As South Africans we are truly blessed with a stunning array of flora. There are approximately 20 000 plant species that are indigenous to our beautiful country and 2 700 of these are classified as bulbous plants. Some of these species are very well known and have been adapted to grow all over the world but our most famous bulb exports are the gladiolus and freesia. More than half of all bulbs grown in gardens around the world have their roots in Southern Africa. The perfect reason to be a proud South African gardener!
The main reason we have such a great variety of indigenous plants is because of our varying climatic conditions, ranging from the oldest deserts in the world to lush subtropics. If we look to the winter rainfall area of the Western Cape it holds a particularly diverse collection of bulbous plants which means that, traditionally, many of our indigenous bulbs cannot adapt to growing conditions in other areas. Even the Western Cape finds some species restricted to localised areas. Luckily for us, bulb producers have managed to hybridise many bulbs with excellent results, enabling us to grow our favourite indigenous species in various climates.
If you’ve always wanted a winter garden full of indigenous bulbs you should consider our lovely plant of the week trio: sparaxis, ixia and tritonia. They offer us multitudes of showy blooms and are firm indigenous favourites for many gardeners. You can plant these bulbs together from April to May expecting the first blooms from your ixia’s in September followed closely by the colour bursts offered by sparaxis and tritonia during September and October.
Babiana is another wonderful indigenous gem from the Cape region. Its common name, Baboon flower, is because baboons are said to relish their corms. The cup shaped bloom colours range from blue to mauve, red, white and cream which open successively from the lowest upwards. Plant your babiana in full sun to semi shade from mid April to late May to enjoy their company in August and September.
Everyone enjoys stopping to smell the flowers so don’t forget about the delightful freesia. They flower in a wide variety of colours, plus their wonderful fragrance sweetens any garden especially when grown in an enclosed spot such as a courtyard. Start planting these bulbs from mid-April to May and expect blooms from August to September.
In addition to looking beautiful, planting indigenous bulbs in your garden also has practical and ideological benefits. By definition, indigenous plants are well suited to our climate hence requiring less attention than sometimes thought. Ideologically it is great to support our local flora and protect South Africa’s horticultural wealth, especially as some species are reducing in numbers. Whatever your reason for planting indigenous species in your garden, we should all be very proud South African gardeners and make the most of our lovely homegrown beauties.