Christine's garden Gardening Home page features

First Camellia bloom of the season

The days are getting noticeably shorter here and the temperatures have dropped from the high 30’s of last week to a slightly chilly 23º C today. I had to go looking for a warmer jersey for the first time this year because my normal cardies were not doing it for me anymore. So I guess Autumn is actually here. We will in all likelihood still have some warmer days again until the chill sets in in mid to late April. Such is Autumn here in Cape Town. One day you are desperately trying to escape from the heat and the next day you’re looking for warm clothes…

It’s my very first “caring-about-my-garden” Autumn and so I’m watching the changes happening in the garden with interest and some anticipation (and expectation!). I have lots of Camellias in the garden of varying age, size and types and am watching all of them get buds. To my delight the first one has started to flower – beautiful crimson flowers which I thought I would share …

[one_half]First Camellia BloomFirst Camellia Bloom[/one_half]

[one_half_last]… and the SecondSecond Camellia[/one_half_last]

These are on a small(ish) compact shrub (about half a metre in height and sprawling one metre wide). The first flower opened on Tuesday and today there are four blooms on it with about twenty buds ready to spring into action. I love these shrubs, I’ve had a few of them attacked by aphids and have been diligently spraying these bugs off whenever I saw them and a quick check today and the Camellias are bug-free (Yay!). How do I care for them? Regular watering (its been daily watering during our summer heat), checking for bugs and spraying, all got some extra compost a week ago and regular fertilising with special fertiliser for Camellias. And of course they all have a generous layer of mulch around them. That’s it. They seem to be pretty hardy because they are all beautiful, healthy plants.

Watching the Camellias of all colours and sizes flower will no doubt cheer me up through the next four months when not much else will be happening in the garden … and I’m sure I will bore you to death with endless posts and photos of them all 🙂

I’ve just been on the American Camellia Societies website which has an encyclopedia of over 800 varieties of Camellias … wow! I didn’t know there are that many. It looks like a great website, one I’m sure to learn a lot from.


Christine's garden Gardening Home page features Trees

Mackaya Bella – Forest Bell Bush

[one_half]My shrub ‘Makhaya Bella’Makhaya Bella[/one_half]

[one_half_last]Flowering Makhaya Bella (From Bella[/one_half_last]

For a long time I’ve been trying to find out what one of the shrubs in my garden is. I’ve trawled through books and made assumptions and been wrong every time.

The main reason its been so difficult for me to identify this shrub is, that is has never flowered as long as I’ve had this plant, so I was trying to identify it by its leaves only. Not an easy task for someone as ignorant about plants as I am. I suspect the reason it has not flowered is that it was stuck in a very dark corner between the Willow tree and a Banana tree and received absolutely no light, never mind sun. It was in a very dark, deep shaded area. In December we were forced to remove the massive banana tree (it was causing structural damage to a wall) and now that this shrub has been getting light again it has almost doubled in size in the last two months. But still no flowers.

Yesterday I happened across some old gardening notes I had that says this shrub that I love so much is called “Asystasia Bella“. I googled it and found very little information and even fewer photographs that convinced me that this is indeed my shrub. Quite by chance this morning I did some more googling to discover that it is Asystasia Bella, but better known as Mackaya Bella (Forest Bell Bush), family Acanthaceae. I then found this page with two photographs of Makhaya Bella under cultivation at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Yay!! I’ve finally identified my shrub.

I’ve had to cut it back a lot in the past month because it was growing out of control and started to “fall over”. All the cutting has caused it to bush out even more. I staked it 2 months ago and its already outgrown the stakes, so it’s obviously a much happier plant now that it is getting some light. I love the leaves on this shrub – they are a lovely dark green, the plant is strong and healthy and seems to be immune to the pests that attack other plants here. Its easily propogated – because I like this plant so much, I took a cutting about four weeks ago and planted it directly in the soil in the back garden – its taken well and has started to grow new leaves! (not bad for a brown-thumb huh?!)

Now how can I get mine to flower like the one in the second photograph?

Notes I found on Makhaya Bella (from
Mackaya bella
is a beautiful shrub or small tree with slender branches bearing dark green leaves. The leaves are simple and oppositely arranged. Small, hairy pockets are often found in the axil of the veins. It has beautiful, large and attractive mauve to white flowers in terminal racemes usually marked with fine purple-pink lines. The genus Mackaya was named after James Townsend Mackay, author of Flora Hibernica. There is only one species in the genus Mackaya. The genus Mackaya was once included in the genus Asystasia. Its specific name bella means “beautiful”, a tribute to its large bell shaped flowers.

