Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Overheard: GOD and St. Francis talking about our lawns

My Sister-in-law sent this to me today. If you were wondering what God thinks of our gardens and lawns, read on...

GOD: St. Francis, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the World is going on down there on Earth? What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistle and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect, no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honeybees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But all I see are these green rectangles.

ST. FRANCIS: It's the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers weeds and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

GOD: Grass? But it's so boring. It's not colorful. It doesn't attract butterflies, birds and bees, only grubs and sod worms. It's temperamental with temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

GOD: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it, sometimes twice a week.

GOD: They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?

ST. FRANCIS: Not exactly Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

GOD: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

ST. FRANCIS: No, sir -- just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

GOD: Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

ST. FRANCIS: Yes, sir.

GOD: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back On the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

ST. FRANCIS: You aren't going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

GOD: What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a Sheer stoke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves form compost to enhance the soil. It's a natural circle of life.

ST. FRANCIS: You'd better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

GOD: Nooo. What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the Winter and to keep the soil moist and loose?

ST. FRANCIS: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy Something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

GOD: And where do they get this mulch?

ST. FRANCIS: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

GOD: Enough! I don't want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you're in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

ST. CATHERINE: Dumb and Dumber, Lord. It's a real stupid movie about.............

GOD: Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Silent Green Vandalism

A friend of mine once joked that if there were ever a nuclear explosion in South Africa, the only things that would survive would be the cockroaches and Natal Figs (Ficus natalensis).
In the right place, these beautiful trees can be the crowning glory in a garden. Birds and bats love their fruit, insects love their flowers, and a host of creatures use them as homes and hiding places. They grow easily from seeds or cuttings, and will reach a height and circumference of ±20m if they are in the right place.

They can also be a nightmare if they are left to grow in the wrong place. I have seen countless broken walls that have had a small Natal Fig left to grow in a tiny crack. The leaves and stem are often hacked back, but the roots are incessant. Before you know it they have expanded and done irreparable damage. The roots can often be found at a distance of 2-3 times the radius of the canopy, looking for water. So they should never be planted anywhere near pools or drains.


Because of their amazing roots, they are also commonly known as strangler figs. They are often found growing out of a tiny reservoir of decaying leaves in hollows of other trees, but the roots soon find their way down to the ground, and within a short space of time, they begin to surround and smother their supporting tree. Its actually a very effective way of dealing with unwanted alien trees. (Provided you have the space for a large Fig in its place.)

If you do find a little green vandal growing where it shouldn't be, try to pull the plant out by the roots (if its still young), or cut it back and apply a mixture of diesel and garlon to the cut piece. If you do manage to pull it out, they make great-looking fast-growing bonsai that are easy to look after.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Are things Black & White, or Shades Of Green?



As I said in a previous post I was admiring how green the grass on the artificial side is. But according to a book that I picked up today - Shades of green by Paul Waddington, in his chapter on grass, he says about artificial grass:
...it will need replacing after as little as fifteen years; it's made from fossil-fuel-derived products and it performs none of the CO2 absorption, water purification, pollution absorption or wildlife habitat services that a real lawn will provide. Won't smell nice, either. So artificial grass's status as a big sheet of dead stuff in the middle of your garden condemns it to the least green spot.
His assessment of the 'greenness' of grass was that a Wildflower meadow would be regarded as Deep Green, while a home grown, infrequently mown, unwatered lawn would be Dark Green.
If you're striving for a perfect lawn, you would be considered pale green.

The book had an interesting perspective - looking at the topic of how green various things are; from cars to bananas to the internet.
It was written in a light humorous way, but I wasn't sure how factual all his assessments were. I also thought having a chapter explaining which drugs were and were not green friendly was a little irresponsible.

There were a couple of surprises though. Apparently, green-blogging is an oxymoron? The use of the internet left a quite large carbon footprint, especially compared to TV or newspapers.

It did leave me thinking that awareness and balance, are most important. I may never be a 'dark greeny', but then maybe that's not so bad?

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Green Spaces - D'MOSS

I've been working across the road from a reserve called Pigeon Valley Nature Reserve. Its a little breath of fresh air (literally) in the middle of the Berea (a suburb of Durban). Its part of a bigger picture of parks, open spaces, recreational areas and green corridors.
These all link together to create an environment that helps to preserve the city's ecological diversity, by creating corridors through which plants and animals can move through the city. It also helps keep our surroundings beautiful and green.

The planning of the Durban Metropolitan Open Space System (D'MOSS) began as far back as 1979, and has developed and transformed through quite significant political, social, economic and environmental changes in this country.
It has come under significant pressure in a country where housing, land ownership and land use is quite a strongly debated issue. But its value can't be underestimated - the savings to the city are conservatively estimated at about R2.24 billion (294 million USD). This is apart from the role that D'MOSS plays in providing clean air, fresh water, protected soil cover, protection from exposure to light, noise, heat, and flood attenuation.

It was quite a forward-thinking project when it was initiated, but I think the true positive effects of it will really only be fully appreciated decades from now.








Thursday, 10 July 2008

Is the grass greener on the artificial side?

After years of mockery, belittling and ridicule of the fake plant brigade, I'm going over to the dark side. Ok, I'm not going over all the way. I'm just going over to admire the artificial grass.
I've always been adamant that there is no proper place for fake in gardening - gardens are one of the few places that are real in the high-tech, modern lives we lead. (There is little place for gnomes in my gardens... unless they are real of course).



But lately I've found myself looking at artificial grass in a different light. Its got a lot going for it that I couldn't see when I couldn't see past the word "artificial":

1. It doesn't need any water. In our water conserving times, this is a big plus. Anything that stays green, and doesn't need to be watered twice a week deserves a little recognition.

2. It's durable. It will take a fair amount of traffic without looking untidy or worn.

3. It doesn't need to be trimmed. For those of you who find the process of mowing lawns cathartic, you can close your eyes for this one. But the costs in time, labour and resources in keeping a lawn in perfect condition can be a strong argument against lawns.

4. It seems to be much improved from the strange green colour and texture that it used to have. There seems to be better and more choices these days.

5. There is also the argument that large areas of grass are artificial anyway, and do little for the environment anyway.

I'm not arguing that artificial grass is on an equal footing with grass - it isn't. For one thing, that feeling of walking barefoot on cool grass can't be replaced.
I think the place for artificial grass is for areas where the look of a lawn is what's needed, but for any number of reasons it won't grow without undue amounts of work to keep it looking at its best.

Will you be going over to the dark side?

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Indigenous Beauties : Tapinanthus

While clearing some branches and cutting down an alien invasive Syringa tree, I noticed this amazing plant growing on the branches of the Syringa. It's common name is 'Lighting Matches', for obvious visual reasons.


Tapinanthus
lighting matches

Its a type of mistletoe, and is hemi-parasitic. This means that it uses the sap of the host plant that it is attached to, as well as creating its own energy from photo-synthesis. In most cases it won't kill its host, but if in abundance on a single tree, it may weaken its host, making it prone to diseases.

It is spread by birds which eat and regurgitate its extremely sticky fruit, the fruit usually lands on a branch, which then attaches itself by sending out 'roots' into the branch.

The fruit is also used to catch birds, by being chewed into a sticky pulp which is then spread on the branches of trees. Birds get stuck to the glue, and are then quite easily caught.

It is not easily spotted, as it blends well with its hosts leaves. However in winter when the host loses its leaves, and it begins flowering it is quite easy to see.

It might be a great environmentally friendly way of dealing with the Syringa I need to cut down - spread enough of the Tapinanthus onto its branches, and weaken it, so that it eventually dies on its own?
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