Monday, 25 February 2008

Fast Food or Indigenous Plants?

I think I've always cheered for the underdog, or the team thats losing. So I guess its no surprise that I carry this philosophy through to gardening...
In South Africa, indigenous (native) plants still seem to be the ugly ducklings that few people really want to have anything to do with. Few people seem to see their incredible beauty. Not to mention their environmental advantages.

The majority of gardeners tend to stick to the good old favourites without broadening their horizons. By history or heritage the favourites are the same old exotic plants that I guess my grandparents would have planted.

Don't get me wrong, things are changing... be it ever so slowly. Indigenous plants are talked about a lot, and there is a strong drive by a good portion of nurseries, landscapers and nature lovers to use them.

I suspect our reluctance to use indigenous plants is similar to a preference for coke and fast food over good wine or fine foods. The bright colours or abundant flowers of a lot of the imported plants, seem to hit you in the face with their beauty.
There is none of the looking for that something special thats not immediately obvious. There is no anticipation for the particular part of the year when a favourite shrub sneaks into flower for a few short weeks, or a tree that has blended into the brown winter landscape races into spring with a virile green.

I think this is the responsibility of the landscaper, horticulturist, and plant lover - to show these plants off to the general public. To talk about them, plant them, propagate them. To look for new ways to use them, maybe even alongside some of the plants we ourselves might be tired of.

Hopefully, one day I'll be cheering for the exotics as underdogs...

How To Choose The Best Lawn Grass 2

There are a lot of choices when it comes to using plants/grasses as a lawn. Before you choose a type of grass, consider some questions and alternatives in Part 1 of this post.

Below I have included photos of each plant, as well as some of its characteristics:


Axonopus compressus - Kearsney
Copes with: Shade - Low Traffic - Med/High Water
Good Soil - Medium Length - High Maintenance
Best Property : Grows in Shade


Stenotaphrum secundatum - Buffalo
Copes with: Sun/Semi Shade - High Traffic - Medium Water
Average Soil - Medium Length - Low Maintenance
Best Property : Grows in Sun/Shade, Hardy


Cynodon dactylon - Bermuda
Copes with: Sun - High Traffic - Low Water
Poor Soil - Short Length - Low Maintenance
Best Property : Grows in Full Sun, Hardy


Cynodon transvaalensis - Royal Blue
Copes with: Sun - High Traffic - Low Water
Poor Soil - Short Length - Low Maintenance
Best Property : Can be cut as short as 3mm, Full Sun, Hardy


Dactyloctenium australe - Berea Shade
Copes with: Shade/Sun - Medium Traffic - Medium Water
Good Soil - Long Length - Med Maintenance
Best Property : Grows in Shade, Soft


Paspalum vaginatum - Country Club
Copes with: Sun - High Traffic - Low Water
Poor Soil - Short Length - Med Maintenance
Best Property : Hardy


Pennisetum clandestinum - Kikuyu
Copes with: Sun - High Traffic - Medium Water
Poor Soil - Med Length - High Maintenance
Best Property : Tough, Fast growing


Dichondra repens - Wonderlawn
Copes with: Semi/Shade - Med Traffic - Med Water
Good Soil - Med Length - Low Maintenance
Best Property : Grows in Shade


Lysimachia nummularia - Creeping Jenny
Copes with: Sun - Low Traffic - Med Water
Good Soil - High Length - Med Maintenance
Best Property : Attractive golden colour


Mazus reptans - Mazus
Copes with: Semi-Shade - Med Traffic - Med Water
Good Soil - Med Length - Low Maintenance
Best Property : Pretty blue and white flowers


Mentha pulegium - Penny Royal
Copes with: Sun/Semi-Shade - Low Traffic - Med Water
Good Soil - Short Length - Low Maintenance
Best Property : Very Fragrant


Phyla nodiflora - Daisy Lawn
Copes with: Sun/Semi-Shade - High Traffic - Low/Med Water
Poor Soil - Short Length - Low Maintenance
Best Property : Extremely Hardy, stays short with traffic

The next step to look at, is how best to prepare your soil for planting.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment...

Friday, 22 February 2008

How To Choose The Best Lawn Grass 1

One of the most common questions that I get about gardens is 'What type of grass can I plant in my garden?'

