A seasonal happy hour at home

Grewia occidentalis, an indigenous, deciduous shrub or small tree that can grow up to 3m in height, is a good decorative alternative to a traditional Christmas tree, with its purple star-shaped flowers it is a perfect addition to the other tree decorations.

Grewia occidentalis, an indigenous, deciduous shrub or small tree that can grow up to 3m in height, is a good decorative alternative to a traditional Christmas tree, with its purple star-shaped flowers it is a perfect addition to the other tree decorations.

Published Dec 3, 2023


Durban — The holiday season is upon us, so get out into your garden for lekker braais and a couple of cold ones with friends. Be the host with the most with Life is a Garden’s herbaceous garnish recipes, festive trees and seasonal grow guide for December.


If you celebrate Christmas, why not go for a living tree this year? Buy a medium-sized pot for your tree to live on the patio until next year, or transplant it into the garden if you have space.

For a traditional look, go for the Japanese cedar (cryptomeria), a coniferous evergreen ornamental tree “copied” for all the store-bought faux trees. They can live up to 600 years and grow up to 30m high in optimal conditions, but if you keep it in a container it will remain smaller. Plant in a well-prepared container with potting soil, compost and ample drainage, in full sun or semi-shade.

If you’d like something more African-inspired, go for the cross-berry tree (grewia occidentalis) – an indigenous, deciduous shrub or small tree that grows up to 3m in height. These lovelies have purple star-shaped flowers from now until the end of January, a perfect addition to the other tree decorations. Once the flower period is over, distinctive four-lobed fruits (hence the common name cross-berry) can be enjoyed by humans and birdlife alike. Grow it in full sun or semi-shade in well-prepared soil. The root system is not aggressive and can be planted near buildings and paving.

PUT an exotic twist on braai broodjies by adding a little olive oil, oregano, rosemary, bayleaf, basil and thyme


It’s braai time and some tasty herbs from the garden will perfectly enhance and complement food flavours. If your herb collection is looking a little sparse, garden centres are fully stocked with a variety of seedling trays.

Replant them into pots at home, giving you ready-to-harvest herbs in just two weeks or less, depending on the size of the seedling you buy.

SPICED and grilled watermelon will surpriseyour taste buds and impress guests. Youcan now enjoy the watermelons and sweetmelons you sowed in August. A largewatermelon is ripe if it feels a little bumpywhen you stroke it. When sweet melonsare ripe, a small crack appears at the pointwhere the fruit attaches to the vine.


Brazilian braai broodjies: Put an exotic twist on our local favourite by adding these herbs to your broodjies with a little olive oil – oregano, rosemary, bay leaf, basil and thyme.

Creamy black mushrooms: A delicious sauce to baste on as you braai, using melted butter, garlic, dill and lemon balm. Garnish with fresh chives.

Watermelon crisp: Explore your taste buds and impress everyone with grilled watermelon. Cut your watermelon into wedges, season both sides with a mixture of salt, sugar and a hint of chilli. Season well to get that charred look and flame-grilled taste and garnish with lots of fresh mint.

Tomato hot pot: Hollow out the inside of your big tomatoes, mix the pulp with parsley, fennel, coriander, sage, with a little salt and black pepper, put it all back inside and then pop them over a gentle flame.

A ROSE bouquet is a refreshing thirst quencher.


Gin basil smash: A shot of gin, a can of cucumber-flavoured soft drink mix, and a handful of bruised basil. You can even steep the basil in the gin a day before for a fuller flavour.

Rosé bouquet: Half a glass of rosé, half a can of tonic water, along with lavender, rosemary, rose petals and a slither of fresh orange.

Like-lemonade: Using the juice of one lemon, three oranges and one lime, mix in bruised lemon verbena, pineapple basil and sage.

Mint soda float: A can of cream soda, a scoop of ice cream and a handful of fresh mint.

