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Vygies in the garden

Published on September 16th 2021
A close up of a flower
The brightly coloured blooms of Mesembs attract attention from miles around. The colours defy imagination and rarely capture well on film. Mesmerised gardeners seek out these unusual plants to add to their own garden, but the question is which one?
vygie garden
The gorgeous display in the Karoo Desert Botanical Garden during September 2019.

Different forms

There are so many species, that it can get very confusing once you dive into the world of Mesembs. An expert may point you towards the leaves and seedpods (to help you narrow down an ID), but in most cases, you can get around this problem by simply considering what would best suit your garden (in terms of form, colour and care).
Forms | A growth form refers to the shape a plant will take when it is mature. It includes the height and spreading habits of a species.
A close up of a flower
Vygies come in many forms. Some are shrubs of 1.3m tall while others scramble along the ground. The growth habit will largely dictate where you place it in a garden, but one key ingredient is sunlight. Most species will require a sunny spot for the blooms to appear at their best. To make things easier for you, consider the following categories:
Mat-forming species:

Trailing Ice Plant

Delosperma cooperi

Delosperma nubigenum

Delosperma nubigenum

Purple Carpet

Drosanthemum floribundum

Worcester-Robertson Vygie

Drosanthemum speciosum

Clump-forming species:
Summer rainfall: Delosperma leendertziae, endemic to Gauteng
Winter rainfall: Delosperma macrostigma
Shrublet (30-50cm):
-Ruschia lineolata
Shrub (>50cm):
The focus is largely on species fit for open gardens, but there is an equally vast number of species that do well in collections (these will require specialised care).
Carpobrotus deliciosus attracting bees to the large blooms.

Mesembs for the hands-off gardeners

Vygies are adapted to harsh conditions, but a few prolific species will multiply and spread without much help from your side. You may already know several or have seen them as you pass by other gardens.
These include:
Aptenia (Renamed Mesembryanthemum)
  • The baby sun rose or Mesembryanthemum cordifolium is one of the most widespread garden vygies as it can grow just about anywhere. They can grow in sandy, clay or loam soil, in acid/neutral or alkaline conditions. It can handle full sun and semi-shade. It is medicinal and attracts butterflies.
A close up of a green plant
  • A genus of coastal ground covers that produce large yellow to fuchsia coloured blooms. The fruits of Carpobrotus exults is often used in jams and jellies or eaten raw. A prolific, drought-tolerant ground cover that roots easily from cuttings.
A purple flower on a plant
  • Delosperma is a fan favourite amongst horticulturists. Many commercial hybrids have made it onto the market with ever more brilliant blooms. They are relatively easy to maintain, with the most noted pest being scale infestations.
A bunch of green bananas

Potted gardens

Many Mesembs do well as potted specimens in well-draining soil mixes or in rockeries. The small enclosed spaces mimic their natural habitat, allowing them to grow and flourish accordingly.
For some guidelines see:
Most species can be grown and propagated in a greenhouse, however, it is best to stick to locally indigenous species when planting up pots exposed to the elements to avoid diseased and rotting plants. That said, there are a few exceptions to this rule.
Glottiphyllum in full bloom.
See how Candide gardeners grow mesembs:
Some Eastern Cape species adapt well if they are protected from frost. A good example is Faucaria subintegra. In my experience, they multiply extremely fast and do swimmingly in free-draining containers. Experimentation will always stretch the possibilities, so never say never.
A group of colorful flowers

For a deeper look into the succulent wonders of South Africa, see the range of articles below.

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