There are a couple of things that limit the type of lawn that you can use:
  • Sun/Shade - Probably the most limiting factor in choosing your lawn. The more light there is - the more choice as to what lawns are available to you. Very few grasses will grow in shade, and if they do, they will need a lot more pampering to keep them looking happy.
  • Traffic - Some lawns are hardier than others, and are affected to a huge degree by the type of soil in your garden. If you get a lot of traffic, e.g. pathways or play, then either choose a hardier lawn or use stepping stones.
  • Maintenance - How much time have you got to control, pamper or molly-coddle your lawn? Choose a lawn-type that suits your time and energy available for the garden.
  • Size - If your garden is quite small you should try to find an alternative to grass - there is nothing worse than pouring all your energy into keeping a little patch happy only to slowly but surely lose the battle to weeds or bare soil.
Once you've looked at these aspects in your garden, ask yourself one more question...

Do I really need grass?

A lawn doesn't have to be grass! In fact maybe gravel, bark chips or paving would be a better solution?

A few years ago, I was called into give some advice for a small townhouse garden that had a real problem with weeds - the grass was battling under the shade of trees from neighbours and regular traffic, but the weeds seemed to be thriving.
We could have fed the soil, and cut back the trees - but that would have been quite costly, and the garden's character was enhanced by the beautiful trees next door. Instead of continuing on with this constant battle I suggested that we go with the flow and plant more of the weeds.
The 'weed' in question was a little groundcover called Dichondra (Wonderlawn) with a small round leaf that stays short and thrives in moist, shady conditions. A few years later, and this townhouse garden still has their beautiful ' lawn' with very little maintenance required.

Take a look at the next post on this topic for the different types of groundcovers available, and their pros and cons.

Monday, 18 February 2008

10 Simple Ways To (not) Make An Impact On The Environment

I have been looking at my business lately, trying to figure out how we can reduce our impact on the environment. Being in the green industry, we should really be setting an example to our clients and other businesses.

There are some simple things that I believe we can do, and are doing, but at first glance it seems as if this shift in mindset doesn't come without some cost - whether time, energy or money.


Some of the solutions should have long term benefits, but what are the short term costs?

These are the questions I'm asking us as a business, and should probably be asking my suppliers as well:
  1. Are we using sustainable resources?
  2. Are we being efficient with our resources?
  3. Is there any way of recycling materials (waste or other)?
  4. Are our staff being paid a fair wage that can sustain them and their family?
Sustainability is a word that is being over-used in so many contexts, that it's in danger of losing its meaning in the near future. There is also a lot of debate over how to define sustainability anyway.
Broadly speaking, sustainability is defined as :
"Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs."
But I think we are all guilty at some point of looking for the shortcut, or the lower price, without asking some difficult questions.
For example, do I know whether my suppliers are paying a decent wage to their staff?
When I am buying materials, what guarantees do I have that they've been sourced from a sustainable supply?

Simply put, are people or the environment getting ripped off for my benefit?

Some simple things everyone can do to lessen their impact:
  1. Visit Ecofoot.org and do the quiz. Also check out Breathing Earth
  2. Recycle glass, paper etc. as much as possible. Glass is one of the few things that can be re-re-recycled.
  3. Replace normal light bulbs with Fluorescent - the use a fraction of the electricity, and last much longer.
  4. Support local businesses, farmers, trades-people and products
  5. Buy organic foods
  6. Walk, or cycle where possible
  7. Buy re-cycled products
  8. Turn off lights and appliances when you're not using them
  9. Try to avoid products with excessive packaging
  10. My favourite - Plant a tree (Preferably indigenous!)

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Where In The Gardening World Are You?


I've been looking around the blogosphere for blogs related to gardening and landscaping, when I stumbled onto Jodi from Bloomingwriter's blog. She's asked garden bloggers to:
"Tell your readers a bit about your hometown, your state, province…something that really tells us where you are in the world. What’s really special about your community?..."

I live in Durban, a city in Kwazulu Natal, which is itself on the east coast of South Africa. We have an amazing subtropical climate, which means that temperatures rarely drop below 12˚C/53˚F and reach a maximum of 32˚C/90˚F. Even though South Africa in general is classed as semi-arid, Durban's rainfall is quite good at 84mm/month. Those are the facts and figures...

Durban being in Kwazulu Natal "the place of the zulus" is also known as eThekweni. It is an incredibly culturally diverse city - with a wonderful mingling of cultures and religions. There are tons of reasons to visit us here in the "Last Outpost":

The warm sea current and some of the most consistent waves in the world combine to make Durban one of the worlds top surfing spots.




