Exploring South African Show Stoppers for Welsh Gardens

Blue skies and crisp mornings are any gardener’s dream but are something that can often be in short supply during a typical welsh winter. When I stepped off the plane after landing in South Africa a few years ago, being greeted by glorious fresh weather was somewhat of a shock to the system. The biggest surprise of the trip, however, was discovering just how many of the plants that grow in SA will actually make great garden plants in the UK too.

Geranium, Kniphofia and Lilium in Aberglasney’s Sunken Garden

I was lucky enough to get to see how and where plants like Agapanthus and Red-Hot Pokers grow naturally, and it does make you question how on earth they survive British weather. Thankfully for us, they do, and UK growers are able to enjoy some fantastic plants that I’ll mention in detail a little later. Firstly though, I should explain the many different types of South African plants that are available to us, where to plant them, and how to grow them successfully.

Geranium and Agapanthus

Bulbs and herbaceous perennials are the most grown South African plants in the UK. Generally speaking, the best conditions for them are hot sheltered sites where winters are mild and summers are hot. This is certainly the case with Agapanthus – it grows over 6 feet tall in Cape Town and are considered a weed in many countries.

Agapanthus in Aberglasney’s Upper Walled Garden

Commonly known as African Lilies, Agapanthus are mid-summer flowering perennials that have flowers that come in a range of tones from blue to white. Each head is held on a slender stem which makes them excellent impact plants. There are hundreds of varieties available, some evergreen and some deciduous. The evergreen ones often have darker flowers and tend to be the most popular choice. They make great perennials in the right conditions and will form huge clumps.

Lilium ‘Miss Freya’ and Agapanthus campanulatus in Aberglasney’s Upper Walled Garden

Red Hot Pokers, or Kniphofia, are another common garden plant hailing from a similar area. Over the last fifty years or so, there’s been a lot of new breeding. Recent Royal Horticultural Society Trials have concluded they make good garden plants, especially in similar conditions to Agapanthus. The most exciting thing is the selection of them that’s available.

Kniphofia ‘rooperi’

In the past the typical red and orange pokers were often the main, or only, choice available. Now, there’s a huge variety of sizes, shapes and colours available to us – especially in yellows, reds or oranges. They’re a great plant for creating an exotic feel to a traditional herbaceous border.

Kniphofia ‘November Glory’

The range of colours available makes them very useful garden plants, especially as many are late flowering too. Most are fairly hardy and are pest and disease free. ‘Tetbury Torch’ is a particular favourite of mine as it’s a vivid orange/red and is quite a showstopper in any garden. ‘Citrina’ is also lovely and is a more subtle colour – green tipped with yellow.

Kniphofia ‘Tetbury torch’

There are many other wonderful native South African garden plants that deserve a mention: Crocosmia, Galtonia, Crinum, Amaryllis and Gladiolus spring to mind. Many of these do very well at Aberglasney giving eye-catching midsummer displays and can happily survive our welsh winters.

Crocosmia ‘Hellfire’

Another good reason for mentioning them at this time of year is that most can be bought as bare root plants or bulbs at a much cheaper price. They can also be grown as tender perennials and stored in a glasshouse over winter.

One of the biggest qualities of these plants is their range of colours and times of flowering – many look fresh and beautiful in mid – late summer. There’s also something particularly satisfying about growing plants in the garden that originate from an almost tropical Africa. What a fete!

Tips for the Week:

  1. Sow early vegetables such as carrots, onions and parsnips
  2. Warm soil with fleece before planting
  3. In the glasshouse, peppers, aubergines and tomatoes can be sown with some added heat
  4. Make sure you’ve got your seed orders submitted before stocks run out!
  5. Prune fruit trees that don’t have stone fruit and shrub roses – make sure to wait for the weather to warm a little as frost can cause damage to fresh wounds