Mention ‘bushveld’ and most of us automatically think of a remote location with endless expanses of vegetation teeming with wildlife. This widespread southern African biome comprises tall grasses and clusters of trees and shrubs that serve as the habitat for several magnificent wildlife species and a multitude of birds.
An escape to the bush can bring a sense of calm and tranquillity as you slow down to admire the marvels of nature. While we may not all be blessed with this ideal setting on our doorsteps, we can certainly transform our gardens to capture a miniature impression of this special landscape. Create a bushveld garden and you’ll be able to experience the wonder of a dawn chorus, the miracles of each season and the uniqueness of every day in Africa.
A bushveld scene would be incomplete without at least one focal tree. Several species of the iconic thorn trees (formerly known as acacias) are common throughout southern African bushveld. Characterised by their fine, feathery leaflets and armed with hooked or straight thorns, they make a stately silhouetted presence, each with a unique form.
Paperbark Thorn (Vachellia (= Acacia) sieberiana)
This majestic, flat-crowned, deciduous tree with its attractive peeling bark is an excellent shade tree for large spaces as it can reach a height of 15 metres and has an average spread of 18 metres. It bears masses of round, creamy-white, scented flowers that attract insects and, in turn, insectivorous birds. With its long spines, the paperbark thorn offers its inhabitants protection from predators and is a favourite nesting site for many bird species; some barbets even excavate their nesting holes in it.
Scented Thorn (Vachellia nilotica)
This beautiful tree (opposite, top) is one of the smaller thorn tree species and develops an umbrella-shaped crown. It is well suited as a focal point for small to medium-sized gardens. The flowers are bright yellow balls that attract a variety of insects.
African Wattle (Peltophorum africanum)
A stunning semi-deciduous tree, the African wattle has foliage similar to that of the acacias but it doesn’t bear any thorns, making it more suitable for child-friendly gardens. It produces dense sprays of bright yellow flowers that attract pollinating insects and then, as a result, insect-eating birds. It makes a fantastic focal point and can be used in medium-sized gardens.
Coral Tree (Erythrina lysistemon)
This deciduous tree delivers a magnificent display of bright red flowers at the onset of spring. The flowers produce an abundance of nectar that attracts a multitude of insects and birds to the garden. The coral tree has a soft, fibrous wood that makes it easy for cavity-nesting birds like hornbills to excavate their nest-holes.
The coastal coral tree E. caffra is equally magnificent and, as its name suggests, it does best in coastal conditions. In smaller gardens where space may not allow for a large tree, the dwarf coral tree E. humeana may be an option, as it reaches an average height of two metres. It can also be planted in a container on a sunny patio.
Lavender Croton (Croton gratissimus)
This beautiful semi-deciduous tree is a fantastic shade tree suitable for smaller gardens as it does not have an aggressive root system. The foliage is light green with silvery undersides. The cream flowers attract numerous insects that then lure insectivorous birds. Its clusters of bright orange fruits also draw birds.
Bluebush (Diospyros lycioides)
An evergreen shrub or small tree, the bluebush bears sweetly scented, creamy-yellow flowers that appeal to insects. The flowers are followed by red berries that look like cherry tomatoes and are relished by a variety of bird species. While this shrub does prefer full sun, it will tolerate some shade and grows in a variety of conditions.
Pride Of De Kaap (Bauhinia galpinii)
The bauhinia is a magnificent evergreen shrub that produces masses of brick-red flowers for up to seven months of the year. It is widely used as a screening plant and benefits from regular pruning. The flowers lure birds in search of the numerous insects attracted to the plant and, in addition, some birds feed on the flower buds and green seeds. The dense network of the plant’s branches provides effective shelter from predators. The bauhinia is hardy and will grow in a variety of regions.
Puzzle Bush (Ehretia rigida)
This hardy shrub (above) has a rounded crown formed by a tangle of drooping branches, from which it derives its common name: puzzle bush or deurmekaarbos in Afrikaans. The branches serve as ideal places for birds to perch, preen or feed, or to shelter in the dense cover. Its tiny, attractive mauve flowers appear in spring and attract insectivorous birds. The flowers are followed by orange berries that are favoured by many birds, such as mousebirds, go-away-birds, barbets, bulbuls and starlings. Can be pruned occasionally to neaten its appearance or alternatively trained into a hedge.