INTRO: . Anne Dew tells Dawn Kennedy why she chose to opt for an indigenous garden.
COPY: Nowadays it’s trendy to plant indigenous gardens but when Anne Dew first started gardening in the 1970’s she was the only indigenous gardener in the Constantia Gardening Club. Then the tendency was to uproot indigenous plants and replace them with more flamboyant exotics.
It was economics that steered her in an indigenous direction. “In 1979 when we first moved into this house I had no money to spend on the garden and so I just planted loads of agapanthus. Friends were dubious; I thought they looked stunning.” Many of the central pieces in Anne’s garden – such as the trio of stunning cycads beside the swimming pool – were unwanted plants rescued by her.
For Anne the joy of gardening lies not in producing showy blooms or heady scents, but in the quiet satisfaction of putting the right plants in the right place.
Anne describes herself as “an avid plant collector” and admits, “I’m addicted to plants – I just can’t get enough of them. I’m not at all interested in landscaping or worried about what colours go together. I research and study where the plants will thrive best and that is where they go, regardless.”
At one stage, Anne tried growing exotics. She planted 40 rose bushes but found using the harsh chemical spray so unpleasant that she uprooted and donated the roses to the Red Cross resolving from that point onwards to go indigenous. Now Anne uses no chemical sprays and her garden is a playground for a wide variety of birds, reptiles and insects, including lizard frogs and Knysna Woodpeckers.
Anne loves the challenge of growing what are usually considered difficult plants. “As soon as someone says ‘you can’t grow that’, I’m in boots and all,” she laughs. “There really is no such thing as a plant that is difficult to grow. If it’s in the right place, it grows by itself.”
Her transition to indigenous has been gradual. Her garden contains the stumps of 300 year old van der Stel oak trees. She has an extensive kikuyu lawn which she is slowly, and with great difficulty replacing with indigenous buffalo grass.
An indigenous garden is less obviously showy than an exotic garden. As we walk through Anne’s garden she draws my attention to exquisite flowers hidden among the foliage, almost invisible to the uniformed eye. “The smallest flowers are always the best; the most beautiful.” These include her favorites, the Erica’s, with their tiny pin-point flowers in vivid colors. Erica’s require diverse growing conditions and Anne has many different species scattered liberally throughout the garden, giving it a distinct fynbos scent. Her favorite is a 20 year old Haematicoda bush at the front of the garden.
One exception to the small is beautiful rule is Anne’s pride and joy – a forest lily from the Eastern Cape (veltheimia bracteatia)which stands like a fairy sceptre. The light green color of the flower is so unusual that it gives the plant an other-worldly quality.