Indigenous Nursery News Blog

Indigenous Shady Gardens - beat the Greenhouse Effect

Creating a colourful, shady indigenous forest garden in your back yard may seem an impossible task.

Most people these days feel that their small outdoor spaces are unsuitable for creating a tree-rich shady haven.



At Random Harvest Indigenous Plant Nursery, Jeffrey Mapila and Fritos Ncube have transformed a very hot, small courtyard space into a unique indigenous shady garden with astounding attention to detail in their garden design.

Not only did they look at the key elements of a forest, but they created the garden with their nursery customers frequently asked questions about gardening in the shade, in mind. An added bonus for a tree-rich space, is that it helps to beat the Greenhouse Effect.  To let the forest recycle itself by leaving leaf litter and dead wood to decompose on the forest floor, means that carbon will be stored instead of being released into the atmosphere.


Jeffrey's shade (forest) garden checklist:

  • Display the use of colourful indigenous plants suitable for shady conditions. By using plants that flower at various times of the year, there is almost year-round colour on the forest floor. In autumn, the use of deciduous trees means beautiful autumn foliage for colour as well.
  • Highlight the diversity of indigenous plants available to create a shade garden with a number of levels (forest canopy, middle storey of shrubs and forest floor or understorey).  By using a wide variety of plants, there is good diversity of leaf shape and texture, which adds interest to the garden. Have a look at the list of plants suitable for shade gardens below.

  • Use of evergreen and deciduous indigenous trees, suitable to use in small spaces.  The deciduous trees create mulch when dropping their autumn leaves and add colour and different light intensity throughout the year.  The evergreen trees help to keep the area cool and shady for light sensitive plants, and ensure some green refuge for canopy dwelling creatures all year round. Again, see the list below of trees that we used to create shade for the garden.
  • The small forest garden must be a refuge - for both garden wildlife and people.  The space is carefully constructed with completely organic elements, and the pathway leading into the garden is at an angle that intends for the garden user to be able to feel as if they are escaping to a hidden and private, calming space.
  • Non-plant design elements must be included to add interest and depth to the garden. The larger-than-life stone sculpture by Africa Yarona lends a sense of mythical story magic to the garden. Organic elements such as water and wood are also used to accentuate the forest-like feel of this small space.
  • Inclusion of lots of wood - as habitat and to retain moisture in the garden.  Many plants have been planted in cracks and crevices in the dead wood. This reinforces the aesthetic charm of the garden, whilst simultaneously creating additional refuge for insects and decomposers.  Even the mulch used to cover the forest floor is wood chip mulch. As it breaks down, it helps to make the garden more fertile.

  • A different perspective: Jeffrey and Fritos have deliberately raised the level of the forest floor by using wooden edging to retain soil.  They have placed the bench at the end of the pathway where, when seated, one is not only surrounded by plants but the forest floor is almost at eye level.  Without having to crouch down, one is enveloped in a viewpoint seldom experienced as an adult.  One automatically takes notice of what is happening at ground level....and at this level nature is incredibly busy!

  • Water was intentionally unobtrusive in this indigenous garden.  The use of a piece of drift wood to trickle water over, was to reinforce the importance of wood in the forest garden, and the bird bath of water is in the shape of a leaf. Both have been placed at ground level so that water is accessible to all creatures in the forest.
  • Such a plant rich garden helps to reduce our carbon footprint. It is a well known fact that trees are vital in absorbing carbon (in the form of carbon dioxide) during photsynthesis.  They also give off oxygen as a by product, storing the carbon in their wood.  As the wood decomposes, this carbon is stored in the mulch and eventually the compost-rich soil of the forest floor.  So no matter how small the forest garden, it serves to reduce the amount of harmful green house gas, CO2 (carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere.


List of Indigenous Plants Used In The Small Forest Shade Garden

Note: Many of the trees that were used in the display are a bit large or pose a threat to pipes and walls with agressive root systems in small spaces.  We used available trees to make shade in the garden, not necessarily those ideal for a small shady garden.  Below is a list of small indigenous trees that would be suitable to include, as well as shrubs and groundcovers and smaller plants.

Allophylus natalensis (Dune False Currant)
Apodytes dimidiata (White Pear)
Buddleja saligna (False Olive)
Calpurnea aurea (Natal Laburnum)
Afrocanthium (=Canthium) gilfillanii (Velvet Rock Alder)
Catha edulis (Bushman's Tea)
Combretum hereroense (Russet Bushwillow)
Cunonia capensis (Red Alder)
Dais cotinifolia (Pompon Tree)
Deinbollia oblongifolia (Dune Soap Berry)
Diospyros lycioides (Bluebush)
Diospyros whyteana (Bladder Nut)
Dombeya tiliacea (Forest Wild Pear)
Galpinia transvaalica (Wild Pride of India)
Gonioma kamassii (Kamassii)
Halleria lucida (Tree Fuchsia)
Heteropyxis canescens (Bastard Lavender Tree)
Heteropyxis natalensis (Lavender Tree)
Indigogera frutescens (River Indigo)
Noltea africana (Soap Dogwood)
Pittosporum viridiflorum (Cheesewood)
Podocarpus elongatus (Breede River Yellowwood)
Psydrax obovata (Quar)
Rauvolfia caffra (Quinine Tree)
Rhus (Searsia) gerardii (Drakensberg karree)
Schrebera alata (Wild Jasmine)
Tabernaemontana elegans (Toad Tree)
Trimeria grandifolia (Wild Mulberry)
Turraea floribunda (Honeysuckle Tree)
Ziziphus mucronata (Buffalo Thorn)
 Duvernoia aconitiflora (Lemon Pistol Bush)
 Hypoestes aristata (Ribbon Bush)
 Mackaya bella (Forest Bells)
Phygelius aequalis (Wild Fuchsia)
Rhamnus prinoides (Dogwood)
Sparmannia africana (Cape / Wild Stock Rose)
 Groundcovers and Small Plants
Ansellia africana (Leopard Orchid) = epiphyte
Asparagus falcatus (Large Forest Asparagus)
Begonia dregei (Dwarf Begonia)
Chlorophytum bowkeri
Clivia miniata (Bush Lily)
Dermatobotrys saundersiae - mostly epiphytic
Dioscorea sylvatica (Forest Elephant's Foot) - creeper
Drimiopsis maculata (Spotted Leaved Drimiopsis)
Gloriosa superba (Flame Lily)
Impatiens hochstetterii (Mauve Impatiens)
Rumohra adiantiformis (Leatherleaf Fern)
Scadoxus multiflorus subs. katharinae (Blood Flower)
Stipa dregeana (Stipa Grass)
Streptocarpus formosus (Cape Primrose)
Streptocarpus sp.
Talbotia elegans (False Dracaena)
Zantedeschia aethiopica (Aarum Lily)



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