Our Blog: Plants and other Stories


Coastal gardening for COLOURS AND CRITTERS

July 18, 2023  | PRESENTED and photos by Geoff Nichols

Coastal gardening


Above: Geoff’s property on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, where there were more than 700 species of plants in his garden. 

If you want to add some colour to your coastal garden, or if you’re keen to make your garden a veritable hub for our wonderful critters, then winter is the time to start preparing your green space.

That’s according to Geoff Nichols, well-known horticulturist and rare plant expert, in a recent Plant Conservation Webinar hosted by BotSoc. Geoff shares some advice for gardeners from the coastal summer-rainfall areas of South Africa.


Above: Winter is the ideal time to enjoy Krantz Aloe (Aloe arborescens), a long flowering species.

A gentle touch

Geoff recommends “gentle gardening” in winter, especially on the tropical and subtropical coast, including pruning to allow light in for lower plants. He says, “A rule of thumb with this pruning is going back about a third of the length of the stem.”

He suggests incorporating plants that will add colour to your garden in the cold months. “One of the best things for coastal gardens is the False Buckwheat (Dicliptera cernua). They’re very long flowering – about 6 weeks.” The Krantz Aloe (Aloe arborescens) is another good option, since it flowers for up to 5 weeks in the winter. “In fact, by combining it with earlier flowering forms of the Krantz Aloe, you could have up to two months of flowering aloes in June and July.” These are readily available in town across the Overberg, and you can collect cuttings with permission from the owner.  

“Bietou produces lots of fruit and, for me, it’s one of the best pioneers,” he says. “And the Dune Daisy (Dimorphoteca fruticosa) is a very good dune pioneer for holding sand, but it’s also a very nice ground cover in the garden.”


Above left: Scadoxus is fairly common close to the ocean towns of Struisbaai and Agulhas, flowering in February to March. Above right: Xylotheca kraussiana with a sunbird visiting the flowers  


A home for insects

Geoff encourages gardeners to keep the critters that inhabit your garden in mind when selecting plants, to promote your garden as a habitat for insects and small animals. By creating a home where indigenous wildlife can perform their “life requisites” – feeding, breeding, nesting and resting – we help sustain biodiversity.

“The Dune Soap-berry (Deinbollia oblongifolia) is one of the best butterfly feeding plants in the country, and it’s a very nice tree for a small garden,” Geoff says. “The Wild Banana (Strelitzia nicolai) is also wonderful for the coast – particularly for KwaZulu-Natal.” Fig trees can also offer food year-round.

He recommends exploring your area to find out which plants flower when. By selecting naturally occurring species with different flowering seasons, your garden will have food for its inhabitants throughout the year.


Above: An endemic cycad, Maputaland Cycad (Encephalartos ferox), grew well in Geoff’s KZN garden. Here it is visited by White-eyes, who enjoy its soft fruit. 


It’s all about the layers

It’s also important to include plants of different heights for different animals, Geoff says, “For instance, swallows and swifts use the tree canopies for feeding, and the vegetation below provides the insects for them to catch.” But layers are also simply a matter of scale, he says, “In the fynbos, renosterveld and strandveld in the Overberg, instead of a 20 metre-high cross section of layers, you might have layers from 50cm to about 3 metres high, depending on the wild vegetation cover type.” 

Another way to improve your garden as a habitat is by incorporating architectural features to make the space more functional. Consider introducing ledges, cavities, water and feeders into your garden.

Above: It’s ideal to layer your garden, from your canopy to your ground cover, to provide habitat for your garden’s inhabitants . 


Natural passageways to help animals move through our neighbourhoods can also be created with vegetation. “If you can, get your neighbours to agree to leave your hedges a bit wilder. They become corridors that give shelter to animals.”

The Crossberry (Grewia occidentalis) is a small fruit-bearing tree that can grow into a hedge, if you start pruning early before the stem gets too thick. “The fruit are actually quite tasty, even to humans, and they make wonderful hedges and screens – and they’re quick growing.”  

Geoff adds, “Diversity of different plants in a garden will bring many new species of wildlife to your doorstep. Try to have more than 100 different plant species in your garden. It usually means you will produce enough food for the local wildlife in the form of leaves, flowers and fruits for various birds, reptiles and insects to nest and shelter in.”

Above: The lovely Dune aloe (Aloe thraskii) is another winter-flowering species, and works well in coastal gardens. 


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The shortcut to easy gardening – go local
Geoff Nichols – Coastal gardening for your garden’s inhabitants
Get your garden buzzing!
One of the World’s Happiest Hobbies? Why, gardening of course
1 2 11


Open Monday to Friday 10h00 to 14h00. Closed on weekends and public holidays.

December holidays:  Office will be closed from the 25th December and reopen 1st working day of the new year

Contact Us

We are experiencing intermittent faults with our landlines. If you can't get through on our landline (021 797 2090), please phone or send a message to our alternate WhatsApp number: +27 65 922 6163.







Pin It on Pinterest

Share This