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​How to grow great young indigenous gardeners

Give children of all ages the lifelong joy of gardening with local South African plants



FEB 16, 2021 | Written by Zoë Chapman Poulsen. Photos by Zoë Chapman Poulsen, Sharon Louw, Jakob Fahr, Ryan Van Huyssteen & supplied by SANBI. 




Above: Children from the Siyabulela school enjoy a summer visit to Harold Porter National Botanical Garden in Betty’s Bay, Overberg. Photo supplied by SANBI.


Globally, gardening has surged in popularity since the start of the pandemic. The green-fingered hobby was rated second favourite only to watching TV as a lockdown activity in a survey by GlobalData market research.

Lockdown or self-isolating encourages families to make the most of staying at home – including spending quality time with loved ones in the garden. Even those who are not fortunate enough to have their own outdoor space have been making mini-gardens in containers, windowboxes and on windowsills.

Encouraging children to enjoy gardening allows them to have fun outdoors while also learning about nature and biodiversity. It reduces stress and encourages exercise, while sowing the seeds of what will likely become a lifelong passion – so when better to introduce growing our very own indigenous flora?


Above: The intensely coloured blooms of the true blue daisy (Felicia heterophylla) make them a wonderful addition to the indigenous garden. Photo: Zoë Chapman Poulsen.


Grow a beautiful field of daisies

Children prefer immediate gratification so motivate them with plants that give them relatively speedy results.

Many of South Africa’s colourful annual daisies grow easily from seed in a sunny corner of the garden on well-drained soil. Sow them during autumn and water the young seedlings regularly while small.

Grow rain daisies (Dimorphotheca pluvialis) for white flowers, true blue daisies (Felicia heterophylla) for intense blue/purple blooms or Namaqualand daisies (Dimorphotheca sinuata) for intense orange displays. Enjoy their stunning flowers in spring, along with insect visitors that will benefit your garden such as bees and monkey beetles.


Above: One of the largest carrion flower species (Stapelia gigantea) blooms at Durban Botanic Gardens. Photo: Zoë Chapman Poulsen.


Crazy carrion flowers for your garden and windowbox

Children love the funky, foul-smelling blooms of carrion flowers that look as if they have landed from outer space – and are even more intrigued by the fact that their stinky, brightly blotched flowers are adapted to attract the flies which pollinate them.

Growing these weird plants is a great way to teach children about how plants are pollinated. They are easy to grow, too, suitable both for containers and the garden. They root easily from stem cuttings in well-drained sandy soil.


Above: The Cape sundew with its glistening tentacled leaves makes a wonderful addition to any houseplant collection. Always buy cultivated plants from reputable suppliers. Photo: Jakob Fahr/iNaturalist.


Go wild with insect-eating plants on your windowsill 

Children are also fascinated by the gruesome idea of plants that eat insects. Many of these plants come from South Africa and can be grown with a little loving care on a home windowsill.

The Cape sundew (Drosera capensis) is one of the easiest to grow. Watch this wonder of the plant kingdom in action as it captures and digests small insects on sticky tentacles.

Grow Cape sundews on a well-lit north or east-facing windowsill away from direct sunlight, with the pot standing in a saucer kept topped up with water.


Above: The delicious fruits of numnums make a wonderful addition to preserves and cakes – these were spotted at Amatikulu Nature Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal. Photo: Sharon Louw/iNaturalist.


Enjoy indigenous edibles

One of the best ways to encourage kids to get involved in the garden is to grow plants that can eat. In addition to the usual vegetables, there are plenty of waterwise indigenous plants that you can eat – but always be sure of the correct identification of any plant before eating it. 

The numnum (Carissa macrocarpa) is an architectural, glossy-leaved shrub that produces edible pink fruit. The fruit can be used in making jams or chutneys or even for baking cakes.

The famous, easy-growing spekboom (Portulacaria afra) has edible leaves with a slightly lemony taste. They can be used in salads, preserves and smoothies and are rich in vitamin C.


Above: The Cape river frog will live happily in garden ponds. Photo: Ryan van Huyssteen/iNaturalist.


Create a wildlife corner

Indigenous gardens can become havens for wildlife, giving creatures that visit your garden a stepping stone through built-up areas. Take this opportunity to explain to kids that, from creepy crawlies to geckos to beautiful birdlife, all these creatures are a vital part of the food chain and ecosystem.

Consider creating a wildlife corner in your garden by letting plants grow taller for shelter or by leaving a wood pile for smaller creatures to shelter from predators. Spending time with children enjoying the fascinating range of wildlife that may visit your outdoor space will help them develop a love and appreciation for nature that they will enjoy for life.


Above: Learners participate in garden-based environmental education at Free State National Botanical Garden in Bloemfontein. Photo supplied by SANBI.


Visit your local botanical garden

Your local botanical garden or park can be a haven in nature if you do not have your own outdoor space or are simply looking for inspiration for your own garden.

There is space for kids to run, jump, play and explore while learning about South Africa’s extraordinary plants and biodiversity.

The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) are custodians of 10 national botanical gardens (NBGs) across the country and more are being developed. In partnership with SANBI, the Botanical Society offers its members free entry to NBGs.

More information about joining the Botanical Society here.

Above: Grade 4 learners from Imvumelwano School depart from Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden after their Water Week programme. Photo supplied by SANBI.



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