With water restrictions in full swing, it’s easy to start thinking that you were wrong to resolve to make your garden more gorgeous in 2016. But before you give up on your dream, remember that South Africa’s diverse selection of … Continued
With water restrictions in full swing, it’s easy to start thinking that you were wrong to resolve to make your garden more gorgeous in 2016. But before you give up on your dream, remember that South Africa’s diverse selection of flora means there really is plenty to work with when it comes to creating a beautiful natural space.
So how does one go about selecting the right plants and creating a garden that has beauty and harmony – and is water wise too? These useful tips are from the Quivertree Publications book, Indigenous Plant Palettes, by Marijke Honig:
Tip 1: Learn from what grows naturally in your area – select plants from your local veld type.
‘There is no point in getting excited about a plant if it can’t withstand the frost in your area or the harsh conditions of your seaside home. … [J]ot the growing conditions down on a card and keep it handy,’ says Marijke.
Tip 2: Visualise plant growth
Marijke says it’s essential to use your imagination when you are deciding which plants to choose – and where you are going to plant them. ‘Unlike furniture,’ she says, ‘plants are small to start with and need time to grow. You need the confidence to put down a small stool where you want a sofa. And when you’ve made a good choice you will have your sofa after a few years – that’s the magic of gardening!’
Tip 3: Feed the soil, not your plants
Keep the micro-organisms in the soil happy and the rest will take care of itself. As Marijke explains, ‘healthy soil is teeming with life – apart from earthworms there is a whole world under our feet which is invisible to the naked eye. … The best thing any gardener can do is spread a generous amount of organic matter on the soil surface, and then do nothing. Earthworms will feed on the organic material and convert it into humus, and the soil micro-organisms will do the rest. By feeding the soil, you are effectively feeding your plants.’
Tip 4: Study the light
Think your garden gets plenty of sun? Turns out that it’s easy to overestimate how much light your plants are actually experiencing, so Marijke suggests you create a ‘shade map’. ‘Make a sketch showing the major trees and structures which create shade in your garden, and then record the shade pattern three or four times during the day. Looking at these shade maps, one can make a summary note for each garden area, for example “only two hours morning sun” or “dappled shade from 2 to 5pm”.’
Tip 5: Water strategically
Marijke says that when you are planting a new garden in a region that has a long dry season, it can be useful to install an irrigation system – but that you should aim to remove or switch off the irrigation after two years, when the plants will be well established. Thereafter – or for all mature gardens – she says you should ‘water as deeply and infrequently as you can. Think of it as “making rain” and give a good deep soaking of at least 15 to 20mm. This will avoid soft, rapid plant growth, which is prone to pests and diseases, and will avoid leaching nutrients from the soil.’
For more gardening inspiration, get a copy of Indigenous Plant Palettes by Marijke Honig, which is an essential – and very easy to use – guide to local plant selection. Not only is the book full of useful advice related to gardening across the country, it also contains a full visual reference guide to the plants mentioned to help you decide which ones to select for your garden.
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