grass­roots

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODPASTIMES -

MIDSUMMER is fire sea­son. For gar­den­ers liv­ing near moun­tain fyn­bos or na­ture re­serves, it is a good time to as­sess whether your gar­den would pro­tect you – or in­crease your dan­ger – if your home lies in the path of an on­com­ing wild­fire.

This month, 26 Gar­den Cen­tre As­so­ci­a­tion nurs­eries af­fil­i­ated to the South African Nurs­ery As­so­ci­a­tion in the East­ern, south­ern and Western Cape are launch­ing a Fire­wise pro­mo­tion to ed­u­cate gar­den­ers on how to firescape (land­scap­ing to fire­wise prin­ci­ples) their gar­dens. Cus­tomers will be alerted to which plants are fire­wise.

The prin­ci­ples of firescap­ing have been de­vel­oped by Fire­wise com­mu­ni­ties across the world and the lo­cal or­gan­i­sa­tion (www.fire­wis­esa.org.za) is work­ing with gar­den cen­tres on this project. Be­hind the ini­tia­tive is the govern­ment’s Work­ing on Fire pro­gramme to man­age South Africa’s wild­fires (ap­prox­i­mately 2 000 a year) by em­ploy­ing 1 700 fire­fight­ers in one of the coun­try’s most pro­gres­sive job-cre­ation pro­grammes.

Safe­guard­ing your prop­erty against wild­fires can po­ten­tially make the dif­fer­ence be­tween whether your house is saved or con­sumed in a fire. Cer­tain prop­er­ties are more vul­ner­a­ble to fire than oth­ers.

Lo­cal ex­pe­ri­ence, to­gether with case stud­ies of wild­fires in Cal­i­for­nia and Aus­tralia, have shown that homes along­side fyn­bos re­serves or be­side dense stands of woody in­va­sive alien veg­e­ta­tion are at huge risk. Houses at the top of a slope, as well as prop­er­ties di­rectly ex­posed to pre­vail­ing winds or in a val­ley through which wind is chan­nelled, are also at risk. Firescape in zones How do you de­velop a fire­wise gar­den? Iden­tify and re­move flammable (usu­ally in­va­sive alien) plants which can ex­plode into fire­balls that de­stroy your home. Re­search the list of plants (www.lifeis­agar­den.co.za) known to be rel­a­tively fire-re­sis­tant. Fi­nally, di­vide the gar­den into three zones of de­fen­si­ble space that can be firescaped with fire­wise plants.

Here are de­scrip­tions of the three fire­wise zones: Perime­ter zone This is a buf­fer zone on the gar­den bound­ary which should be planted with low-grow­ing, fleshy-leaved ground cov­ers, hedg­ing plants and iso­lated for­est trees or large aloes that are fire-re­sis­tant and re­sprout when dam­aged by fire. Never use flammable fenc­ing ma­te­ri­als. Gar­den zone Within the gar­den, de­sign “is­land beds” sur­rounded by lawn, paving or gravel. Choose fire-re­sis­tant trees and shrubs but make sure they do not touch each other or cre­ate a lad­der ef­fect that can de­liver a fire to your home. In­ter­plant the is­lands with low-grow­ing ground cov­ers. Pa­tio zone Cre­ate a 3m-wide zone of hard land­scap­ing, lawn or low-grow­ing fir­ere­sis­tant plant­ings around the house – a great place for shade lov­ing, flow­er­ing plants. Fire­wise tips

Re­move all il­le­gal in­va­sive alien plants as many are highly flammable, in­clud­ing Port Jack­son, black wat­tles, pam­pas grass, gi­ant reed and Span­ish broom.

Conifers, de­o­dars and pines will light-up like a Christ­mas tree in a wild­fire. Known to be the least fir­ere­sis­tant plants in a gar­den, you need to as­sess whether they pose a dan­ger, and if so, re­move them.

Trees are best placed on the outer bound­aries of large prop­er­ties.

Al­low plenty of space be­tween plants near the home and avoid dense shrub­beries. In­stead, cre­ate ir­reg­u­lar, sparsely planted small is­lands at least 3m to 5m apart. By spread­ing plant­ings out in this man­ner they can­not form a con­tin­u­ous canopy that pro­vides a leapfrog path for fire to your front door.

Avoid tim­ber deck­ing, fenc­ing, pergolas and arch­ways.

In­stall non-flammable hard land­scap­ing such as flag­stone walks, brick pa­tios, stone re­tain­ing walls, gravel and in­or­ganic mulches.

Fi­nally, ap­pre­ci­ate that the de­fen­si­ble space around your home dif­fers ac­cord­ing to the ter­rain. On level ground, the de­fen­si­ble space is 10m in all di­rec­tions from the house. If your house and gar­den is on a slope, the de­fen­si­ble area needs to be larger – at least 30m. The steeper the slope, the larger the de­fen­si­ble space needs to be – 60m or more – es­pe­cially if the gar­den is lower than the house. For more in­for­ma­tion go to www.lifeis­agar­den.co.za or www.fire­wis­esa.org.za

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