Sparaxis explosion in Marta's succulent garden

My friend Marta, whose beautiful succulent and rare fruit tree garden I photographed in December, emailed me late last week to let me know her aloes were flowering. Needing a break from the torture of doing our taxes, I headed over in the early afternoon on Sunday to see what's going on.

I was prepared for blooming aloes but I didn't know I'd be finding this:

An honest-to-goodness explosion of sparaxis all over Marta's front yard!

Sparaxis, or harlequin flower, is a genus of flowering bulbs in the iris family endemic to South Africa's Cape Province. There are 13 species, only a few of which are typically found in cultivation. Most common are hybrids between Sparaxis tricolor and Sparaxis elegans

Marta remembers planting "a few" Sparaxis bulbs years ago, and over time they have spread all over her front yard, both by multiplying but more importantly through seed. As you can see in some of the photos below, seedlings are now growing in the cracks between the pavers (as, incidentally, are seedlings of Echium wildpretii, aka towers of jewels).

The sparaxis, and a few other spring-flowering bulbs, provide bright pops of color in between aloes, cacti and agaves.

They don't flower long, maybe a few weeks, and the foliage dies shortly afterwards. But the overall effect is bright and cheerful--the epitome of springtime.

How can passers-by not smile when they see this!

As for the aloes Marta emailed me about, many of them are in flower, too.

Aloe cryptopoda (aka wickensii)

Aloe cryptopoda flowers

Aloe marlothii; Marta said the tips of the flowers rotted because of the excessive rainfall we've had, but there's still plenty of inflorescence left
Marta also has some large aeoniums, both near her front door (left in the photo below) and as you walk into the backyard (right). They are seedlings from a plant she owned many years ago.

In the backyard, the first thing I noticed was this collection of pots, many of them fruit tree seedlings:

More photos of the backyard:

Anemones planted just last fall

Aloe broomii (left)

Aloe marlothii

Since this Aloe marlothii always blooms late, its flowers are not damaged by frost

Kumara plicatilis (left) and Aloe ferox (right), with a perfect Agave victoria-reginae in the lower right

Aloe ferox

However, what made the biggest impression on me in the backyard is this tree. It's in full flower right now. It's not a common sight in Davis. Guess what it is? It's a 'Mexicola' avocado! Last year Marta had "only" about 100 avocados; this year she's hoping for a lot more. At least a half dozen other avocado varieties are grafted onto the tree under the protection of the canopy.

Back in the front yard, I couldn't resist; I simply had to take a few more photos of the sparaxis in full bloom among the succulents.

As I was taking photos, Marta casually pulled out a handful of sparaxis bulbs and handed them to me as I was getting ready to leave. I put them in a pot for now but I expect to soon have my own sparaxis spectacle.

Thank you, Marta!


  1. Wow, wow and wow! I think i would love knowing this lady!

    1. I'd love to meet you too. I'm in Davis, not far from Gerhard

  2. Marta's garden is often my walk destination. It's about a mile away. I get to see what's blooming and growing every time I go. I sneak up the path a little to see my favorite plants a little closer.

  3. What a great garden! Thanks for sharing the Sparaxis spectacle, I agree it would cheer anyone up. And...oh, be still my heart, to have an avocado tree in the back yard.

  4. I love the combination of Marta's beautiful aloes and the bountiful Sparaxis! And here I thought my Sparaxis were having a good year - I haven't got anywhere near that kind of display but I expect my premature tidying up is limiting the self-seeding.

  5. So beautiful, thank you for sharing the photos!


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