Indigenous Nursery News Blog

How to create a Highveld Garden with Locally Indigenous Plants

Creating a landscaped garden with locally indigenous plants from the South African Highveld is a great way to garden sustainably.

Random Harvest Indigenous Plant Nursery has designed and installed a small Highveld Garden, using plants that we stock.

This garden shows that one can create a beautiful outdoor space in an environmentally sustainable way.  By using locally occurring plants, inputs such as pesticides, fertilizer, and excessive water are not necessary.

Using locally occurring plant species also ensures that your garden will be buzzing with a diversity of healthy insects, birds and other wildlife that depend on these plants to survive.  The garden becomes a successful and healthy ecosystem.

Gardening successfully on the Highveld means taking some factors into consideration:

Highveld Grassland

  • Soils are generally fertile, but there are many areas of shallow soil and lots of bedrock.
  • Rainfall average annually is about 700 to 800mm in Gauteng.
  • Frost is a limiting factor, particularly in open areas.
  • As Johannesburg becomes increasingly covered by trees, frost damage in the suburbs is becoming less frequent.  The minimum recorded temperature for Johannesburg is -5.60C
  • The Highveld was historically grassland. Trees were not able to establish themselves easily as regular disturbance from fire and grazing prevented them from growing other than in the refuges of rocky outcrops and riverine areas. The Highveld vegetation has changed dramatically due to human activity.
  • Except for a few relic patches and outlying areas, the vast, biodiversity rich grasslands have been all but lost forever.

Components of a Highveld Garden

Both grassland and forested area (including forest margin or bush clump) are essential parts of a Highveld Garden. They also create areas of separate interest, with the grassland garden being sunny and warm and the forested or treed area being a shady haven from the summer heat.

By creating these distinctly different areas one can maximize habitat creation and therefore also the number of creatures that can be found in the garden. Adding rock and wood to the garden, includes typically Highveld elements that look good and create extra niches for wildlife and "fussy" plants to make use of. Rock can also be used as effective storm water management, in the form of a dry river bed. Functionality and beauty marry well to enhance the feel of an indigenous Highveld Garden.

Bush clumps / Forested areas

The combination of species that make up the bush-clumps or patches of forest in nature vary slightly or dramatically depending on aspect, slope, soil type and proximity to water.

We can copy the various combinations of tree species (along with shrubs and smaller plants) in different ways in our gardens to create a very special “exclusion area” for ourselves as well as the wildlife that visits the garden. If staying close to Nature's example, rocks should be an essential part of this part of the garden, as most taller vegetation on the Highveld is associated with rocky outcrops or areas where tree seedlings escaped the ravages of fire and adverse weather long enough to establish themselves and grow to maturity.


Random Harvest placed rocks close together to copy the natural appearance of Afrocanthium gilfillanii growing in between the rocks. It is however important to place heavy rocks far enough apart so that they will not have to be moved at a later stage as the trees' stems increase in size.


If space is limited, select smaller trees such as the Velvet Rock-alder (Afrocanthium gilfillanii) as the predominant species. This is the species that Random Harvest selected as the dominant tree in a small Highveld Garden. Larger gardens can cope with choices such as White Stinkwood (Celtis africana) and River Bushwillow (Combretum erythrophyllum).

Deciduous trees provide valuable shade in summer, and in winter valuable warm sunshine can filter through.  A few evergreens are good to include as well.

Below is a list of species that one can include, that are generally available at Random Harvest Indigenous Plant Nursery. They have been divided to give an indication of what is suitable to plant in a small or large garden, but in a large garden one has the flexibility of including both larger and smaller species.

For a Larger Garden: Celtis africana, Rhus pyriodes, Ziziphus mucronata, Cussonia paniculata, Rhus leptodictya, Combretum erythrophyllum,

For a Small Garden: Ehretia rigida, Dombeya rotundifolia, Heteromorpha trifoliata, Euclea crispa, Acacia caffra, Afrocanthium gilfillanii, Zanthoxylon capense, Rhamnus prinoides, Buddleja saligna, Canthium gilfillanii, Olea europaea subsp. africana,

Shrubs and forest floor or smaller species include: Ledebouria revoluta, Scadoxus puniceus, Diospyros lycioides, Protasparagus suaveolens, Aloe greatheadii var davyana, Helichrysum rugulosum, Pavetta gardeniifolia var gardeniifolia, Asparagus sp., Setaria megaphylla, Englerophytum magaliesmontanum, Vangueria infausta, Barleria obtusa

Remember to leave leafy or mulched patches for the "diggers".


Choose a sun-drenched area to create the grassland.  Not only do many grasses require high light intensity to flourish, but their beauty in the slanted morning and evening light is breathtaking.

Include flowering plant species to increase diversity and therefore interest value as well as increased food for garden creatures. Addition of wood and rock also help create both aesthetic interest value and habitat for the diversity of garden creatures.

The Highveld Display Garden at Random Harvest Nursery has incorporated a dry river bed to illustrate how storm water can be managed whilst maintaining aesthetic beauty and keeping the garden looking natural.  Grasses are excellent soil binders, and rock serves to channel water and guide it to or out of certain areas.  These two factors provide a good solution for managing difficult sloped areas of the garden.

The grassland area should be linked to the shady forested area by using forest margin shrubs and small trees that can tolerate some shade and some sun for parts of the day.

Read more on how to create a Grassland Garden.

Species included in the display garden grassland section are as follows:

Grasses: Themeda triandra, Cenchrus cilliaris, Melinis nerviglumis and M. repens, Chloris gayana (could also use Eragrostis capensis and E. curvula, Pogonothria squarrosa)  

Flowering plants: Crinum bulbispermum and C. graminicola, Bulbine abyssinica, Hypoxis hemerocallidea and H rigidula, Ledebouria speciosa, Boophane disticha, Lapeirousia sandersonii,Eucomis autumnalis and E. comosa, Haplocarpa scaposa, Becium obovatum, Papaver aculeatum, Zaluzianskya katharinae, Dichoma zeyheri, Cyrtanthus breviflorus, Osteospermum juncundum (Highveld), Chironia laxa, Arctotis arctotoides, Felicia filifolia, Hypoestes forskaolii


Got something to say? Join the discussion »
    Posted @ 1/22/2018 12:41 PM by Richard Hill-Jowett   
    Richard Hill-Jowett's avatar

    I have a large 5000 sm garden leading from the home to the shore of the.Vaal Dam
    We only get home on occasional weekends so we need a waterwise garden that compliments the location and needs minimal maintenance
    We are NOT gardeners so need lots of hand-holding and help (Indigenous gardens for dummies) as well as all the material and plants
    Please email your suggestions as to how we should proceed

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