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GARDENING: African Inspirations

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This Heritage Day, celebrate South Africa’s diverse flora and use indigenous plants in your own garden to capture the colour and spirit of our country

As we join hands to celebrate our South African culture on Tuesday, take a moment to appreciate the country’s diverse and intriguing floral heritage.

South Africa is rich with biodiversity and our flora in nine biomes provides habitats for abundant wildlife.

Fynbos is one of our most famous biomes, covering less than 7% of the country, and includes species such as pincushions, buchu, restios and proteas, of which the king protea (Protea cynaroides) is our national flower.

The Cape Floral Region is one of South Africa’s eight Unesco World Heritage sites.

Local is lekker

Landscape designer Joy Phala plans to design a garden that celebrates culture and biodiversity. Picture: Lebogang Tlhako

Landscape designer and organic gardener Joy Phala, says it’s a myth that indigenous South African plants lack aesthetic appeal for landscape design.

“It’s also a myth that the indigenous plant palette is not significantly diverse and requires supplementation,” said Phala. “The reality is that South Africa has one of the highest ranges of biodiversity in the world. About 10% of the world’s flowering species is concentrated in this corner of our globe.”

Phala is one of several landscapers invited to design gardens for the Johannesburg International Flower Show being hosted at Waterfall City near Kyalami from October 30 to November 3. The country’s leading landscape designers, as well as talented newcomers, will create showcase gardens, artisan gardens and theme gardens for show.

Phala’s pending design is a nod to her Zulu heritage. The garden, entitled Urban Zulu: An Indigenous Edible Garden, is a contemporary interpretation of childhood memories of village life, its natural landscapes with wetlands, edible wild berries, fruit, vegetables and medicines growing among non-edible flora.

“The garden combines naturalistic planting with bold modern architecture that comprises a garden pavilion with interiors inspired by the traditional symbols of the Zulu culture,” said Phala.

Promoting South Africa

Norah de Wet presents the 2019 SALI National Chairperson’s Discretionary Award to Leon Kluge. Picture: Kay Montgomery

Award-winning landscape designer Leon Kluge used colourful Ndebele hats as an intriguing water feature in his gold award-winning 2019 Chelsea Flower Show garden. The design was built around a hand-made slate mountain and showcased proteas and restios, bagging a second gold for Kluge, who took over the design of the famous Kirstenbosch-South Africa Chelsea exhibit in 2018.

Kluge grew up a horticultural family and studied landscape design in Israel before working in the Comoros Islands. In 2018 he became the first designer from Africa to win a Gold Award, Horticulture Excellence Award and Best of Show for his African Thunder fantasy garden at the Singapore Garden Festival.

Monkey apple seed pods were used as colourful accessories on the baobab trees in the African Thunder garden. Picture: Supplied

The garden featured 70-year-old olive trees, impala lilies and aloe species. Africa’s baobabs were represented as cultural elements and formed part of the garden’s lighting effects.

Kluge sculptured the trees out of roots and traditional Zulu basket patterns were painted on rice paper to complete the effect. African drums, mimicking rolling thunder across the landscape, produced a dramatic sound effect in the garden.

Leon Kluge’s African Thunder fantasy garden at the Singapore Garden Festival won Best of Show in 2018. Picture: Supplied

“Cultural elements are very important to me and all my designs contain a strong cultural theme.”

Kluge says he takes time with his designs. Once he gets his inspiration, he’ll consider a plant palette, then move on to cultural aspects. “It’s these cultural elements that are so colourful and bring a warmth and vibrancy to the garden.”

Early this year, Kluge was honoured by the South Africa Landscape Institute with the 2019 National Chairperson’s Discretionary Award, presented at the SALI Awards of Excellence.

He is working on designs for Chelsea 2020 and three other projects for international show garden events in China, France and a return to Singapore next July. Kluge will judge the show gardens at the Johannesburg International Flower Show, together with international judges Sharon McGukin and Pascal Garbe.

Indigenous beauties

How can you capture South African vibrancy in your garden? Leon Kluge says gardeners should consider these five indigenous plants.

Fairy bell (Dierama pendulum) For a fairy-tale look in a grassy meadow. The plant reaches up to 2m in height and pink flowers are produced in spring and early summer. Flowers attract honey bees.

Hooded-leaf pelargonium (Pelargonium cucullatum) A sprawling, drought-tolerant shrub that produces a purple explosion of flowers in spring and early summer. The plant is fast growing and can be used in a border, as part of a rockery or in a container.

The hooded-leaf pelargonium (Pelargonium cucullatum) produces an explosion of purple flowers in spring and summer. Picture: Warren Schmidt

Rough blue sage (Salvia chamelaeagnea) A dense shrub that grows to more than 2m in height. Flowers are blue with creamy-white markings and appear from summer into autumn. Plant in full sun in well-draining soil. Drought resistant.

Purple berkheya (Berkheya purpurea) A flowering perennial that produces gorgeous daisy-like flowers for the rockery or meadow. A feature plant that flowers in summer through autumn. Bees love the flowers.

Mountain deer fern (Blechnum tabulare) A gorgeous focal fern for a sunny or shady, damp spot. Also suitable for a container in semi-shade.

For more information on the Johannesburg International Flower Show, visit or see their Facebook page.


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