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Add colour to your garden this winter

Growing your own vegetables and fruit and cooking or preserving the resulting crop, brings with it not only a deep sense of satisfaction, but an overwhelming urge to share the bounty. – Christine McCabe.

Vibrant reds and oranges are signature colours of a northern hemisphere autumn, while here purples and yellows seem to dominate. The golden bietou (Osteospermum monilifera) that recently bloomed so richly, has been superseded by another glowing daisy bush, Euryops pectinatus, which has a much neater, smaller shape. And now that purple Spur flowers and African Bush Violets (barleria) are dimming, another indigenous plant, the Ribbon bush (Hypoestes aristata) is taking over.

The Ribbon bush is usually seen smothered in mauve- purple flowers, but there is a rarer, white form, too, which is equally attractive. It gets its common name from the way its petals curl back like a florist’s ribbon. This is an easy-to-grow shrubby perennial which reaches to over a metre and seeds itself freely. While it copes with full sun, it does better in semi-shade.

As an edging plant, don’t overlook the Winter iris, which has been given the ungainly name change of Iris unguicularis (formerly I.stylosa). This low-growing charmer, one of the beardless irises, comes to us from Algeria.

Its delicately fragrant mauve flowers, marked with yellow and white, appear over a long period and are excellent for cutting. Described as “one of the most valuable winter-flowering plants”, it should be grown in a warm place and left undisturbed.

With rains refreshing our gardens and driving us indoors, we can now turn with a clear conscience to books. You will find Grow to Live by local enthusiast Pat Featherstone a most useful manual. Pat is a passionate advocate of organic gardening, with many years of hands-on experience.

Her well-illustrated book is loaded with all kinds of practical advice including soil enrichment, natural ways of dealing with pests, container gardening, companion planting and setting up a wormery. While for those who are experiencing twinges in the hinges, she even provides warming up exercises to strengthen the muscles.

My neighbourhood is being invaded by Black Jacks (Bidens pilosa) which I have been piously removing. Now, according to Pat’s book, I’ve learnt one can make a useful anti-pest spray from these plants, particularly from their sticky seeds.

Not only that, but their leaves contain calcium, zinc, iron, protein and even some selenium, as well as vitamins A, B, C and E. Add them to winter soups and stews or steam them with other greens. What a useful, nutritious weed.

I know where there is still a good crop of Black Jacks and can’t wait to discover what they taste like. Grow to Live was published by Jacana Media in 2009 and has been reprinted twice.

Cape Argus