As winter comes to South Africa the nights draw in, the locals wrap up warm and batten down the hatches. Driving rain and gale force winds lash the Cape at regular intervals, snow caps the mountains and frosts line Highveld gardens. As winter arrives it is time up and down the country for many Aloe species to come into bloom. South Africa is home to 125 different Aloe species with many more hybrids bred for cultivation. So what makes these beauties so worthwhile to grow? The BotSoc Blog is here to take a closer look.
They add warmth and colour to the winter garden
Above: The Aloe Garden at Garden Route Botanical Gardens in full bloom. Photo: Zoë Poulsen
When the winter days are short and the weather is cold, Aloes cannot fail to bring warmth to your garden with their spectacular blooms. Their torch-like blooms come in many shades of yellow, red, green, orange and everything else in between against the dark winter skies. They look particularly spectacular when planted en masse. Check out the Matthews Rockery at Kirstenbosch NBG, the Succulent Rockery at Walter Sisulu NBG or the Aloe Garden at Garden Route Botanical Gardens for inspiration.
They come in all shapes and sizes
Above: Aloe hybrids in the display garden at Rooiklip Nursery, Swellendam, Overberg. Photo: Zoë Poulsen
No matter the size of your garden or outdoor space, there is always an Aloe that will fit whether you garden in pots on a small balcony or have a sweeping expanse of garden. The Tree Aloes, now in their own genus Aloidendron, grow to form huge and many branched specimens with Aloidendron barbaraeforming a trunk up to three metres in diameter. Hollow trunks of particularly large specimens of Aloidendron dichotomum are sometimes used as natural refrigerators. In contrast, the widely cultivated Aloe variegata and many others grow easily in small pots. This species was one of the first Aloes to be successfully cultivated in Europe.
They are waterwise
Above: Aloe marlothii in habitat. Photo supplied by Eugene Moll.
We live in a water scarce country, gardening with the need to use water sustainably so we have sufficient for when the next drought comes around the corner. One of the keys to waterwise gardening is selecting the right plants that will survive with minimal or no additional summer watering. Aloes are perfect waterwise additions to the garden. Their succulent leaves make them highly drought tolerant and they require minimal maintenance once established.
They attract wildlife into the garden
Top: Aloe speciosa. Above: Aloe huntleyana. Photos: Zoë Poulsen
As South Africa’s cities grow, coastal housing developments sprawl and habitat loss from urbanisation is ongoing, gardens are becoming increasingly important places for our wildlife. Well planted indigenous gardens can support a plethora of different species, supporting pollinators and acting as corridors through urban areas for wildlife. The rich nectar from many Aloe species support bees, butterflies and colourful sunbirds that make beautiful visitors to the indigenous garden.
They have a plethora of different medicinal and cosmetic uses
Above: Aloe arborescens in full bloom in the Matthews Rockery, Kirstenbosch NBG. Photo: Zoë Poulsen
Members of the genus Aloe have a plethora of different medicinal uses. In South Africa Aloe ferox is most widely used in medicinal and cosmetic products. When an Aloe leaf is cut, the juice oozes from the cut leaf and this can be used in first aid treatment of burns. Aloe juice from Aloe arborescens was used in the treatment of irradiation burn victims of Hiroshima. Extracts from the leaves have since been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-ulcer and wound healing effects.
So what are you waiting for? Why not give a home to one of these extraordinary plants in your outdoor space? Happy gardening!