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GARDENING: Get ready for summer

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Enjoy entertaining friends and family in a colourful and well-maintained garden this holiday season and also focus on herb growing for flavouring or spicing up fine festive food with freshly picked treats

Gardening time is often limited at this busy period in the year, so focus on colour at your entrance, on patios and around outdoor entertainment areas. Seedlings and colour bags from your local garden centre will freshen up high visual spots during the summer holidays.

The Entrance

Welcome guests with a front pathway of drought tolerant, sweetly-scented carpets of white, pastel pink and purple alyssum, a favourite of bees, or brightly coloured single or double rose-like flowers of the moss flower (Portulaca grandiflora), a favourite of butterflies. 

Stand tall vertical containers of water-wise New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax) cultivars, such as Flamingo or Margaret Jones with striped foliage, or the crane flower (Strelitzia reginae), on either side of the front door. Plants suitable for shady entrances include hydrangeas in half barrels, and pots of fuchsias, bedding begonias and impatiens.

Hydrangea ‘Endless Summer Pink’ will flower regularly if dead-headed. Picture: Lukas Otto

Entertainment Areas

Entertainment areas can be made more attractive with pots of brightly coloured, heat-resistant annuals, cockscomb (celosia), marigold, salvia, vinca and zinnia. Bushes of Marguerite daisies (argyranthemums) in flower are useful for filling gaps. Instead of planting singly, plant close together in groups.

Day lilies are great value in the summer garden, as are agapanthus in white and shades of blue. Encircle the fire pit area with water-wise strelitzia, Cape honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis), lion’s ear (Leonotis leonurus), watsonia, red-hot-pokers and aloes.

Plant cockscomb (celosia), a resilient annual, for bold colour in sunny spaces. Picture: Louise Jenner-Clarke

Plants with grass-like foliage, such as Carex morrowii Variegata, big blue lilyturf (Liriope muscari), variegated weeping anthericum (Chlorophytum saundersiae), Starlight and tuft grass (Aristida junciformis) add a different texture, are useful fillers and contrast well with bold foliage.

Plant the burn jelly plant (Bulbine frutescens) near swimming pools so the jelly-like juice in the leaves is easily available for rubbing on insect bites and sunburn. Stand pots of culinary herbs near the braai area. For an Italian flavour, choose sweet basil, Italian parsley, oregano, marjoram and thyme. For a French flavour, go for tarragon, chervil, parsley, chives and sage.

Focus colour at entrances points, on patios and along pathways. Picture: Neil Hepworth/RHS


Decorate the patio for the festive season with a red mandevilla trained on a trellis and pots of red patio roses, gerbera, anthuriums and pelargoniums. Red bedding begonias or impatiens would be a good choice for semi-shade, as would fuchsias with red and white bells.

A patio can be designed to be at its best in the evening with fairy lights and a small fountain for a relaxing background sound. Panels of trellis will filter wind, provide screening and vertical support.

Include a small fountain on the patio and relax to the soothing sound of water. Picture: Christoph Hoffmann

Star-jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) with small fragrant white flowers in summer is a quick-growing evergreen climber. Decorate the patio with plants that are fragrant in the evening, such as the dainty evening stock (Matthiola bicornis), tuberose or gardenia. 

Herbs for the holidays

A bay tree (Laurus nobilis) can be clipped into an attractive standard. Picture: Jon Enoch/RHS

A pot of rosemary can be a miniature Christmas tree. A wreath can be made of herbs and small red chillies or sprigs of herbs can be tucked into table napkins.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). The pungent silvery-green, needle-like leaves are famous for flavouring poultry, game and meat dishes, also cheese and egg dishes. Harvest leaves from the tips of branches throughout the year.

Sage is traditional as a stuffing with bread, sausage and onions for poultry, pork and the turkey. In addition to English sage (Salvia officinalis), there are variegated and purple-leafed varieties.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a small perennial shrub with tiny aromatic leaves, and the common and lemon-scented thyme are worthy of a place in the garden. It is one of the most favoured herbs in French cuisine, and the leaves and sprigs are widely used for flavouring and garnishing poultry, vegetables and cheese and egg dishes.

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) leaves have a subtle onion-like flavour. Chop and add to sauces, soups, fish, omelettes and salads. The mauve flowers are used in herbal vinegars and the petals can be scattered over salads. It makes an attractive edging plant in the garden.

Bay (Laurus nobilis) makes an attractive shrub in the herb garden, where it is often grown as a clipped standard. It was believed that “neither lightning nor the devil will hurt a man who has a bay tree near him”. Dried and fresh leaves are used to flavour savoury and sweet dishes.

Saving time

  • If you plan to be away from home, arrange for someone to regularly mow the lawn. Group outdoor pot plants together so it makes it easier for a friend to water them.
  • A temporary shade cloth will provide shelter for pot plants that need protection from direct sun and wind.
  • Keep soil cool and retain moisture by covering soil around plants, keeping away from the stems, with 8cm-10cm of mulch.
  • Be on the look out for a caterpillar that bores into agapanthus leaves, stems and rhizomes and treat with Margaret Roberts Biological Caterpillar Insecticide.


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