Spend time in your gar­den

The colder months give gar­den­ers the chance to sit back and plan ahead. We show you how to cre­ate an ecofriendly gar­den, and rec­om­mend a few great al­ter­na­tives to grass.

go! Platteland - - GARDEN DIARY - BY MAJA PALM

Gar­den with na­ture

Tra­di­tional gar­den­ing isn’t nec­es­sar­ily “green”. A mas­sive lawn, ster­ile plants and con­stantly “tidy­ing up” dis­turb the ecosys­tem and erad­i­cate ben­e­fi­cial in­sects. It also re­quires a lot of wa­ter and main­te­nance.

Dr Jo­han Wentzel of Wild­flower Nurs­ery at Hart­beespoort­dam knows how to work in har­mony with na­ture. He started his ca­reer as a geo­physi­cist but when he and his wife, An­nette, opened the nurs­ery in 2004, he was able to re­alise his life-long pas­sion for indige­nous plants.

“We want to in­spire other peo­ple to feel as ex­cited as we are about indige­nous plants,” says Jo­han. “Our lo­ca­tion means we fo­cus on plants that oc­cur in the grass­lands.”

They cur­rently grow ap­prox­i­mately 650 species, in­clud­ing grasses, bulbs, peren­ni­als, shrubs, suc­cu­lents and trees, cho­sen specif­i­cally for their adapt­abil­ity to a gar­den en­vi­ron­ment. Where does the con­cept of a “beau­ti­ful” gar­den come from? “Tra­di­tional gar­den­ing has its roots in Eu­rope – 300 years ago,” says Jo­han. “The un­for­tu­nate Eu­ro­peans had lim­ited ac­cess to a va­ri­ety of indige­nous plants, so they wel­comed any type of plant, from any cor­ner of the globe, with open arms. The em­pha­sis was – and still is – on beau­ti­ful blooms, and many plants were im­proved to cre­ate even big­ger and more beau­ti­ful flow­ers. Iron­i­cally, many of the mother plants come from South Africa: well-known ex­am­ples are aga­pan­thus, glad­i­oli, bush lilies and gera­ni­ums. Why is it im­por­tant to cre­ate a more en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly gar­den? “Flow­ers and plants are part of a greater whole that keeps the ecosys­tem sus­tain­able. At­trac­tive blooms are pol­li­nated by in­sects and birds, which, in turn, are juicy morsels for larger species. Plenty of an­i­mals make their nests in the gar­den and many in­hab­i­tants live un­der­ground, where they help turn dead leaves into com­post. Their tun­nels en­sure that rain­wa­ter can soak into the soil prop­erly.”

In a wa­ter-scarce coun­try like South Africa, the only gar­den that will sur­vive is the gar­den filled with lo­cal indige­nous plants, Jo­han says. Of course such a gar­den also re­quires less main­te­nance. “The plants won’t nec­es­sar­ily look their best but they cer­tainly won’t die. It’s very sat­is­fy­ing to sit on your stoep and be able to en­joy look­ing at more than just pretty flow­ers. And we’re also do­ing na­ture a favour.”

What are the ba­sic prin­ci­ples of en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly gar­den­ing? Jo­han rec­om­mends us­ing plants suited to your area:

1 Ob­serve what grows nat­u­rally in your en­vi­ron­ment. Se­lect plants that have adapted to the rain­fall pat­tern and group plants with sim­i­lar wa­ter re­quire­ments to­gether. This way you cre­ate smaller habi­tats within your gar­den where cer­tain in­sects, birds or an­i­mals will feel at home.

2 Take the soil type into ac­count. It’s much eas­ier to ad­just plants to the soil type than the other way round. It’s also im­por­tant to “build” soil with a good layer of mulch ev­ery now and then in­stead of till­ing it, which breaks up the struc­ture. “The hadedas and earth­worms do a good enough job!”

3 Frost is an im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion when it comes to cli­mate. When the cli­mate is mild (as is cur­rently the case in Gaut­eng), frost-sen­si­tive plants can prob­a­bly sur­vive for a few years, but when a year with black frost comes along, you’d have to start all over again.

4 Most plants re­quire spe­cific grow­ing con­di­tions, which we call their habi­tat. For ex­am­ple, when sun-lov­ing plants are planted in the shade, they’ll be more vul­ner­a­ble to dis­ease.

Does that mean you’d have to pull ev­ery­thing out and start again?

Not at all, says Jo­han. Small changes can make a huge dif­fer­ence.

“First re­place the thirsty plants with wa­ter­wise plants, one by one. Then you can slowly re­place ster­ile plants (most hy­brids are ster­ile) with plants that at­tract but­ter­flies and birds. Next, in­crease the va­ri­ety of plants. Say there’s one area cov­ered with a sin­gle plant va­ri­ety, plant other plants in be­tween. Be kind and place a bird bath in a spot where feath­ered vis­i­tors will feel safe enough to sit and take a sip of wa­ter.

“You also have per­mis­sion to stop work­ing so hard – al­low fallen leaves to stay where they are to nour­ish the soil, as well as of­fer a hid­ing place for in­sects, frogs and geckos. Only prune plants when it’s ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary, and wa­ter your gar­den as lit­tle as pos­si­ble.”

Jo­han be­lieves the big­gest chal­lenge is to adopt an African per­spec­tive. “Im­i­tate na­ture so that your gar­den be­comes an ex­ten­sion of your en­vi­ron­ment, a place where birds, geckos, worms and but­ter­flies feel wel­come. So many eco­log­i­cal chal­lenges face us these days, but I be­lieve we can solve these prob­lem one gar­den at a time.”

CON­TACT wild­flow­er­nurs­ery.co.za 082 801 1741 >

MAIN PHOTO, ABOVE The gi­ant pineap­ple lily (Eu­comis pal­lid­i­flora) forms an at­trac­tive fo­cal point among Cape thatch­ing reeds. INSET Dr Jo­han Wentzel

ABOVE Choco­late bells (Tri­chodesma physa­loides). BOT­TOM, LEFT The paint­brush lily (Sca­doxus puniceus) and the white arum lily (Zant­edeschia aethiopica)

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