The Fynbos of South Africa is fascinating. Defined as being shrubland of hard-leaved evergreens that grow between 1-3 metres, this heath-like community of predominantly fine leafed plants thrives in the impoverished soils of the Western Cape and parts of Eastern Cape. They have adapted to the winter rainfall, summer aridity of the southernmost parts of Africa. The aridity in summer and the resultant frequency of fires have prevented the growth of forests and insured the heathland characteristics of the Fynbos.  The Fynbos dominates the Cape Floral Kingdom, which is the smallest of the six recognised floral kingdoms, chosen for its astounding diversity of species and for the high number of endemic species that occur there.

Many familiar garden species (proteas, leucadendrons, leucospermums, serrurias) are well represented. In stunning contrast, there are the restios or reeds that burst out of the groupings like brown, russet and green fireworks. Then there are the myriad other plants, such as the small-flowered shrubs that have a more diffuse existence, in amongst the bravura statements of the ‘big’ flowers and reeds. These innumerable species of small shrubs form a mid-layer to the fynbos and at the ground level there are the abundant species of perennials, grasses, bulbs and corms, many of which have made there way into horticulture around the world.

The Fynbos growing in the dramatic Cederberg Wilderness

As a garden designer, I have been inspired to think about the layering of the plants in the fynbos and the interplay of textures and how garden combinations that mimic this configuration could easily be made using plant material from temperate Australia and Mediterranean and other homoclimes around the world.It has made me think about how indigenous plantings are at the heart of the creation of a localised style that is distinctive and sustainable and how very fortunate we are in the temperate parts of the southern hemisphere to have access to such spectacular and diverse plant material that suits our climate. Kirstenbosch is certainly a place to go to be stimulated as well as to be transfixed by the beauty of the natural world. MH