Lately, I have been walking through some of the residential projects installed by the garden landscaping team at Contours Design Studio. I noticed some unusual plants making a regular appearance. Many of these you might not know yet. You will, however, soon realize why they are trending as low-maintenance favourites when it comes to garden landscaping. Since they are becoming quite popular, you will surely welcome them into your garden. In return, they will reward you with their hardy, versatile and attractive presence. An added bonus is that many of these plants are drought-tolerant. Since we are constantly looking for ways of saving water, it makes sense to plant water-wise plants! This article will provide you with information on our 10 favourite low-maintenance plants. Furthermore, you will get familiar with the characteristics and features of these popular garden landscaping plants.
01. TANIKA LOMANDRA
This mound-forming perennial and evergreen grass-like plant, with its fine strappy leaves and small yellow flower, spikes from April through to October. It is a low-maintenance alternative to conventional lawns, making it one of our favourite garden landscaping plants. It will reward you plentifully without asking much. A firm favourite of Lucy Schnell, Contour Design Studios’ senior landscaper. She says she uses this plant in many landscapes because of its attractive, tough, and versatile nature. Non-seeding and therefore non-invasive, the Australian native Lomondra Tanika features in more and more South African landscapes due to our similar local climate.
Characteristics and features of our first garden landscaping favourite, Tanika Lomondra:
- As a perennial, it grows about 50-60cm high and 65cm wide.
- The planting density is either 3-6 plants/m2 or 2-3 per linear metre.
- The shape of this plant lends itself to architectural garden landscaping.
- It is an extremely drought-tolerant plant. Furthermore, it is also frost-tolerant but it does not like wet feet or salt-laden winds. This is definitely a favourite to add to your list of water-wise plants.
- Adding to its versatility is the fact that you can grow it in full sun or in a shady spot. However, if you plant it in full shade, it might not survive.
- It tolerates and will grow in many different soil types. From sand to sandy loam to clay, as long as the soil is well-drained.
- Every 2-3 years – or when they look like they need it – you should cut back your Lomandra to about 15cm.
- You can use Lomandra as a border- or specimen plant. Moreover, it also looks great when planted in mass. They also do well on tricky slopes.
02. BLUE FLAX LILY
This is another regular sight in gardens designed and established by Contours Landscapes. Also an Australian native, Daniella ‘Little Jess’ is a very compact, clump-forming, grass-like perennial plant. The Little Jess has narrow, tough, bright green foliage and a profusion of purple, star-like flowers. It goes without saying that it is quite a nice sight in spring. After the plant has flowered, you should cut back the flower stalks.
Characteristics and features of OUR second GARDEN LANDSCAPING FAVOURITE, Dianella ‘Little Jess’:
- Planting density is usually 6-10 plants per m2 or 3-5 plants per linear metre.
- Dianella ‘Little Jess’ is drought-tolerant as well as frost tolerant. Don’t forget to add Little Jess to your shopping list when buying water-wise plants. It grows in sun and shade. One can plant it in sandy or clay soil, as long as drainage is good.
- It grows about 30cm high and 30cm wide and doesn’t need much maintenance.
- This grass-like plant looks great as a border or edging plant, lends itself to mass planting, and also looks good as a container or feature plant.
03. VIOLET-FLOWER PELARGONIUM/ FAIRY CASCADES
Native to the Eastern Cape Valley Bushveld, this plant is extremely hardy, being a drought-tolerant plant as well as frost hardy. An added bonus is that it is as pretty as it is hardy! This beauty will, without a doubt, make it onto your water-wise shopping list. Pelargonium Ionidiflorum produces masses of beautiful, light pink to dark violet-pink flowers with wine-read markings. What makes it even more awesome is the fact that it flowers all year round.
Characteristics and features of OUR third GARDEN LANDSCAPING FAVOURITE, Violet-flower Pelargonium:
- This indigenous small, woody shrublet grows up to about 40cm high (sometimes shorter). Feel free to use it as a taller ground cover or filler plant.
- You can plant it in mass, and it looks great in rockeries. Furthermore, one can also plant it as a pot plant or in flower boxes.
- Pelargonium Ionidiflorum prefers full sun, but it also does well in half-day sun.
- They can grow in most soils as long as they are well-drained.
- There is no need for ongoing maintenance. The odd light pruning will do this plant a world of good, keeping it compact and in shape.
04. CONGONI GRASS
This indigenous, clump-forming perennial grass grows up to a maximum height of 1m but is sometimes smaller than this. It is an attractive ornamental grass and is currently very trendy in home decor circles. Congoni grass produces mauve plumes in summer, and its wispy blades look great when a breeze moves through the plant.
Characteristics and features of OUR Fourth GARDEN LANDSCAPING FAVOURITE, Gongoni grass:
- This grass is very versatile, growing in most soils, wet and dry.
- It prefers to grow in full sun but can also tolerate some shade as long as it is not full shade.
- Congoni grass looks great when you plant it in mass in groups. One can also use it as a filler.
- People often use Gongoni grass to help with soil erosion on banks, and it is also useful for grassland and wetland wildlife.
- This grass is fast to establish when planted.
05. PAMBATI TREE
Anastrabe is a large evergreen small tree or shrub – depending on what you want to use it for. If you prune and control it, it makes a lovely shrub. However, on its own accord, it will grow to about 3-4m high. Although it can grow this big, it has a compact root system, and you can therefore plant it in smaller gardens and compact areas.
Pambati trees have a compact growth pattern with glossy dark green small to medium leaves. From October through to May, masses of clusters of yellow and scented bell-shaped flowers appear, attracting pollinators. So if you are into urban beekeeping your bees will benefit from you having this tree in your garden.
