March in the Orangery

By Mike Kintgen, Curator of Alpine Collections

While South Africa may seem far away and exotic, many familiar garden plants have their origin there. Bright red geraniums (Pelargonium), sky blue lily-of-the-Nile (Agapanthus), and multicolored gladiola (Gladiolus) are just a few plants you may have fond childhood memories of or plant in your garden each season.

Upon entering the Orangery, you are greeted by a Wardian case filled with carnivorous plants. Many of these interesting plants are native elsewhere but on display is one species of sundew (Drosera capensis) from South Africa in the case. Drosera are native to many continents and some are even native in Colorado.

Catching your attention as you look straight ahead is a display of various geraniums (Pelargonium). We try and display different cultivars and species than you might not commonly see in a garden center. Most are rather drought tolerant and love Colorado’s warm days and cool nights. They can make excellent containers plants for busy or forgetful gardeners.

As you turn the corner and the full length of the Orangery comes into view, note all the bright colors, and hopefully some of the scents of the various plants. South Africa is home to a tremendous diversity of plant life; up to 10% of the worlds vascular plants are found in South Africa alone. The range of colors and forms of this rich flora is striking and captivating. Various bulbs such as Gladiolus, Freesia, Sparaxis and Lachenalia will adorn the planter boxes alongside Pelargonium and various South African succulents.

South Africa is a center of succulent plant diversity and some of the succulents worth noting in the display are brownish copper spoons (Kalanchoe orgyalis). This species is actually native to the neighboring island of Madagascar which shares many of the same families and genera with South Africa. Other succulents in the display include: Oscularia, jade plant (Crassula ovata), and sticks-on-fire (Euphorbia tirucalli).

Make sure and enjoy the scent of the citrus trees along the outside wall. While not native to South Africa, many types of Citrus are grown in the temperate regions of South Africa producing a sizable amount of Citrus fruit. Many of these orchards have replaced parcels of the unique native flora. Habitat preservation is one of the most important steps humans can do to safe guard biodiversity.

As you exit the Orangery note the large table of Pelargonium. A beautiful assortment of species and various cultivars are on display. Make sure to check out some of the seemingly subtle but smaller flowering species; they often have intriguing colors and patterns on the petals and some are night-scented.