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South Africa – Closer Than You Think!

South African flavour under the bright blue skies of Nymans

South African flavour under the bright blue skies of Nymans

In last week’s blog we showed you the Summer Borders, arguably the most colourful part of the gardens here at Nymans right now. Well, running them a close second is surely the South Africa bed, found beyond the house near the Loggia building. The South African bed is a celebration of the plants of the region, making great use of herbaceous perennials, bulbs, daisies and annuals to give maximum colour, playful textures and rhythmic patterns together with bold drifts. In keeping with the Messel family style it aims to have a theatrical element too. The South African Bed is an experiment in hardiness, with the aim to try and have fun, testing new plants whilst increasing the South African collection at Nymans.

The bed in its previous incarnation...

The bed in its previous incarnation…

...before it was cleared ready for planting

…before it was cleared ready for planting

The South African Bed was designed by one of our current gardeners Kirstin Kelly whilst she was training here back in 2011 as part of the Historical Botanical Gardens Bursary scheme. The clearing of the old bed was done that Winter with the initial planting taking place in late Summer the following year. Tweaks obviously still continue to be carried out now, with tasks like direct seed sowing done on an annual basis.

Kirstin starts to plant out her design...

Kirstin starts to plant out her design…

...with the first stage of planting in the early infant border finished in August 2012

…with the first stage of planting in the early infant border finished in September 2012

The planting scheme is a combination of two important elements of the heritage at Nymans. The bed was always known historically as the Wild Garden, with records of a wild flower meadow in the area. Staying true to the wild theme we planted a new meadow with a twist, whereby the bed was made up only of South African plants. This reinstates the second historical element – a South African plant collection. The Messels were great collectors of rare and unusual plants and a large important South African collection was amongst them.

Gorgeous soft pinks of these Watsonia hybrids counter-balance the hot colours elsewhere

Gorgeous soft pinks of these Watsonia hybrids counter-balance the hot colours elsewhere

Other floral highlights include this Berkheya purpurea ‘Zulu Warrior’

Other floral highlights include this Berkheya purpurea ‘Zulu Warrior’…

... and these stunning Eucomis bicolor show-stoppers

… and these awesome Eucomis bicolor show-stoppers

This year our South African Meadow has been basking in all its glory under the sunshine and blue skies of our long hot Summer. The bed is a real beneficiary of this heatwave and after the mild Winter it certainly hit the ground running with plants such as Melianthus major surviving the frost and growing bigger than 5 ft 6 inch Kirstin herself who planted them! The wonderfully gaudy apricots, oranges and pinks of the Watsonia Hybrids have also been a dazzling success, keeping their foliage thorough Winter for a vital head start in Spring.

It's not all about the flowers in this border.  The foliage of this Melianthus major is stunning too.

It’s not all about the flowers in this border. The foliage of this Melianthus major is stunning too.

The South African Bed, also known here as ‘The Wild Bed’, is now the grand old age of two years old and is really filling out nicely. We’re very pleased with our work but if you’re undertaking a similar scheme yourself there are a couple of things to bear in mind. When planting a new bed don’t be in doubt when you read plant information that gives potential final height and spread. They really will grow as tall and as wide as the information states, given the right growing conditions of course. When it also states that they self-seed prolifically, take it from us, they really do! The meadow is now billowing with hot coloured plants and soft textured grasses. There is a river of orange daisies (Dimorphotheca aurantiaca) running thorough accents of Red Hot Pokers (Kniphofia ‘Nobilis’) as well as tussocks of reeds (Elegia tectorum) for added texture. We like to think of it as a treasure chest of fun colour combinations and rare and unusual plants, some of which we’ll talk you through below…

Seeing the colours beyond through this Elegia tectorum reed is a great way of revealing the plants gradually.

Seeing the colours beyond through this Elegia tectorum reed is a great way of revealing the plants gradually.

Known as the Thatching Reed, Elegia tectorum is grown in South Africa as a roofing material. This reed like plant comes from a family of plants known as Restios, and it is grown here for its attractive evergreen foliage. Elegia tectorum forms tufted clumps of stunning deep green spikes patterned with brown flower bracts. They flower in Autumn and form attractive seed heads that enjoy a mild and breezy climate. We have situated our plants where the bed undulates down as they like a moisture retentive soil. It is only hardy to -8c however and requires Winter protection in the form of horticultural fleece.

Even the bees love our Red Hot Pokers!

Even the bees love our South African Bed!

Known as Red Hot Pokers or Torch Lillys, plants such as Kniphofia uvaria ‘Nobilis’ (as seen above) have been out of fashion of late but really deserve a bit of a come-back in our opinion. The ones seen here are evergreen perennials producing spikes of vibrant orange flowers from Summer onwards. They are dazzling, flamboyant and architectural. Growing up 2.5 meters high they produce upright accents in this low planting scheme that shout for your attention. Loved by visitors and insects alike, Kniphofia are really useful vertical flowers that come in all sorts of colours from bright reds to jade green, apricots and corral pinks, giving plenty of options to choose from.

Pennesitum villosum 'Cream Falls'

Pennesitum villosum ‘Cream Falls’

Pennesitum villosum, or Feathertop Grass, is one of the easiest, most attractive and supremely tactile grasses to grow. Brilliant white, ‘rabbit-tail’ spikes are produced in abundance from these bushy, clump-forming deciduous plants. ‘Cream Falls’ is highly eye-catching as the spikes catch the breeze, adding movement and texture to the border. These grasses are quick to flower and often used as an annual, although strictly they are a perennial. They are not fully hardy however and so may not make it through our Winters but they are likely to self-seed to perform again the following year though. They should flower from July right through to September, reaching about 45cm high.

These South African Daisies really 'zing' at the front of the border

These South African Daisies really ‘zing’ at the front of the border

Dimorphotheca aurantiaca, also known as African Daisy, Star of the Veld or Cape Marigold, grows to about a foot high, with a dense mass of aromatic leaves, topped in summer by bright orange blooms with a brown centre. It used to be included in the genus Osteospermum, and is still sometimes referred to by that name. These fantastic annuals are easy to grow and flower up to 9 weeks in the Summer months, direct sown here in large drifts to mimic their natural habit in South Africa.

South Africa in Sussex!

South Africa in Sussex!

If you want to include some South African plants in your own garden scheme and some of ours sound a little too exotic for your tastes, don’t forget that the likes of Agapanthus, Crocosmia, Nerines and Pelargoniums are also from that part of the World. Either way, make sure you come and see our South African bed here at Nymans soon. Along with the sub-tropical planting on the Terrace which is full of drama and big leaves and even bigger colours, and not forgetting the vibrant colours of our Summer Borders as seen in our previous blog, we invite you to come along and enjoy the dazzling fruits of our Summer. Just don’t forget your sun glasses!

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