With the drought still in full swing in the Cape, many of us Landscapers and gardeners and again looking to our indigenous plants to fill in the bare areas of our gardens that have succumbed to the lack of rain. Many of these plants in our indigenous palette, are tough, beautiful and water wise to boot. In this blog we look at some of these plants and look at some creative ways to make use of them.


Clean lines and shapes and minimalist planting make this a dramatic garden!

Soft and grey Helichrysum petiolare used to edge a walkway gives a modern and coastal feel

Creative Use of Indigenous plants

There are some pretty amazing things you can do with plants and gardens. Perhaps that is why the team at Cape Contours Landscapes loves an interesting or challenging project – there are often a myriad of creative ways to fix or solve a gardening problem, and the skill comes in knowing which trees and plants will aesthetically do the trick and thrive doing the job. Our indigenous plants often can solve these gardening problems and offer a huge variety of textures, colours, shapes and colours and form the palette for many creative solutions in most of our garden projects. Creative use of our indigenous plants is probably the phrase that could sum up what we specialise in at Cape Contours Landscapes. Let’s investigate a little more about what we mean.

A beautiful roof garden for night-time entertainment is dramatic and low maintenance.

A recent Cape Contours garden, using indigenous Bulbine latifolia in a contemporary way to beautiful effect

Climbing up and beyond

The need for screening and softening of large blank and grey walls is a real problem we often face in forgotten architectural and home spaces. Often huge retaining walls or bare concrete is the outlook that office windows or flats have to see and clients approach us to help them to green and soften this hard outlook. Some wonderful indigenous plants can be used to climb up these facades, most of these requiring wires or trellis to support them on their way up. Top climbing indigenous plants include Rhoicissus digitata, Senecio macroglossus and Senecio tamoides. Aloe cilirais can climb up to 6m tall and is a great waterwise choice for the succulent lover who loves Aloes and sculptural plants. All of these will need a good depth of rich soil from which to grow upwards so don’t skimp on the depth of soil needed if you want them to climb high.


Green walls, glass, steel and architectural styling are elements in the contemporary garden

Climbing Senecio macroglossus or tamoides would be the indigenous plants of choice for trying this dramatic climber wall in South Africa

Trailing down

Similarly another way to screen an ugly wall is to create pockets of soil for plants up high to tumble down and soften the wall from the top down. Again we have done this successfully at some amazing homes to soften and green interior courtyards. Star jasmine is another great climber or trailer that is happy in shady conditions and will send down long tendrils of green with white starry flowers to about 2-3 metres. Senecio macroglossus is also a brilliant plant for these shady conditions and also looks gorgeous in huge hanging baskets spilling over the sides. Similar for softening lower retaining walls or edges in full sun, we use Crassulas, Helichrysums and Pelargonium peltatum, Geranium incanum as these tend to be water wise and work well at adding in blocks of colour in large areas too.

Edgy rusty steel retaining and hardy succulent planting around a circular lawn
Edgy rusty steel retaining and hardy succulent planting around a circular lawn

Trailing Star jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides softening a bare wall in a tricky architectural space

Plants as sculpture

Some of our indigenous trees, succulents and Aloes are so beautiful in their own right that we use them creatively to make them the centre of the gardening stage. If you have the space, then creating an area to appreciate a single or a limited palette of species of sculptural plants can be dramatically beautiful. Large Aloe thraskii, barbarae or Kokerboom amongst large granite pieces and rocks can be simply beautiful. Green barked quiver trees, Acacia xanthophloea planted in a row amongst gravel can be a simple and elegant statement in keeping with our cultural and climatic conditions.

Colour in the garden from hardy perennials, succulents and grasses in a cohesive design
Colour in the garden from hardy perennials, succulents and grasses in a cohesive design

Striking indigenous Acacia trees with simple grasses and granite finish. Indigenous Sanseviera making a statement with exotic Agave

En masse contemporary

Sometimes in large gardens where the mood is modern and contemporary, it is beautiful to use a limited palette of flowering, indigenous perennials en masse, to bring a strong sense of cohesion and simplicity, and appreciate the natural and simple beauty of our indigenous plants. Great plants to do this with include Kniphophia praecox, Bulbine latifolia, the many beautiful Agapanthus cultivars, Watsonias with their tall flower spikes, Clivias and smaller aloes and Cotyledons. Group them en masse, teamed up with other grasses, trees and plants that contrast in colour and leaf texture and create a beautiful and dramatic border to large lawns and big architectural houses and spaces.

Colour in the garden from hardy perennials, succulents and grasses in a cohesive design
Colour in the garden from hardy perennials, succulents and grasses in a cohesive design

Grouped together, these indigenous Red-hot pokers and Agapanthus, make a bold and bright combination

Clipped and cropped

Formal contemporary gardens are simple and elegant and brought under control by the use of clipped hedges, borders, parterres, mounds and blocks. We have some really great indigenous plants that do the job just as well as the more slow-growing traditional, exotic Buxus or Boxwood.  For the typical deep, green clipped low hedging, use Searsia (Rhus) crenata instead. It is a big shrub but behaves very well when clipped to a low hedge about 50cm tall. It can also be grown into large clipped shapes very well. For a softer, paler green, we use clipped hedges, topiary and pots of Rhagoda hirsuta (Salt bush) which adds a beautiful contrast to the deeper greens in the garden. For larger clipped hedges and garden dividers, we use clipped or planted hedges of Bladdernut (Diospyros whyteana, a tree), Buddleja auriculata, Ochna serrulata, Pavetta gardeniifolia and Carissa macrocapra. Some indigenous Syzigium species also work very well as low or medium sized hedges and structural garden elements.

Colour in the garden from hardy perennials, succulents and grasses in a cohesive design
Colour in the garden from hardy perennials, succulents and grasses in a cohesive design

Traditional Buxus on the left and indigenous Searsia crenata on the right used as clipped topiary

Lush and cool

There are surprisingly a lot of shade tolerant plants in our indigenous palette box that one can use to create beautiful, lush and shade gardens in courtyards or under trees. Dry shade in the Cape can be a problem under big trees where rain hardly penetrates, but these wonderful hardy plants can be used in these conditions. Adiantum ferns, hardy and trailing Asparagus ‘sprengeri’ or densiflorus ‘meyersii’, Arum lilies (Zantedeschia species) scultprural Blechnum ferns, Blechnum puncutlatum and all the tough Plectranthus species. Pteris vittata, the banded fern and Rumohra adiantiformis are other fast-growing fern favoritse that do need more watering to keep them growing lushly. For the contemporary garden, large areas of striking Sanseviera species work very well in shady areas and give a very modern look mulched with gravels and granite rocks.

There are many more creative ways to use our indigenous plants and these are just a few of the many tricks up our Landscaping sleeves! Get in touch if you would like some indigenous inspiration for your garden that may be needing a re-think this Autumn.

Happy gardening!