Less than an hour from Durban, will take you to Game Reserves with Lion, Elephant, Rhino, Zebra, Giraffe etc.
Also not far from Durban is the Drakensberg Mountain Range (a world heritage site) with the world's second highest waterfall - the Tugela Falls, which falls a spectacular 947m.



Durban is also well known for its spicy foods, with curries that are full of flavour and heat. The Bunny Chow is something that has to be tried. It was a meal that originated in Durban in the 1940s - made from a hollowed half loaf of bread, filled with either beef, mutton, chicken or beans curry. Its origins are unclear, but it was invented by Indian workers who, needing to eat in a hurry, had their curry contained in a half loaf which could then itself be eaten.

There are several other things worth seeing or visiting:

The architecture in Durban has benefited from the mix of cultures - with Art Deco, Cape Dutch, Colonial and contemporary styles. There are a number of interesting churches and temples, as well as office, and shop buildings. The City Hall is beautiful, and is represented in Durban's Logo.





All kinds of things are sold on the streets by informal traders, from fruit and vegetables to tools, traditional medicine and crafts.

Sports is a big part of life here in Durban, with the Sharks rugby, Kaiser Chiefs soccer and Dolphins cricket teams being well supported. The A1 grand prix is held every year in February through the streets of Durban. The 2010 soccer world cup will be held here - with a new stadium being built just for it.



Gardening in Durban is relatively easy because of the wonderful climate, things seem to grow without any attention. This can become a problem though, with gardens becoming overgrown jungles quite quickly.
We have some incredible plants growing in the wild, which have become popular exports:
Agapanthus, Strelitzia, and Crocosmia to name a few.


There is a big emphasis on planting indigenous plants in South Africa - partly because they are well adapted to this climate and there is a strong need to conserve water, but also because of their incredible beauty.

The best thing about Durban though, is the people. They are warm and friendly, resilient and creative. Laid back and relaxed are words often used to describe Durbanites.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

The Borrowed Landscape

The challenges of small or city gardens, take quite some thought to maximise the space.

One of the best ways to make the most of your space, is to use whats not in it... Confused?

A principle called the 'borrowed landscape' is one of the small gardens best friends. What are the views, plants, trees around your property, that you can use to improve your garden?

One of the simplest ways is to take something, a tree for instance, and repeat some aspect of it (whether foliage, colour, texture or shape) in your garden. This creates the illusion that your garden is bigger than it actually is.
A common example of this would be the infinity or negative edge pool which is gaining popularity at the moment. This takes the views of the ocean, and blends it into your garden (in this case your pool) and instantaneously makes the garden seem bigger.

It is also sometimes helpful to use your next door neighbours tree for views or shade, rather than planting your own tree that might take up too much space in a small garden. The negative side to this is that if your neighbour decides to remove your shady canopy, theres not much you can do about it.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Planning Your Garden 2

There are lots of tools and techniques that can help when designing a garden on plan:

1. 3D software is ideal - because you can take a 2D plan and see what it would be like to stand in your finished garden.


























The drawback is that there is a fairly steep learning curve with most programs, and the programs themselves can be quite expensive.

2. Photographs and tracing paper is a great way of visualising how your garden will look. This is really helpful in seeing how big you need plants to grow to hide ugly views, or to see how much space plants are likely to take up in the garden.
Drawbacks are that you still need a fairly good eye, and a basic ability to draw perspective.

3. Overhead plans are often the easiest to get right. Also, if a design looks right on plan when viewed from above it will usually look correct in reality.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Planning Your Garden 1

I am a firm believer that everyone can and should be involved in their garden to some extent. Even in the lowest maintenance gardens that we create, I usually try to create a space where the owner of the garden can add or change things for themselves.

If you have a desire to do your garden yourself, think hard before embarking on the project. There is a lot involved in creating a beautiful garden that will last. It may not save you any money in the long run, and it may take longer than you expect.

If you are confident in your abilities, or are just really keen to get stuck in yourself, then get all the info you can.

Spend a lot of time thinking, and planning before getting down to the doing.

I once heard a proverb that said you should sit in a garden for a year before doing anything to it. Only then will you know the effects of light, wind, sun, water and seasons.

There are several things to take into account in the design and planning stages:
  1. Who will use the garden? How many people? Any animals?
  2. What do I need in the garden? i.e. play space, entertaining areas, lawn, shade etc.
  3. What are the negative things to take into account or negate? slopes, bad soil, bad views
  4. What are the positive aspects that should be enhanced? views, trees, light, shade
Make a list of all these things first. Don't skip this step!
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