One of the most fundamental questions that we must ask ourselves is why earth-friendly gardening is so important and such a debated topic today?
Before we try and address this question, let us first evaluate our local scenario. We really live in an extraordinary environment. If you really want to experience a time warp, drive from Lanseria to Brits. It may have only taken you thirty minutes or so, but the rocks that you drove past, took 1500 million years to deposit. The youngster amongst them is a mere 2000 million years old. Makes you think, doesn’t it? That is not all – some of the oldest forms of life on earth have left us their skeletons to admire.
If you were alert, you would have noticed quite a change in vegetation too. That is apart from all the alien invaders next to the road in the Kalkrant area. The vegetation in the Lanseria area is still typical Highveld (plenty of grass, few trees), from the Kalkrant onwards it can be described as Bankenveld (more trees, interesting undergrowth) and as you approach the Magaliesberg the trees change, the undergrowth gets less and we are entering what can be described as Bushveld vegetation. The dominant species are now trees and trees in abundance. Maroela, Bergsering, Plane tree, too many to mention in an introduction.
So to get back to the question of earth-friendly gardening – why is so much emphasis placed on environmental issues? The answer is quite simple – the environment is an indicator of the impact of our lifestyle. The Hartbeespoortdam is green – pea-soup green. We live beyond our means. Kalkrant is infested with alien plants – we do not understand our impact on our lungs.
Where do we start to turn the boat? I believe the answer is quite simple – we can start with our gardens. But then we have to define what we mean by a garden. If we consider that the Magaliesberg and environments are 2000 million plus years old and that it survived this long, it is paramount that we understand the impact of our intrusion. The balance in nature is subtle yet sensitive. If we can emulate nature in our gardens, our contribution will be appreciated by our grandchildren.
Earth-Friendly Gardening Principles
The first thing we have to consider if we want a water wise and earth-friendly garden, is the rainfall pattern. We have to select plants that are adapted to the local rainfall pattern. It must also be remembered that rainfall in South Africa is highly variable – it is either too much or too little. Luckily, we can draw plants from quite a large geographical area in Southern Africa considering water requirements. Areas with similar rainfall patterns than ours include the Free State, Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Mpumalanga.
The next big factor to consider is temperature. Again, in our environment, the range is almost infinite. It ranges from the mountain slopes with no frost to the fertile valleys where temperatures of -11 degrees Celcius have been recorded. Again, we draw from a very large geographical area, but in this case need to consider our very specific conditions in more detail.
If we assume that we have selected the right plants for our garden, how do we plan our garden? One of the most important criteria is to group plants according to their water requirements. Keep aloes and other xerohytic plants together. The wetland is a corner on its own. Trees provide shade that can be utilized by the most beautiful shade loving plants and shrubs and the birds love it too.
Other factors that need to be considered are the soil. In any natural environment, mulch is a natural ingredient that is missing in a constructed garden. So mulch and don’t dig! The soil can be considered as living organism and the most vital in the health of your garden – so please feed it but don’t disturb it. The Hadedas and earthworms are perfectly equipped to do that.
For more information on earth-friendly gardening read The Truly African Way of Landscaping