Popular Mechanics (South Africa)

Mimic forest ecology by selecting plants that occupy different layers of the forest.


Space plants so that they capture as much sunlight as possible. Note the angle of the sun, especially at the summer solstice – the time when many plants are most active – to see how it could impact hours of light and shade. Then block out the plants according to their mature sizes (width and height). Place smaller, sun-loving plants north of taller ones so they’ll get more sun access. Fill shadowy areas with shade-loving plants to take advantage of the leftover sun dapple. Catching as much sunlight as possible maximises photosynth­esis, which stimulates the soil biology, which in turn gives nutrients to the plants and improves their immunity.

Work with the landscape as it changes over time. When you plant a sapling, it could take five to 10 years to cast significan­t shade. In the meantime, seed the area around the tree with a sunny pollinator mix of annuals and herbaceous perennials from a local native plant nursery. These plants can cover the ground, activate the soil biology to keep plants extra healthy, build biomass, and attract beneficial insects into the system. Once the shade arrives, layer in herbaceous woodland perennials as the sun lovers recede.

Provide a constant source of food for pollinator­s. Make sure that at least three to four varieties of flowers are in bloom throughout the growing season. Add an insect hotel – a human-made shelter for bugs – to house beneficial insects, and a fountain or shallow birdbath for a reliable water source.

Be prepared to nurture your garden for three to five years. ‘It’s like having a baby,’ says Bloom. ‘The more work you put in up front, the more resilient it will be down the road.’ Most important: Know how many millimetre­s of water your plants need per week, track rainfall, and water supplement­ally when the rain isn’t enough. You’ll probably need to do some weeding. It can also be helpful early on to add mulches, compost, and compost tea to boost the soil’s microbe population. After the establishm­ent period – if you designed it well – the garden should sustain itself, like a wild forest.

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