There are many reasons why people living in the Cape region of South Africa should be planting fynbos in their gardens. Planting fynbos is a great way of helping to conserve and promote the rich and threatened flora of the region. Planting fynbos also attracts birds and other wild life to the garden. Fynbos plants are thrifty with water and are adapted to the climate and soils of the region. However, as I have learnt many times over the years, choosing the correct fynbos species for the local climatic and soil conditions is a crucial step in successful fynbos gardening. Many enthusiastic would-be fynbos gardeners have been horribly disappointed when most of their selection of plants bought from the local nursery dies within a few months of planting. The reason we have over 9000 species of plants growing in the Cape is largely to do with the many habitat ‘niches’ that characterise the region. While there are some common fynbos horticultural species that are able to grow in a wide range of soils and climatic conditions such as Agapanthus praecox, Elegia (Chondropetalum) tectorum, Protea cynaroides (King protea) and Osteospermum (Chrysanthemoides) moniliferum (bietou), the vast majority have quite specific preferences as to where they like to grow.
Protea cynaroides (king protea) is South Africa’s national flower, is prized world-wide as a cut flower and is an iconic fynbos gardening species. It has the widest distribution range of all Proteaceae growing on mountains from the Cederberg to Grahamstown. The combination of different climatic and soil conditions over this large range has resulted in a large variety of leaf- and flower sizes, as well as colours and flowering times. The different forms retain these characteristics even when grown under the same conditions on a commercial scale.
There have been a number of ecological studies that have demonstrated that fynbos species are often adapted to very specific, narrow habitat characteristics. So the first step in successful fynbos gardening is to take a careful look at your gardens soil and climatic conditions. In order not to over complicate matters I have simplified the literally thousands of fine-scale habitats to four main groups for gardening purposes. These are acidic mountain fynbos gardens, alkaline coastal fynbos gardens, clay soils fynbos gardens and wetland fynbos gardens. In the next few fynbos gardening blog posts I will discuss each of these categories in more detail.