As regular readers may have guessed, I do not have much of a spring garden, as I have directed my efforts towards creating a summer and autumn floral display. Spring always seemed too short for my liking, with the blooms over and done with far too quickly, and often ruined by hot winds. However, I adore seeing spring flowers everywhere in my neighbourhood, and in recent years, I have added a few spring bloomers to my garden for enjoyment in August and September so that I don't feel entirely left out at this time of year!
It is a rather eclectic selection of plants, but I have noticed that many of them come from South Africa. They generally want good drainage in a dry, sunny position - with some exceptions, of course. A number of the early spring bloomers from this part of the world are daisies, which to me encapsulate the sheer joy of spring. Shrubby sailor-boy daisies (Osteospermum hybrids) are one of the earliest spring flowers, and their dazzling colours are decorating gardens everywhere in Sydney at the moment. Gazania daisies are excellent groundcover plants for a hot, sunny position and have an extended blooming period from August until November. Flower colours include pinks, cerise and white, as well as a range of hotter tints such as burnt orange, glowing red, bronze, mahogany, apricot and tawny gold. Last year I added the similar plant Arctotis to my garden and it has at last formed a sturdy mat and is opening its deep pink daisy blooms right now, looking lovely against its silvery foliage. I have it cascading over a brick wall, which seems to provide the necessary warmth for the plant to flourish.
Pelargonium - or what we usually call geraniums - are another classic South African plant for long-lasting spring colour. Zonal Pelargonium are fantastic for pots in a sunny position. Recent hybrids, such as 'Big Red', flower almost all year round if fed regularly and deadheaded often. Other colours in this range have been released, and I have been enjoying 'Big Rose' for several months, with its hot pink flowers. The ivy-leaved Pelargonium, which can grow at the edges of retaining walls or climb up trellises, will begin to flower in September, and are trouble-free plants for a sunny spot. I find that Pelargonium (like many other South African plants) exhaust themselves after a few years and should be replaced with a cutting or new plant.
I had never grown Nemesia until last year, as I assumed they were short-lived plants whose only value was in providing instant colour if a gardener had some unfortunate empty spaces when one's mother-in-law was due to visit. Last spring, I had many empty spaces and was in desperate need of colour, so I bought a few small pots of a purplish-blue variety. Not only have the plants survived, spread and flourished, but they are flowering again right now and bringing much pleasure. They enjoy a sunny spot and seemed to benefit from being cut back periodically. They may not survive after this year, but I definitely feel as if I've got my money's worth!
In semi-shaded areas of my garden, some bulbous South African bulbs are flowering well right now. Tulbaghia simmleri is a relative of the ubiquitous 'society garlic' (Tulbaghia violacea) but it has larger leaves and flowers as well as a light fragrance - and it copes with shade! The most commonly seen form has lilac flowers, but there is also a white variety. I'm enjoying my plants growing with miniature-flowered Camellia, sweet violets and Daphne odora.
Another South African bulb in bloom in part-shade is Veltheimia bracteata, with a clustered head of dusky-pink tubular flowers a bit like a Kniphofia. I have it growing nearby some pink and blue-flowered bromeliads, and it would also look good with the Tulbaghia described above, or succulent Crassula multicava, another worthy South African plant in bloom now. Clivia miniata plants are also of South African origin, and enjoy a shaded spot, and they are starting to open their orange trumpet-like flowers now. The Belgian hybrids are more intensely coloured, and there are now many other colours available, including creamy-yellow (shown at the start of the blog), peach and red. They combine beautifully with some of the hot-coloured flowers out in August that thrive in part-shaded spots, such as red, orange or yellow Abutilon, the yellow and orange bells of Justicia rizzinii and gaudy nasturtiums.
In late August and September, a host of other South African bulbs will begin to bloom: Freesia, Babiana, Watsonia, Sparaxis, Ixia and Gladiolus. They are the most suitable spring bulbs for our Sydney climate and will naturalise to form big clumps over time.
I hope you are enjoying early spring flowers in your garden! You can see a list of what else is blooming in my Sydney garden at the moment here.
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