Daisies symbolise cheerfulness, freshness and the arrival of spring. In our present era of water restrictions and parched gardens, it is welcome news that some daisies are tough plants which can survive well in such conditions. Many hail from places of low rainfall, such as South Africa, Mexico and the Canary Islands, and thrive in relatively poor, well-drained soil in a sunny position. They flower mainly from late winter into spring and there are groundcover types as well as taller shrubby perennials. Generally only marginally frost hardy, they are best suited to frost-free gardens. They are bothered by no insect pests or diseases.
They are versatile plants, lending themselves to different styles of gardens, including cottage effects; arid-style gardens with succulents, Phormium and Coprosma; or in some cases mingled with Australian native flowers. They are all excellent choices for seaside gardens as they grow well in sandy soil. In the smallest of gardens, they can be grown in pots. Regular dead-heading of spent blooms prolongs their flowering period. Perhaps because of the sheer abundance of the flowers they produce, the shrubby sorts seem to exhaust themselves after a couple of years and should probably then be replaced by cuttings, which are very easily propagated.
South Africa has given gardeners some very drought-resistant plants and its daisies are no exception. Groundcovers Arctotis (ht 45cm) and Gazania (ht 20-30 cm) are smothered in big jazzy flowers for a long period. They come in colours of pinks, cerise and white as well as a range of hotter tints such as burnt orange, glowing red, bronze, mahogany, apricot and tawny gold that are some of the most vibrant in the plant world. The flowers are held above a carpet of attractive foliage: jagged silvery leaves in the case of Arctotis and slender green or silver ones with the Gazania They can tumble down dry banks or over retaining walls, and a mixture of different colours grown together can form a low-maintenance Persian rug effect between shrubs in any dry, sunny spot.
On a more shrubby scale, South African sailor boy daisies (Osteospermum cultivars) grow to a height of between 30cm and 1m. Modern types are more compact than the original rather sprawling ones, and yellow and orange versions have been added to the traditional pink, white and purple flower range, though these ones are probably the toughest performers. Most have dark blue centre to their flowers, which in the case of the sparkling whiter-than-white form gave rise to the common name of 'sailor boy' as they do have a distinctively naval look. They are very hardy plants and will actually not perform well if the soil is rich and well watered! They do have a tendency to self-seed so should be grown with caution near bushland areas and cut back hard after flowering.
The small shrubby South African Felicia amelloides, sometimes called the blue marguerite, grows to around 45-60cm with cute sapphire blooms with yellow centres. White, pink and mauve cultivars also are available. In flower for much of the year, it seems to be at its peak in late winter and spring. It should be dead-headed regularly. Felicia mingles happily with blooms of any other colour and in virtually any garden style.
The marguerite daisy (Argyranthemum frutescens, previously known as Chrysanthemum frutescens), hailing from the Canary Islands, is the archetypal daisy flower in various colours - pinks, white, cream, yellow and burgundy - at the same time as the South African ones, and likes the same sort of garden conditions. There are many cultivars available these days, some of them very compact, though the old-fashioned single and double white and pink ones which grow about 1m tall are probably the most resilient. They are a quintessential cottage plant and make a wonderful contribution in the garden for months on end. They are sometimes shaped into a standard form, or used to create an informal low hedge.
The little seaside daisy (Erigeron karvinskianus, ht 40cm) is a Mexican plant with a delightful haze of tiny pink and white blooms in late winter and early spring, though it seems to have some flowers almost all year round. It can provide a groundcover in areas where literally nothing else will grow. It does self-seed and has a habit of lodging itself in all sorts of nooks and crannies in the garden, between steps and in brick or stone walls. The effect is charming for those who don't mind a slightly wild look in their garden: those who prefer to keep the upper hand should probably avoid this daisy like the plague. It should be cut back very hard in autumn to keep it compact.
For late winter-early spring flower power, think daisies!
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