The forest bell bush occurs naturally in the Eastern Cape, Kwazulu Natal, Swaziland and Northern Province in evergreen forest, often along the edges of stream. This plant occurs nowhere else in the world except in Southern Africa which means is endemic to this region. Mackaya bella is commercially available in almost any local nursery in South Africa. It makes a stunning display if planted in a pot and can also serve for screening in a semi-shade area. The river bell is a desirable garden plant, which thrives in shade but flowers best with more sun, although this may cause leaves to yellow. The wood was once used to kindle fire by friction. The beautiful Blue Pansy butterfly caterpillars (Precis oenone oenone) feed on this shrub.

Gowing Mackaya bella: Growing Mackaya bella is easy from semi-hardwood stem cuttings taken during spring and autumn. Plants can also be propagated from seeds. Cutting materials may be treated with root stimulating hormone and should be planted in washed river sand. Rooting can be hastened by keeping the cuttings in a misted bed. In the garden forest bell bush should be planted in well-drained soil, with plenty of compost. Water well in summer, but less frequently in winter. To encourage bushiness plants should be pruned often. Mackaya bella is frost tender and it is advisable to plant it in a protected spot in cold regions. If is frosted, it should be drastically pruned to encourage new growth from the base. Mackaya bella performs best in sub-tropical to temperate regions.

More links to info about Makaya Bella:
Makhaya Bella at iGarden (Mackaya Bella thrives in Sydney’s climate)

Christine's garden Gardening Home page features Trees

Angel’s Trumpet

I have this very large evergreen shrub in the back garden (I actually refer to as a tree because it is as tall as my Pepper tree). During my “Tree Identification Mission” I have now learnt that it’s botanical name is Brugmansia x Candida and its common name is Angel’s trumpet. It’s flower does indeed look trumpet-like, they are large (about a foot long) and obvious in the garden especially once they fall off  and lie in and amongst the plants and mulch below. It’s a good thing its tucked at the back of the garden as I’ve now learnt that all parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested.

In my garden this large shrub is a real performer. It has been flowering profusely all summer long even now at a time when others have stopped, the huge white trumpet-like flowers continue to hang like fluted bells and attact birds and bees to my garden.

[one_half]Angel's Trumpet[/one_half]

[one_half_last]Angel's Trumpet[/one_half_last]

My opinion? For what its worth, I’m not overly fond of this shrub / tree. It is not the most attractive in my garden, I don’t like the mess the flowers make once dropped off the tree and … well, its just not a favourite. On the up side, I’ve paid it no special attention and its flowered all summer long, so it seems to be a low maintenance shrub in my garden.

Christine's garden Gardening Home page features

Nandina pygmaea dwarf Bamboo

Dwarf heavenly bamboo, Japanese sacred bambooOne of my favourite plants in my garden is Nandina pygmaea – Dwarf Sacred Bamboo. It is an evergreen shrub, used for its foliage and will apparantly endure diverse growing conditions. It grows well in a container and can be used as a background plant, low hedge, in a shrub border and as a groundcover. It grows in full sun or partial shade (green leaves) preferring moist, but well-drained soil.

The foliage is green with red to purple tones turning bright yellow and red in Autumn. We’ve planted this in various areas in my garden and it is amazing to see the difference in foliage colour, depending on how much sun it gets. In the very shaded areas of the garden it is a lovely light green colour with no “other”  colours whatsoever, and in the sunnier parts of the garden the leaves are turning all sorts of shades of orange to bright red. I’m looking forward to seeing what it does in Autumn …

This little plant is a dwarf version of the Nandina domestica and is native To China and Japan, where it is often planted near temples. Nandina will endure diverse growing conditions and grows easily throughout the country, but needs regular watering in dry areas. It is hardy to all but severe frost and will grow +-50 to 60cm tall and +-50cm wide. It will grow in full sun or semi-shade, but the leaf colour is more intense in winter if it is planted in full sun. In very arid regions it is best planted in semi-shade. Heavenly bamboo is semi-evergreen and will drop some leaves in winter. It prefers a light, moist well-drained soil, but will grow in most garden soils. Although it is moderately drought hardy, it responds well to regular watering in summer.