It's #WatershedWednesday! And we are continuing the trend that WWF South Africa set for businesses in the Cape - to take water savings to extreme levels. With the announcement of the soon-to-be-implemented Level 6 Water Restrictions, the importance of this watershed moment is more relevant than ever.
Today we want to talk about gardens - for many Capetonians, the garden was the first sacrifice made in order to save water. Aside from captured rainwater and salvaged greywater, you should not be watering your plants. It is illegal to water your garden using tap water during the crisis and using a borehole or wellpoint is a waste of a very limited resource.
So why not rethink your garden? We've called in Collections Aquarist Deen Hill, who also happens to be a garden guru, to share his top tips for Capetonians to easily establish waterwise, drought-resistant gardens.
Deen's top tips:
1) Plant locally indigenous
Don't fall into the trap of thinking that simply because a plant is "indigenous" it is able to survive at your home. Climate, soil, rainfall, etc. are all variable across South Africa - for a garden to survive the Cape's climate with minimal maintenance requires plants that have adapted to live in our specific climate.
For example, perhaps you live in an environment that is near the coast and has sandy soil. For a plant to flourish in your garden, it would need to be adapted to the salty winds, low rainfall and quick draining, nutrient-poor soils. Plenty of local species grow in these conditions, so why waste your time, money and water on trying to grow a plant that is not adapted for these?
Deen's garden is near the mountains in Noordhoek, so he has chosen to plant a variety of species that thrive in those conditions. As he likes to point out, if you plant a garden that is adapted for the Cape's climate, it doesn't need to be watered once it is established.
Great nurseries that stock locally indigenous plants, and have knowledgeable staff who can assist you in finding the correct species for your needs are Good Hope Garden Nursery, Cape Flats Life and Kirstenbosch Garden Centre.
2) Don't plant a garden - plant an ecosystem
An added bonus of "going indigenous" is that your garden can support and attract local wildlife - and these animals in turn keep unwanted pests out of your home. When planning your garden, consider if you have a good variety of plants that will provide food (like flowers) for animals throughout the year and whether your choice of mulch (more on that later) and garden decor would provide a habitat.
To get started, you should first be planting hardy, fast growing pioneer species which can provide shade and wind-shelter for more fragile plants later. Here are Deen's top starter/pioneer species:
- Bietou (Osteospermum moniliferum)
- Sour figs (Carpobrotus edulis)
- Bushman sage (Salvia africana)
- Vygies (Lampranthus sp.)
- Camphor bush (Tarchonanthus camphoratus)
- Buchus (Agathosma sp.)
- Milkwood (Sideroxylon inerme)
- Heuningmagriet (Euryops virgineus)
- Pelargoniums (Pelargonium sp.)
- Blombos (Metalasia muricata)
- Geelblombos (Athanasia dentata)
- Dune conebush (Leucadendron coniferum)
- Crassulas (Crassula sp.)
- Dune crow-berry (Searsia crenata)
- False olive (Buddleja saligna)
3) Plant just before the winter rains
After being planted, new plants need time to establish their root systems. During this period they need lots of water - even waterwise species. To ensure the success of your locally indigenous garden, plant your new plants just before the winter wet season in March, April or May.
Planting in this season allows the natural rainwater to nourish them, even if the rain is irregular. This will allow you so save your greywater for more effective water saving opportunities - like flushing your toilet.
4) Mulch, mulch and more mulch
Mulch is a layer of organic matter that covers and protects soil - and it is something that almost every home gardener neglects. Deen recommends a minimum of 5cm of mulch - this will prevent evaporation, supress weed growth, provide a home for beneficial insects, reduce the risk of fungal infections and provide a slow source of nutrients to the plants in your garden.
So how do you mulch your garden? You can do this for free - simply keep all your dried out leaves, sticks, pine needles, prunings, etc. and spread them around and between the bases of your plants. If you do not have the initial garden waste needed to establish this bed of mulch, you can use bark chips available from any nursery.
Another great alternative to mulch that Deen recommends is to use a living, locally indigenous groundcover.
5) Aloes and succulents
Not every garden is a sprawling outdoors area - perhaps you just have a few pots on your stoep, or a flower box under your window. For these small setups, few plants are as hardy or drought resistant as an aloe or succulent.
Level 6 Water Restrictions:
The City of Cape Town has issued its Level 6 Water Restrictions, coming into effect on 1 January 2018. Here are the bits that you should know about gardening:
No watering/irrigation with municipal drinking water allowed. This includes watering/irrigation of gardens, vegetables, agricultural crops, sports fields, golf courses, nurseries, parks and other open spaces. Nurseries and customers involved in agricultural activities or with historical gardens may apply for exemption.
The use of borehole/wellpoint water for outdoor purposes, including watering/irrigating and filling/topping up of swimming pools, is strongly discouraged in order to preserve groundwater resources in the current dire drought situation. Borehole/wellpoint water should rather be used for toilet flushing.
All boreholes and wellpoints must be registered with the City and must display the official City of Cape Town signage clearly visible from a public thoroughfare. All properties where alternative, non-drinking water resources are used (including rainwater harvesting, greywater, treated effluent water and spring water) must display signage to this effect clearly visible from a public thoroughfare.
Avoiding Day Zero:
If you've read this far, you might be asking "why the heck is the Aquarium writing about gardening?" The answer is simple really - we care about the 3 000 plant species, 500 animal species and 3.8 million people that call Cape Town home. If we don't work together to conserve our dwindling water supply, all of us are at risk - we all need to do our part, and ours is to help spread the message and create a watershed moment.
We applaud those who are actively working to reduce their water consumption. Together we can keep Day Zero at bay.