To the casual observer Fynbos can appear rugged and dull. Yet on closer inspection, Fynbos actually boasts a much higher variety of colour, shapes and texture than any other plant kingdom.
Even after years of living in the Fynbos biome, aptly named ‘The Garden Route’, I am still astounded by some of the strange and alien-looking species I’ve noticed on the occasional hike on ‘The Mountain’. Some species are so specialized that they are localized on only a few slopes – above a certain altitude, facing some or other particular direction, only in the shade of the prevailing wind, oh, and with maybe a higher rainfall catchment than on that slope over there. But with literally thousands of unique species to choose from, you can practically paint with Fynbos to create as many patterns or colour-scapes as you can imagine.
Planting with combinations of these unusual plants can result in showy, soft, bold, sculptural and even fragrant garden palettes that will keep your senses stimulated. It’s a gift to garden designers in the Western Cape.
The beauty of Fynbos is that if you had to take closer note of how it grows naturally, it doesn’t really grow in swathes – ie mass planting of singular colours, or in closely packed stands of plants – rather it seems as if Mother nature and Jackson Pollock got together and had one too many glasses of wine! All manner of plants grow out of cracks in the dusty ground, each in sharp contrast with the next. Each making their individual brushstrokes on the landscape, creating a rich tapestry of interwoven species.
Of course like with a Pollock painting, from a distance the colours merge and become a dull grey/green blur, but up close is where the details are revealed.
Tiny, overlapping, scale-like leaves designed to tolerate heavily salt laden winds; silvery, silky, furred foliage that prevents dehydration; tight tubular, pendulous flowers receptive to only the most evolved of beaks, and beautiful cone-like seed-heads whose seeds are only released with fire! These unique characteristics make for interesting conversation pieces and if planted to showcase their most striking adaptations, can be real showstoppers!
Designing your garden with Fynbos can seem daunting due to the sheer variety of species to choose from (over 9000 – more than that of any other plant kingdom), but following these simples design rules will result in a rich and rewarding landscape.
To capture the natural chaos of the Pollock-like mountain slopes in a more manageable way for a domestic garden, choose plants for your landscapes design that offset one another, for example: a large, weeping, feathery-leaved, light-green shrub with another that has small shiny, dark green leaves and masses of bright pink star-shaped flowers. Or how about a low growing, mat-forming groundcover with large daisy-like flowers contrasted by a tall reed-like clump of restios. Perhaps mix spotlight-stealing pincushions with a plant that flowers brightly during an alternate season so that it can be its own star. Contrasting colours like lime green with bright pink will also demand attention.
Here is a basic guide to some of the best and most commonly available Fynbos showstoppers for you to choose from…