Characteristics and features of OUR FIth GARDEN LANDSCAPING FAVOURITE, the Pambati tree:
- Anastrabe is quite versatile, and you can plant it in full sun or semi-shade.
- Pambati trees tolerate most soils as long as it is well-drained.
- It can tolerate periods of drought.
- The most common use of this versatile shrub is as a hedging or screening plant. Because of its compact root system, it will not cause structural damage when you plant it next to ugly walls or structures to hide them.
06. Red Yucca / Coral Yucca
Hesperaloe is not a true Yucca. People often refer to it as the Red or Coral Yucca because of its thin, yucca-like evergreen leaves, which are normally blue-green but turn a plum colour in winter, and are formed in a neat architectural rosette form.
Characteristics and special features of OUR sixTh GARDEN LANDSCAPING FAVOURITE, Red or Coral Yucca:
- Hesperaloe usually only produces flowers when it is older, and it will take about two to three years to get to flowering size.
- This plant will grow in most soils and is an extremely drought-tolerant plant. Furthermore, it is also frost tolerant. Yet another plant to put on your water-wise shopping list.
- It looks lovely when you plant it in mass, but you do not have to, as they also look great if you plant them in pots.
- Red or Coral Yucca does well in rockeries. People often plant them on slopes.
07. Bladder Nut
The Bladder nut is a truly beautiful indigenous evergreen large shrub or small tree. Perhaps the most attractive feature of the Bladder nut is its dark green, striking glossy foliage. It also produces masses of creamy, fragrant white to creamy yellow flowers plus eye-catching reddish-brown, papery, balloon-like fruit pods. Should you allow the crown of this plant to grow as a tree, it has a dense, round and sometimes pyramidal form. This large shrub or tree is found growing naturally in forests and on mountain slopes and rocky places.
Characteristics and special features of OUR seventh GARDEN LANDSCAPING FAVOURITE, the Bladder nut:
- The fruits of the Diospyros are edible, and the roasted seeds are used as a coffee substitute.
- It is a great tree for a small garden, makes a great hedging plant, and also looks great in a container.
- The Bladder nut prefers growing in semi-shade and does well in loam soil. You need to make sure the soil is well–composted.
08. Large forest Asparagus
This is an indigenous, robust, thorny creeper that produces attractive white flowers, followed by red berries. The white flowers it produces are sweetly scented and appear from September to December. These flowers attract bees and other insects, and the red berries are a favourite with birds.
Characteristics and features of OUR eighth GARDEN LANDSCAPING FAVOURITE, Large forest Asparagus:
- Asparagus falcatus is a thorny plant. Consequently, it works well when you prune it into a security hedge.
- Think twice before you plant it, or rather put careful consideration as to where you plant it, as it can grow up to 6m high.
- It prefers growing in shady positions and can grow in most soils as long as you add compost if the soil is ‘poor’.
- It is quite a drought-tolerant plant, but it does like water.
- The root system is quite large, so be careful when planting near structures.
09. Forest num-num & Mini num-num
While Carissa macrocarpa and Carissa ‘Green carpet’ are very well known to most people, Carissa bispinosa and Carissa ‘Storm’ are two which you may not be as familiar with. Carissa bispinosa is a dense bush, or rambling shrub usually found growing in wooded spots.
The branching of this shrub has a forked pattern. The leaves, red edible berries, and sweetly scented white flowers of this shrub are smaller than the macrocarpa, but the ultimate growing height is similar.
Characteristics and features of OUR ninth GARDEN LANDSCAPING FAVOURITE, Forest num-num and Mini num-num:
- This shrub makes a great security hedge; to achieve this, you should plant it about 1m apart.
- The Carissa ‘Storm’ is a smaller growing variety with tiny, dark green, glossy leaves.
- The small, compact, thorny shrub ‘Storm’ is great for creating borders and is extremely neat and tidy. This variety can be a little more difficult to find.
10. Rock Purslane
These exotic plants, being succulents, are very drought tolerant and perfect for you to plant in water-wise gardens that take a beating from the harsh South African sun. The leaves, stems, flowers, and seeds of the purslane plant are all edible with a sour edge.
Rock Purslane exhibits light to mid-green, diamond-shaped leaves, and from spring to fall, it forms poppy-shaped, stunning bright magenta flowers on stalks. These flowers have a country feel and almost look like they shouldn’t belong to that of a succulent.
Characteristics and features of OUR tenth GARDEN LANDSCAPING FAVOURITE, Rock Purslane:
- This succulent perennial grows about 20cm high, making it a great ground cover and filler.
- They don’t like wet feet, especially in winter, so make sure that you plant them in very well-drained soil to prevent rotting.
- This plant is fantastic in rockeries, and you can also combine it with indigenous or fynbos planting. It prefers full sun but might be able to take some shade if there is at least half a day of full sun.
A FINAL WORD ON OUR list of trending, LOW-MAINTENANCE GARDEN LANDSCAPING PLANTS.
I hope the list above inspires you to add some lesser-known plants to your garden. They are all attractive, low-maintenance, and bound to become a more prominent sight in the landscaping world. Furthermore, many of these plants are drought-tolerant, as well as frost tolerant And, with global warming, unusual weather patterns and water scarcity, it goes without saying that water-wise planting with drought-tolerant plants makes lots of sense!
You should be able to get these low-maintenance garden landscaping plants from your local retailer. Feel free to ask your local nursery to order some of these plants if they do not already stock them.
Article written by Jessica Ruger
Horticultural blog writer. Article written on behalf of Contours Landscapes and Contours Design Studio