Amazing annuals: Gazania
Exotic flowers all summer on compact plants; what’s not to like.
As it happens, quite a lot. Or at least in my humble opinion. I think that gazania flowers are beautiful but, for some reason I rarely ever grow them. At least part of the problem is that I am not enough of an optimist and gazanias like sunshine, more than we get here. In fairness, they do not need intense sun to grow but they do need it to open their flowers. Now I need to add that some strains claim to open, a little, in dull weather and the doubles (which tend to be propagated by cuttings) remain open in dull weather. These South Africans love the sun.
They are basically designer dandelions. They form dense clumps with short stems and long leaves that are typically only slightly toothed and are silver or grey on the reverse. Modern seed-raised kinds seem almost stemless, forming dense mounds. But there are variations. Some, such as the ‘Talent’ series, have grey, furry leaves and many species have trailing stems. Before plant breeders started working hard to improve the plants and get them to bloom more quickly from seed, it was common practice to grow them from cuttings, protecting them from frost in winter. You can still take cuttings of good seedlings if you like, usually in late summer.
Robinson wrote ‘Handsome and distinct dwarf plants; of much value. though only hardy enough for our summers. They are most useful on warm soils and should always be placed in open sunny spots.’
Sun is what they want. They also tolerate salt spray very well and they are often planted in seaside resorts where they flourish despite the salt-laden winds.
Although they hardly need a common name – gazania is not that difficult to cope with – they are also called treasure flowers. This is apt since many species and some hybrids have wonderful green zones at the base of the ray florets. It is not seen in all flowers but there is often a contrasting zone with black spots or squares. Some have striped ray florets too and, all in all, these are not just colourful daisies but a bit special.
Unfortunately, the flowers are rather scruffy when they die and deadheading is to be recommended.
They are not too tricky to grow from seed and the seeds and seedlings are large and easy to handle. They germinate readily at 20c but they must never be allowed to sit in damp or compressed compost or the root tips will rot and the seedlings stop growing. It is worth adding perlite or grit to the sowing compost, just to be safe. Sown in March, plants will flower well the first year.
Many years ago I grew the related beetle daisy – Gorteria. This is a low annual that is very similar to gazania but at the base of some of the ray florets there is a large, black oval patch. It is thought that beetles think these spots are other beetles, to attract them to the flowers. Or perhaps some pollinators like the company of beetles. Who knows. What I do know is that I miss gorteria a lot and was delighted that when I grew it it was a delightful and fascinating plant.
They are perennial in our climate. Clumping sorts are best if dug, divided and plugged back in every few years or so. Otherwise, they get crowded. Trailing sorts are used as ground cover, but also should be plugged every few years or so. Every few years, a former neighbor used to purchase a flat of new trailing gazania to plug into bald spots of an area of the same cultivar. I explained that the bits trimmed off the edges can simply be plugged back into the bald spots, without purchasing new plants. The process was done during winter while it was still raining.