top of page

Set your African Garden Ablaze

How to design, combine and manage your succulent display.

Published by The Indigenous gardener Web Magazine

Exciting gardening times are with us. The ongoing drought has urged us to think differently about our gardens. Colourful water-wise gardens are entirely possible and dare I say it, entirely necessary. Read on for ideas on how you can enjoy a bright blaze of colour year round with little or no water apart from rainfall.

Mention the word succulent, and many people envision a desert -like design. Not so! Have a look at the garden pictured here. It is alight with colour year round. It has had no added water (apart from rainfall) since its establishment two years ago. In fact, the drier and hotter the situation the better the plants look.

This particular site is perfect for this design – a steep sunny, hot hillside with poor well-drained soil and no water source available. It will translate perfectly on a flat area provided there is full sun. You can certainly make this work in your garden with the right conditions. Here’s how.

Start by measuring the area to be planted and roughly sketch the outline of the bed. Do you have rocks to add? Draw them in – try and copy Nature. Do not scatter lots of little rocks across the surface, rather use a few bigger ones and dig them in, roughly a third of the rock under the ground. You want them to appear as though they have emerged from the earth not thrown there by yourself! Think about the aspect of the bed – does it have a back to it? Will it be visible from all sides? In which case you may want the height in the middle of the bed.

(Click on image gallery to enlarge)

Next to be considered are the accent plants - the main features of the bed. These are plants which look good as singular features. The size of your bed will determine the number of focal points. Be careful not to use too many and lose the overall impact. Uneven numbers work best as a general rule.

Aloe ferox, large and stately with a single stem is one superb accent plant. So too is Aloe vanbalenii – knee high with lime green leaves and gold flower spikes - perfect singly or in groups of three. Perhaps Crassula ovata (Pink Joy) – the rounded shrub makes a superb accent plant with its shape alone, the pink flowers are a bonus. Grey-leaved Aloe chabaudii and green spotted-leaved Aloe maculata can also be used as highlights in your bed. All are wonderful for form and texture. And then - they all bear flowers of different hues through winter. Double colour – leaf and flower.

You could use that wonderful plant Portulacaria afra or Spekboom as an accent plant rather than as a hedge. Its red stems and round green leaves are just lovely.

(Click on image gallery to enlarge)

Make a list of your filler plants and simply fill the gaps with swathes of them. Take care to put contrasting colours alongside each other, i.e., red leaves next to gold leaves, grey with lime green or yellow, different shades of green together. Try and have a balance of round and spiky leaves - not too many of the same shape. Plant closely for an instant effect. The plants will never be wasted – as they grow you can simply divide up and replant in other areas. Use your sketch to try out the different colour combinations. I have a range of coloured pencil crayons for this purpose – very helpful at the design stage.

Preparation is key. Armed with your sketch, it is time to prepare the bed with compost and an organic fertiliser to get them going. Tough as they are, succulents and aloes do appreciate a good start so don’t miss this step. Do not turn the soil over – this is an old-fashioned practice that is actually harmful to the layers of soil and its accompanying creatures. Simply loosen the surface with a fork, apply your compost and fertiliser, lightly scratch it into the surface and you are ready to dig your holes to plant.

Compost is an aerobic product and needs to be in the top 15 cm of the surface. To put it any deeper is to waste it.

(Click on image gallery to enlarge)

The plants used as fillers in the accompanying pictures are as follows:

Crassula alba – glorious maroon red flowers for months on end, bees are always present on a flowering clump.

Crassula capitella – lime green with dainty white flowers, alive with butterflies in April and May.

Kleinia fulgens – bright red pompoms with grey foliage.

Curio aizoides and Curio crassulifolius: The former is a taller shrub with grey fingers; the latter is shorter with blue-grey fingers – a must in any succulent bed.

Kalanchoe sexangularis – the brightest red leaves and yellow flowers in winter. Too much water turns the leaves a nondescript green. Perfect for our hot, dry situation!

Kalanchoe thyrsiflora – wonderful fat cabbage like shape, grey leaves with pink edges. Superb contrast in a bed of spiky plants.

There are many more...

I mostly use the plants mentioned above, especially in small areas. If you have large spaces to cover, then you have a range of vygies to choose from – the Lampranthus, Delosperma, Aptenia, and Carpobrotus species. The problem with these is they tend to run over their surrounding neighbours in time and need to be cut back to stop them swallowing everything up. But they are exceptionally bee and butterfly friendly and useful for covering large areas quickly. If your accent plants are big enough – i.e., Aloe ferox or Aloe vanbalenii then these brightly flowered groundcovers are ideal.

(Click on image gallery to enlarge)

Managing your succulent bed is easy – there is one general “rule.” When a plant gets too long and leggy or woody, simply cut it down. Then replant the shortened cuttings, no roots needed. I generally remove the original plant and let the cuttings take its place.

More specifically...

Kalanchoe thyrsiflora has a long flowering season with tall flower spikes. As the flower dies back -after some months of a stunning display - the whole plant withers away. Look closely, and you will find a host of plantlets at the base. These can be split and replanted. Nature is so generous!

Crassula alba needs similar treatment. This beauty bears bright red flowers for months when it begins to die back just nip the dead stalks off - there will be a crowd of little bright lime green plantlets to take the mother plants place. Even these babies add to the colour of the bed.

Curio aizoides and C. crassulifolius are magnificent in a garden for their texture and colour. Both get woody after a year or so. Simply cut the stems off, shorten to the length you require and replant very closely. What could be easier?

I hope the garden here will encourage you to try succulent gardening for yourself. The benefits to the planet will be immense. You may even switch off your sprinkler system and convert your thirsty exotic patch to water-wise succulents. Now that would be progress.


Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Instagram_App_Large_May2016_200
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
bottom of page