Midlands gardens and forest edges are a purple froth at the moment with the entire Plectranthus family in full bloom. These gorgeous shrubs are an absolute riot in shady areas and range from ground covers to over 2m high.
The most common and really easy to grow Plectranthus varieties are P.ecklonii and P. fructicosus– the colours range from dark purple to pale lilac, pink and even white. They grow so easily – just stick a stalk in the ground and they sprout in no time. The fragrant foliage is attractive for much of the year with many of the leaves having contrasting purple undersides or prominent veins. Being forest edge plants, they enjoy well composted soils, a thick layer of mulch and are ideally suited to growing in the shade of trees. They are pretty drought resistant and although they are frost tender, plants affected by frost can be cut back at the end of winter. Actually, most make better, more attractive shrubs if they are pruned at the end of winter before the new growth begins in spring.
Another favourite is Plectranthus saccutus – a much smaller shrub which has blueish-mauve flowers (and sometimes white). It is commonly known as ‘stoep jacaranda’ which describes the colour perfectly. As Ernst van Jaarsveld says in his wonderful book on Plectranthus – they “turn shade to glade”. They really do.
The more compact Plectranthus zuluensis thrives in the semi shade. It flowers for much of the year and seems to do well with little water. Groundcovers abound as well – P. eleganthulus does well in a pot (which was first collected in 1903 in the Karkloof),
P. laxiflorus (citronella-like aroma) and ciliatus and verticiliatus do wonderfully under the trees.
The tiny dark blue Plectranthus dolichopodus grows in the forest understory. Along the forest edges, right now, the white flowers of the tall annual Plectranthus grallatus, are beginning to fade.
Plectranthus heralds the beginning of Autumn. Once the rain has stopped the days are quite magnificent. Bright and hot but with cool relief in the early mornings and evenings – a delicious chill about the ankles. Plectranthus are pollinated by long-tongued flies, interesting creatures to watch going about their business.