I had one such case recently, when Trees in Africa (one of my favourite pages) posted information about and a link to an astounding body of root system illustrations, analyses and descriptions. The seven volumes of the Wurzel Atlas are the culmination of 40 years of painstaking work by a group of German researchers under one Prof. Dr Lore Kutschera, and the illustrations struck me for a few different reasons.
Firstly, it was the recognition of the painstaking work that goes into publications that we then get to peruse at our leisure. All the roots were dug up using a scriber (the metalworking tool) and then drawn with meticulous attention to detail with accompanying measurements and descriptions. How infinitely valuable are the books that document such research for posterity!
Secondly, I was astonished by the below-ground life of some of the plants illustrated. Take for example the little 8 cm high Geranium molle which has a root system 53 cm deep and 29 cm wide. Or Salvia verticillata, whose height of 32 cm comes nowhere close to suggesting a root system that is 180 cm deep and 121 cm wide!
Then thirdly, it dawned on me that this could be the reason why so many plants just never do as well in pots as they do in the garden. Clearly there are some that need more space to roam around underground than they do above ground. I also came to the conclusion that extensive root systems may be why certain plants are able to withstand extreme above ground temperatures.
How does the garden react to summer holidays and alternating heat waves and deluges? By growing madly, that’s how. This includes the weeds, of course, but we are still rewarded with beautiful colours and textures. The crocosmias are putting on their best autumn show ever, the Rangoon creeper just never stops, the climbers are encroaching on their neighbours, the trees have flowers and are developing lovely seeds while some, like the vaderlandswilg, are already dropping leaves in anticipation of the approaching winter.
A dainty rounded shrub with roundish two lobed green leaves and delicate crinkly scented white flowers in summer, Bauhinia natalensis grows about 2 metres high. Evergreen and hardy, it likes sun to semi shade. It attracts moths and butterflies. We have them in 10 litre bags in the nursery.
The lilac harebell Dierama medium is indigenous to the Drakensberg. Deciduous and very hardy, this is a clump forming corm with narrow grass like leaves and delicate arching spikes of pink flowers in summer. It likes full sun but moist soil. Reputedly one of the most floriferous of the dieramas.
Hibiscus praeteritus is a fast growing slender upright shrub with ovate coarsely slightly hairy serrated leaves and five-petalled pinkish-red flowers in summer. Waterwise, evergreen and hardy, it grows on average one metre high. Plant in full sun.
Pelargonium tongaense - pink is one of the few shade loving pelargoniums that can even take deep shade. A dainty rounded clump forming perennial, it has matt green leaves and masses of luminous dark pink flowers from spring to summer. Indigenous to KwaZulu-Natal, it is evergreen and hardy.
Clerodendrum thomsoniae is a gorgeous West African twining climber that reaches an average height of 300 cm. The terminal clusters of red and white flowers in summer are the reason for its common name of Bleeding heart. Hardy and evergreen, it can take sun to semi shade.
The deep violet blue flower clusters of the Dichorisandra thyrsiflora are quite spectacular in autumn. This is an upright approximately 1.5 metre high evergreen perennial with lance like leaves on cane like stems that grows well in semi shade. Hailing from Brazil, it is semi hardy.
No garden with dry sandy soil should be without Galphimia glauca. This is a hardy evergreen shrub that grows on average 1.5m high and not only offers clusters of yellow flowers all summer, but has neat glossy foliage that puts on a lovely autumn show. Plant in full sun.
Weigelia florida variegata is compact very hardy deciduous shrub with white edged green leaves that beautifully offset the masses of rose pink tubular flowers in summer. It reaches a height of 1.3 metres on average and likes sun to semi shade. A good cut flower and loved by birds.
Many years ago I had a beautiful tall pale pink Chinese Lantern in the garden called Jenny’s Pink. My first sight of it in Jenny Ferreira’s garden in Wellington left me speechless. Unfortunately, we have lost this beauty. Please let me know if you have one in your garden and can pass on some cuttings so that I can reintroduce it.
Since this newsletter started off with a story about a book, I thought I should remind everyone that I still have copies of one of my favourites for sale - Bruce Stead’s “Creative Indigenous Gardening”. Let me know if you would like to purchase one. I can highly recommend it.
As we start thinking about cooler times ahead - happy gardening and click here to visit our store!
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