Don’t let the sun keep you indoors

2010-02-27 00:00

WITH the February heatwave still with us, gardening is not at the top of our daily agenda. However, those with a garden owe it some attention and loyalty at this time. Mowing, clipping, cutting back, edging, weeding and watering, when necessary, should not be neglected. Regular maintenance is a must to prevent a collapse, which eventually leads to far more work, effort and money.

Note the disastrous damage and waste of money all around the country — to roads, buildings, sports fields, parks, schools and hospitals — once neglect sets in.

Despite the hot sun, summer annuals portulaca, vinca, marigolds, nicotiana and nasturtiums are strong and colourful. Portulaca, also called iceplant, strangely, are low-growing with small leaves and satin-petalled flowers in pretty, strong colours, from white and cream to yellow, orange, pink and red. These small, spreading plants are bright and striking in containers and hanging baskets.

Vinca, also known as periwinkle, has been around for a long time in the rough and tough tall varieties, growing with careopsis and zinnias in most of South Africa’s railway-station gardens. Whites, pinks, mauves and bi-colours were prominent. However, today, the vincas on offer are little low-growing bushes with shiny green leaves. However, the large-faced flowers occur in the same shades as their forefathers. These are strong and healthy plants that don’t mind the hot sun.

Another summer stalwart is the marigold, which has the strength and ability to flower during our hottest months. Marigolds are a versatile choice for gardeners, insofar as they come in all sizes, from very short to very tall. Over the years, their very bright colours have been toned down to include a charming pale yellow and lemon.

Nicotiana, the tobacco plant, is very rewarding now that hybridising has stopped them from wilting and collapsing in the hot sun. More dwarf varieties of these branching, colourful plants are available. Nicotiana sylvestris is a tall plant with a candelabra of fragrant white trumpet blooms, recommended for where height is needed. Dwarf varieties carry an abundance of shades in a blend of pink, lilac, mauve and red.

Nicotiana langsdorfii is also interesting and attractive, with green bell-shaped flowers in profusion on branching stems. It is generally of medium height, but can grow tall.

Finally, a summer garden staple are those colourful nasturtiums — in bushes or spreading and climbing. These cheerful plants are for all seasons and seldom, if ever, fail to do their best.

The tendrils, which are fast-growing on petreas and the star jasmine, may be cut back regularly; they will still flower well in their season. Wisteria also needs cutting — it is on the older wood that flowers come. While some bougainvillea have sprays of colourful bracts, the juicy green stems of leaves pushing out strongly need some reducing.

Looking abroad, the floral decorations for the first cricket Test match in India were interesting. Red clay pots held yellow marigolds, coleas foliage and purple-leafed basil.

At the Dubai Open tennis tournament this week are generous masses of red and white anthuriums with ivy foliage, and I think the long bank of golden yellow must be arum lilies. It would be surprising if anthuriums came in golden yellow.

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