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Why you should create your own indigenous garden

Indigenous gardens are beautiful, low maintenance and environmentally friendly. Here’s how to create one of your own, considering the conditions that make your slice of SA unique.  

We hear a lot about the Western Cape and its unique floral kingdom (and for good reason – this tiny region contains around 8 700 species!) but South Africa has more to boast than just fynbos. Our country has a wealth of beautiful and unique indigenous flora that’s just waiting to be discovered, and there are loads of good reasons to plant these beauties in your own garden. 

Why go local? 

Although all greenery is good for the planet, indigenous plants are particularly beneficial because they attract birds, bees and butterflies – some of which are so specialised that they will visit only one specific plant. Indigenous flora also helps preserve ecological diversity (and how boring would it be if every garden around the world had the same few dozen plants?). On a more practical note, indigenous plants tend to be easier to grow, as they are perfectly suited to the local climate. This means you’ll use less water, need less compost or fertiliser, and spend less time worrying about your babies. 

A proudly South African garden is the dream, but there’s nothing stopping you from growing a mixture of indigenous and exotic plants. If you do want to go the whole hog and already have an existing garden, an easy way to achieve this is to start planting indigenous plants amidst the others. As they grow and mature, you can slowly start removing the foreigners. 

What grows where? 

Just because something is indigenous to southern Africa doesn’t necessarily mean it will flourish in your garden. Some plants are easy-going and will grow happily just about anywhere, but many of them will die (or struggle) if they’re not suited to your specific location. For example, good old agapanthus or portulacaria (spekboom) will grow just about anywhere in the country, while the Natal wild banana enjoys the subtropical KZN climate. There are also proteas that don’t handle frost. Luckily, there are a few simple factors to bear in mind when picking your plants. 

Know your zone 

Hardiness zones are climate-based categories that allow you to select the plants that are best-suited to your area. The classification depends on factors such as summer or winter rainfall, maximum and minimum temperatures, as well as the presence of frost. The zones in South Africa are as follows: 

  1. Coastal summer rainfall:
    KwaZulu-Natal to Gqeberha
  2. Coastal winter rainfall:
    South-western Cape
  3. Karoo winter rainfall:
    Namaqualand, Karoo and West Coast
  4. Summer rainfall:
    Karoo, interior and Highveld
  5. Bushveld summer rainfall:
    Lowveld, Limpopo, North West and the interior of KwaZulu- Natal.
    It may sound confusing, but it isn’t really. A good gardening book should include a colour-coded map showing which zone you’re in. Then you just have to check the corresponding number when looking up potential plants.

Microclimate matters 

As with any garden, it’s not just the general climate that matters, but also the exact conditions in your garden. Before spending money on a whole new garden, think about the following: Is the soil clay, sand or loam? How many hours a day is your garden in the sun? Is it sheltered by buildings or trees, or is it blasted by the wind? These are all factors that will affect what flourishes and what fails. 

Ask the experts 

Luckily, you don’t have to figure this all out yourself; there are some great online resources dedicated to South African plants. Start with these:   

  • PlantZAfrica ( contains everything you could possibly need to know about each plant, including where it naturally grows, whether or not it’s endangered in the wild and what its medicinal uses are. 
  • Plantbook ( has bite-sized info and lots of great pictures to help you identify the species. 
  • The Indigenous Gardener ( is packed with useful articles about all aspects of indigenous gardening in South Africa. 


Words by: Amy Lehner
Photographs: Bureaux, Getty Images, Pexels 

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