; while the small nana-white agapanthus flowers profusely and shines even at night – agapanthus loves growing in pots.

There are some tried and tested colour combinations. Blues and lilacs fare best with pale yellows, “tapestry” colours such as orange, red and purple are calmed down beautifully with a very pale peach. Mix whites with greys, creams and limes to reduce the sharpness.

South Africa, being one of the richest floral kingdoms in the world, has an endless supply of beautiful coloured flowers to choose from. Think of the many types of geraniums – take cuttings from your friends, after all gardening is all about generosity, the glorious range of salvias; my favourite is the very common Salvia Africana with its gentle pale blue flowers, taller freylinia with lilac or white flowers, nemesia which come in dusky-pink or mauve. The last of the pincushions are still flowering, and what a cheerful show they have been!

In addition, the array of succulents these days is amazing: fill smaller pots with kalanchoe, crassula, echeveria, cotyledon, and, of course, the ubiquitous portulacaria. They need good drainage, not too much water, and a little compost when they are flowering – what could be easier? Line them up on your dining room table when entertaining, your guests will love the shapes and textures.

Most magically, the plants this year seem to understand that we need cheering up and they have all put on an unparalleled colour performance.

American novelist Alice Walker wrote so succinctly: “Whenever you are creating beauty around you, you are restoring your own soul.” So get going with the soul work – it lifts the senses and spirits. DM/ ML


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