We are at that time of year again. You can’t get enough water onto anything, leaves are scorching in the sun and all it takes is one particularly hot day to lose half your plants.
Hot winds and temperatures mean more evaporation from the leaves, which reduces the water held in the cells, and the plants wilt or burn if they aren’t used to unusually strong sun and heat. This can happen to plants bought fresh out of the shade house.
Believe it or not, some plants thrive under these conditions, and not just natives. Those from Mediterranean climates or South Africa thrive in hot, neglected spots. So, too, do most grey foliage plants that have an amazing ability to reflect the sunlight.
Generally, most plants need a bit of TLC for the first couple of months, then they should be fine to fend for themselves. To give them an even better chance of survival, preparing beds by adding soil conditioner or compost, mounding for drainage if necessary and choosing the right plant for the right spot is a must.
Osteospermum, African daisy
This scrambling shrub is renowned for its floral display. Previously you would get only the white with purple centre or deep purple with blue centre but now the colours are softer and more dazzling. A brilliant flowering plant that will thrive in tough conditions of neglect and even coastal spots. Look out for Osteospermum ‘Serenity Sunburst’ and ‘Serenity Pink’.
An underrated flowering shrub from South Africa which can tolerate everything you throw at it. If left to its own devices, this scrambling shrub will form arching canes up to two metres in length. Of course, there is one huge reason for growing this tough plant – the prolific, unforgiving wash of baby blue flowers cover every end of every branch during the hottest parts of the year. ‘Alba’ has very light blue to white blooms whilst my favourite, ‘Royal Cape’, has cornflower blue flowers that you can pick from a mile away, they’re such a divine shade.
There is nothing quite like the large sunny flowers of the daylily. They are easy plants to grow and add wonderful colour (and some fragrance) to a garden. Most of the daylilies you see these days are hybrids and can range from light lemon singles to dark purple doubles, dwarfs and everything in between.
More tough choices:
Hibiscus, Metrosideros, Callistemon (bottlebrushes), Grevillea, Correa, Summer Red gum tree, Tibouchina, Gazania, Tecomaria, Salvia, Pandorea vines, Russelia and Hardenbergia.
Hardy flowering trees
A great shade tree for a larger yard. Originally from Brazil. They are monsoonal trees so lose their leaves at the end of the dry season and then, just after their flowers cover the bare branches, they burst back into leaf when the wet season hits. They are incredibly hardy and best left unpruned to enjoy their natural growth habit. A mulching of compost and water throughout the summer keep this tree happy.
Plumeria spp. Frangipani
These deciduous trees are prized for their brilliant canopy of thick, fleshy stems that form a spidery network upon a stout trunk that has a smooth grey film of bark covering it.
They love the coast and form a canopy to eight metres wide but they also do well in large pots which would be good for a balcony. They can tolerate a heap of neglect and still flower their heads off.
There is nothing quite like the summer fragrance of a tree in full bloom and the simple flower comes in many gorgeous colours with the most common being the white with yellow centre ‘Celadine’. Some beautiful cultivars on the market are the butter yellow ‘Paul Weissich’, ‘Puu Kahea’ with yellow and pink two-tone petals or the delicious dark flowers of ‘Hot Pink’.
Lagerstroemia indica, Crepe Myrtle
This small vase-shaped tree is perfect for smaller yards and flowers from late January to March with impressive paper-like crinkly flowers. Although these trees are already quite small at under six metres high by four metres wide. There have been great developments made to produce smaller, shrub forms like the Symphony of Colour by Chopin range, staying under a metre and hybrids of L. indica and L. fauriei seem resistant to powdery mildew which affects some of the older types. Some of my favourites are Lagerstroemia ‘Tuscarora’ from the Indian Summer range with its crimson pink flowers or the prostrate form ‘New’. If white is your thing, look out for the tree form ‘Natchez’ or the shrub ‘Pixie White’.
Sun-tough pot plants
If you have room only for pots but want flowers without a lot of work try Geranium, Agapanthus, Convolvulus, Strelitzia, Pig Face and many free flowering aloe varieties.
Jody Rigby is director of Jody Rigby Horticultural Services