Gardening in South Africa

Today’s (also tomorrow’s etc.) literature is found on the website Gardening in South Africa.

It’s not because Soekershof Walkabout is mentioned in it but it provides the reader with some insight in the evolution of the succulents. Just interesting background.

The website is, in spare time, made by Darlene Roelofsen who is employed in a nursery. She is absolutely devoted to her plants!


Succulents indoors

Most succulents need full sun and are not (really) suitable for cultivation indoors. But there are also quite a few exceptions. Sometimes we advise nursery customers from Cape Town to keep certain plants indoors because of the local environment. Regulary we are approached by restaurant owners for low maintenance table arrangements.

The succulents which are suitable indoors are the ones which grow, in nature, in the shade of other plants like Gasteria- and Hawhortia-species. Some crassulas also grow nicely inside and so do some cacti. It surprised us, visiting Dallas (Texas, USA) once, to see so many peyote cacti (Lophocereus williamsii) behind the windows. And that in a state with such a restrictive drug law enforcement.

The suitability indoors is also related to the local environment such as the light intensity inside the house (dark- or light walls, ceilings; at a North- of South facing window; etc.). It also, partly, depends on your location. There is a difference in light intensity between different latitudes. That can imply that plants will do very well in Sweden behind a South facing window but in South Carolina a North facing window is recommended. Back to the Western Cape in South Africa: for the more ‘advanced’ knowledgable succulent lover are there also Lithops (as most of Haworthias and Gasterias indigenous to Southern Africa). Be patient and those ‘suckers’ will reward you with a stunning floral display in season.

About buying cacti and other succulents

The majority of people buying cacti and other succulents don’t really care if their purchased plants die after some time; they just buy a replacement. These are fortunately not our customers (and that is very un-commercial!!!).

The real passionate gardener, hobbyist, etc. buys with the intention to enjoy his/her plants for a long time. These are the people we like to welcome in our nursery and they are invited to be critical and during many of such occasions we experience an educational interaction to the benefit of all.

First something about our own experience. In the beginning (we didn’t know that much about the subject and we are still learning) we bought quite a few Aloes at one of the botanical gardens in the Western Cape. The plants were nicely labeled with with their full botanical names. Almost all turned out to be hybrids. At a specialist succulent nursery we bought 12 cacti of which 8 had a ‘hidden’ (underground) disease.

Botanists are in continuous discussion with each other about botanical names and during identification of certain group (genus) of plants. The Aloes are very good example because these hybridise easily and proper identification, in case of doubt, can only be done with DNA-research. THE Haworthia ‘specialist’ of South Africa is very honest when he says that he is unable to generate a proper identification key which covers all Haworthias and that he has difficulties to identify some of the Haworthia-species. With other words: don’t always be too sure about about the botanical names with which plants are labeled. Another issue is that many botanical names are changing nowadays because of DNA-research (f.e. part of the Stenocereus species becomes suddenly Cleistocactus or whatever) and that makes it even more complicated. A self-respecting nursery man will, in case of doubt, always label ‘spp’ after the genus name; f.e. ‘Mammillaria spp.’

How can one check if the plants are healty? This is not always easy but you can take some precautions. Is the nursery clean, relativily weed free and do the plants, on first sight, look healthy? This is the first impression. If the first impression is not good be extra critical.

Some hidden diseases are difficult to identify such as roots which start to rot at their tips. Even if the plants look healthy but you see that they are waterlogged (and not just after a heavy rainfall) be critical. Some nurseries use quite a few fertilisers,pesticides, fungicides and so on to let the plants look healthy but once purchased you will have to apply these chemicals until you are pretty sure that they are adapting to your preferred way of gardening. Once we were at a succulent nursery where the plants were covered with a blue layer caused by the application of copper sulphate.

Golden tip, which prevents you in at least 70 percent of such cases of ‘buying a cat in a bag’, is removing the soil around the neck of the plant. If the tissue is not soft(ening) but feels solid the plant might be healthy. This applies surely for all Aloes, Caudiciforms (especially adenium- adenia- and cyphostemma sp., Lithops, Cacti and cacti-like Euphorbias.