There are many mint varieties to choose from to complement your dishes and drinks. Try spearmint for savoury dishes, peppermint for desserts, apple mint for drinks, chocolate mint with liquors, garden mint in salads with lamb, peas, zucchini, fresh beans, marinades, fruit salads, cold soups, cheese and more.

Try these African healing herbs: wormwood (artemisia afra) and wild garlic (tulbaghia violacea).

MINT and lemon are essential for summer refreshments.


Adding veggies and herbs into your garden beds makes quite an impact and you don’t always need to have the edible and non-edible sections separated. Most herbs need a sunny position with at least 6 hours of sunlight and well-drained, composted soil. No sprays or pesticides should be used on herbs that are eaten, used cosmetically, or medicinally. Encourage bushy, more compact plants by nipping back and make sure beds do not fully dry out in hot weather.

Once you’re done herb transplanting, continue with small plantings of beans and a last batch of tomatoes. Plant more baby marrows, patty pans, corn, baby gem squash, beetroot, sweetcorn, and Swiss chard. Also plant chillies, more parsley and rocket to add zing to salads.

Top tip: Mulch everything ‒ especially if you are going away for the holidays.

GET a live Christmas tree. The Japanese cedar (cryptomeria) – a coniferous evergreenornamental tree – can live up to 600 years and grow up to 30m high in optimal conditions,but if you keep it in a container it will remain smaller.


Going on holiday? Get a friend or neighbour to mow the verges. An unkempt lawn is a sign of an empty house. Remember to add water-retention granules to the soil of container plants to increase their water-holding capacity.

Celebrating Christmas? Ask your family for gardening gifts that you may have eyed at your local garden centre. Plants are living gifts that will last for years in the garden.

There are many plants that are very useful for making your own organic décor. Here are a few easy tips for those finishing holiday spirit touches that will certainly impress your guests.

Use the pliable branch ends of our indigenous willow (salix mucronate) to make a beautiful fresh wreath. Decorate it with pinecones or Christmas décor as a door wreath or eye-catching table centrepiece. The foliage from leylandii conifers (cupressus leylandii) or butcher’s broom (ruscus aculeatus) are also great to use as floral décor of any kind.

December is an ideal time to consider new directions, begin implementing changes and improvements which you can carry over as a New Year’s resolution.

Is there a spot in the garden that is waiting for a cozy bench or hammock? A spot in the shade for reading or facing the sunset for lekker sundowners? Ready-made garden arches and gazebos can create an intimate space in small and large gardens. How about a fire pit? Think marshmallow braais, a little drumming and singing under the African sky, and some storytelling and laughs between friends.

If you are struggling with patchy shady areas, try shade-loving plants such as aspidistras and plectranthus.

SHADE-loving plants such as plectranthus fill areas that don’t get full sunlight.

Solar garden lights create instant ambience outdoors. Plant fragrant plants like white roses, star jasmine and orange jasmine.

Perfect for filling gaps in the middle of a border are neat little plants such as the low-maintenance Mexican cuphea and indigenous felicia amelloides, the blue marguerite which brings a most pleasing shade of blue to the garden.

THE blue marguerite (felicia amelloides) adds a pleasing shade of blue to the garden.

To add vertical dimension to garden beds, add large containers filled with red and white impatiens that will stand out between the surrounding plants. Also put up trellises on bare walls and place containers planted with flowery creepers like star jasmine at their bases.

Hydrangeas will be at their best now. Pick the mature flowers (all the small blooms in the centre of the flower head must be open) for the vase. Remove the bark from the bottom of the stems and immerse overnight in a bucket of cold water to their necks before arranging them.

HYDRANGEAS are at their most beautiful now. Pick some for the vase to brighten up your home.

Join Life is a Garden @lifeisagardensa on Facebook and Instagram. Share plant pictures, receive great advice, and become part of the eco-tribe. Visit www.lifeisagarden.co.za

Independent on Saturday