Before I start, I have to stress how important it is to ensure that you have designed and set up your space correctly before even thinking about plants. So many people skip this and go straight to the nursery to buy plants. Sure! This is the fun part and have plants in mind when designing your space, but it really is the last and easiest step.
If you set yourself up well though, (i.e. marked out the beds and functional areas, prepared your soil, dug in your swales and prepared your water infrastructure, MULCH, MULCH, MULCHED etc.) then reward yourself with the plant collecting process. It will save you so much time and money in the long run. Trust me!
When starting with my space, I did not have the luxury of throwing large amounts of money at plants just to have them die on me until I found the ones that worked. I did my research on what plants did well in my area and climate and suited the various micro-climates in my space.
This is my list of plants that I had success with. Most are stalwarts, the plants that handle adversity and fairly tough conditions (low water) BUT that also look lush and create a cool, leafy look. It's simply not true that you have to resort to rockeries and cactus alone to have a low water use garden.
I like to work with different foliage shape, colour and texture instead of only floral colour. This makes for more structure and longer-lasting beauty in the garden.
- Crassula multicava – an indigenous low growing succulent that loves shade, creates a lush feel and bees go bananas for the flowers in spring. Easy to propagate.
- Crassulas in general (many varieties of all sizes that can handle most situations)
- Dietes grandiflora and Dietes bicolor (Wild iris) – These add great vertical interest, are tough as nails (I have some that only get annual rainfall) and have the most spectacular flowers.
- Clivia - classic beauties that are tough as nails too. Group these for effect.
- Bromeliads – Perfect for that tough dry shade area.
- Ribbon bush – the dwarf variety is super tough and has masses of flowers in summer.
- Rhumora ferns (7 weeks or Leather leaf fern) – tough ferns?….SOLD! Perfect for a lush look near a pond.
- Liriope green giant – very attractive with long grassy fronds and one of the toughest plants I know. Mine received no additional irrigation during the height of the drought and didn’t even flinch.
- Strelitzia (regular and giant versions) – Gorgeous flowers. Add great height to a space.
- Mackaya Bella or Forest Bell (a subtropical plant that doesn’t like to be too wet in the Cape winter but hardy when established and is great for added height.
- Plectranthus – need more water generally but great for that shady space that is easier to irrigate. Mine love the water from the washing machine! Various kinds available, some tougher than others.
- Asystasia gangetica – Indigenous ground cover and has the cutest white bell flowers in summer. Cut back to stop it getting leggy. Shade or sun.
- Aeoniums – Exotic succulents that love wet winters and are dormant in dry summers which means they need little water at this time so are absolutely perfect for the Western Cape climate! – great form plants with their flashy rosette shapes!
- Haemanthus albiflos (Paint brush plant) – Indigenous, clump forming with large lush leaves and the most unusual flowers.
- Chlorophytum comosum or Hen & Chickens are found in most older gardens for a reason. Tough as nails and add a nice variegation with their leaves.
- Arum lily. One of my favs, I have them in a pond and out in the ground and they look spectacular all through winter and up to mid-summer. Such graceful, beautiful plants. Love!
- Agave attenuata – wonderful form plants for a focal point. Sun or shade.
- Sheenas Gold (Duranta) – gorgeous golden colour and super strong when established. Great for hedges.
- Cotyledon orbiculata – succulent in various shades. The greys make a striking contrast against green foliage.
- Asystasia gangetica – A cute ground cover. They love sun and shade.
- Aloes – bees adore them and beautiful winter flower interest. Amazing form plants
- Crassula ovata – the big brother of Crassulas. Flower prolifically in winter if in sun. Bees love them and good in shade too. Good to add height.
- Portulacaria afra (Spekboom) – many varieties. Our famous carbon sequester friend.
- Cape honeysuckle. Great for hedges.
- Grey succulents in general – for that contrast. Many of the Senecios such as Senecio ficoides, S. serpens (blue chalk sticks) fall into this category.
- Rhus/Searsia crenata (Dune crowberry) – pretty indigenous shrub that can get really big. They grow well in sandy soils and can be used as hedges to stop wind.
- Convolvulus sabatius – wonderful trailing plant with purple flowers all through spring and summer. Super-fast grower.
- Statice or Sea Lavendar – great for sandy soils, very showy leaves and flowers.
- Aptenia cordifolia – lush, fast growing ground cover with cute flowers. Sun or shade.
- Barleria obtusa – one of the toughest plants around and gorgeous flower display at the end of summer.
- _Graptoveria 'Fred Ives' – beautiful rosette shapes, great for planter arrangements and tough out in the garden.
These are the trees we have in our small garden and they have done very well.
- Cape ash – we have two large specimens in our average urban plot (750sqm) and they are wonderful. Fast-growing, beautiful shade canopy. Birds love their seeds and fruit. Non-invasive root system. They do get big but I love how they fill the space even in a smallish garden.
- Searsia pendulina (Rhus pendulina) – super fast-growing. Birds love them and don’t get too big. Small root system so they can be planted near a home. Ours was it with a fungal issue as a sapling but bounced back and now grows like mad!
- Syzygium cordatum or Water berry – as the name suggests, they like damp marshy areas but ours has done very well in our annual rainfall front yard. We have a soakaway just up from the tree near the house and are sure that the tree is benefitting from rainwater runoff permeating the soil in this area.
- Dias cotinifolia or Pompon tree – small tree with gorgeous flowers in December. They apparently are quite tender but ours gets regular washing machine water and has settled in quite well.