Almost at last but certainly not at least: Most nurseries sell their plants from under a roof or shade net. Advise (especially in Summer): Don’t put the plant right away under the sun, once at home. Let the plant slowly get adepted to the sun. This can be done by providing the plants with morning sun and afternoon shade for the first few days and let them gradually stay longer in the sun until, after a week or so, they are used to the sun. Some plants, amongst others Echinocactus crussonii (Golden Barrel Cactus or Mother’s in Law Seat) need sun protection for the first year until they are established. Keep the plant covered with a shade net (at least between 12 and 4 PM) from the second half of December to the second half of March. A good nursery with in-house knowledge will give you decent information. If the

Damage on a plant caused by snails and (scale-)insects are in general not terminal and can even give the plant a natural charm. In nature you won’t find that many plants (=relatively) which are looking perfect. On the contrary but these plants are strong with some build in resistance.

About literature

There is, to our surprise, quite a few books about cacti and succulents; including ones with beautiful pictures.

In South Africa some of the books are available in the shops of the botanical gardens of the National Botanical Institute, others are available at bookshops (or they can order them for you) and there is also the possibility of mail-order. Silverhill Seeds and Umdaus Press both have a list of succulent related literature which I left out of the list below.

Books of interest (both for beginner and advanced succulent gardeners) are:

‘Cacti, the compact study guide and identifier’ by Charles Glass and others. ISBN 0-7858-373-4

‘Gardening with succulents’ by Prof. Gideon Smith. ISBN 1 77007 082 6

‘Vetplante van Suid Afrika’ by Ernst van Jaarsveld and others. ISBN 0 624 03901 3

‘Succulents, the new illustrated dictionary’ by Maurizio Sajeva & Mariangela Costanzo. ISBN 0-88192-449-0

‘The illustrated encyclopedia of cacti’ by Clive Innes & Charles Glass. ISBN 0-7858-1358-6

‘Cacti & Succulents’ by Hans Hecht. ISBN 0-8069-0548-4

‘The complete book of cacti & succulents’ by Terry Hewitt. ISBN 0-7894-1657-3 (this was our first book on the subject)

‘Guide to the aloes of South Africa’ by B. van Wyk & G. Smith. ISBN 1 875093 41 9

‘Mesembs of the world’ by Gideon F. Smith & others. ISBN 1 875093 13 3

‘The cactus family’ by Edward F. Anderson. ISBN 0-88192-498-9

This is just a selection but it gives you something to read for the first few years.

A few links

Today is ‘link day’.

There is a wide variety of succulent related websites on the Internet. Herewith a selection of some sites with relevance for South Africa.

The global main source for succulents is the Cactus Mall. Here you can find virtually every garden, nursery (etc.) of importance.

Than there is a Cactus and Succulent site and not to forget the site of the Cactus Museum. The Dutch have their own Succulenta with, amongst others, links to specialist nurseries and private collections. In South Africa there is also a less active succulent society with an own website which, by the way, is (too much?) related to one specific nursery in Gauteng.

Desert Tropicals of Philippe Faucon in Arizona (USA) contains an extensive plantlist with photo’s and brief descriptions (climate zones, cultivation, country of origine, etc.). Very worthwhile to bookmark.

For Caudiciforms from around the world there is a great website of a collector/hobbyist in Copenhagen. Bihrmann travels around the world and before any collection, garden or nursery is mentioned in his list he will have to approve it first on the spot.

In nearby McGregor one can admire the succulent collection of Andrew van Ginkel. Except for one he has all (approx. 2000) different lithop-species in his collection.

Our neighbour SHEILAM (also a nice garden) is a specialist nursery with approx. 2000 different succulent species, mainly under cover. Their core activity is the wholesale and export of seeds next to retail of plants. SHEILAM was founded in 1954 by Marthinus Malherbe and almost all large specimens in their garden are planted in that year. See the Soekershof website for pictures.

The largest succulent nursery in the world is Obesa Nursery in Graaff Reinet in the Eastern Cape. Their garden in the town centre, with a surface which equals the total nursery surface of our neighbours, is absolutely magnificent. Visitors are walking through a forest of cacti and other succulents. Outside town Obesa also has a huge nursery where they mainly grow some succulent species for the global pharmaceutical industry. The ‘hidden’ private collection of father Johan and son Anton Bouwer is stunning. Johan (an attorney by profession) started his succulent hobby in 1965 by buying plants here at Soekershof. We maintain a very good and (succulent related) passionate relationship with the Bouwers. Customers of this nursery can expect proper cultivation advise which, by the way, unfortunately is not always the case at other nurseries.

Other nurseries in South Africa, worthwhile to mention but no websites, are Selecta Succulents in Brackenfell and Grey Heron in Durbanville/Kraaifontein; both near Cape Town.