By this time, we are all painfully aware (emotionally and financially) of the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. None of us really foresaw the consequences – initially I thought it is only another flu strain. But when it hit the world, including South Africa, it was painful and with long-term implicit consequences that we cannot even imagine at this stage. The world (socially and economically) will never be the same again. We will have to rethink many aspects of our lives and our interactions with other people. The good news is that the threat will pass. Maybe one year, maybe three years but the severe threat will be contained.
I hope the Covid-19 experience has taught us that life is not just about material success or climbing the corporate ladder. This type of “success” can vanish overnight.
Why do I say there is a link between Covid-19 and landscaping/ gardening?
Like Covid-19, the consequences of climate change are also a threat with far reaching consequences. We are constantly bombarded with warnings about climate change. I think many of us are by now immune to the message, as we have heard it so many times, it does not even register any more. Or even worse, we think it is “fake news” (to quote Donald Trump, the Honorable President of the USA).
So, what is the link (but also the big difference) between Covid-19 and climate change? Very simply put – TIME. The threat of climate change is just as real as Covid-19 but it is gradually edging us closer to catastrophic and permanent disaster. We already experience some changes but because it is gradual, it is easy to ignore. The big difference between the two is that the consequences of climate change are IRREVERSIBLE. I will not spell out the detail – either you know it by now or you live in a bubble of your own. From our perspective, climate change also implies changes in the landscape. We should therefore also change our perceptions of the created landscape. To add insult to injury, our government is speeding up the process of climate change at an alarming rate. Our ecosystems are collapsing (coal mining in wetlands); piped potable water is becoming a luxury (thousands of water tanks are being installed across the country); and nobody frowns at disastrously high levels of pollution (sewerage in the streets is now commonplace).
If we are moved by the Covid-9 disaster and its consequences and are serious about the consequences of climate change, we should then adjust how we look at gardening and landscaping. I think the following factors should be important to every person:
- Use local plants wherever possible. Local plants are already adapted to local conditions e.g. rainfall, temperature and soil. The local birds and bees are their pollinators.
- Use plants that require very little additional watering (soon potable water for this purpose would simply not be available).
- Use plants that contribute to the well being of other visitors to the garden (let us call it a package deal).
- Embrace the seasonality of our garden on the Highveld.
Piet Oudolf, a very well known landscaper from the Netherlands, compares a garden to our own seasonality: We are conceived and then born – in most cases, the most beautiful baby in the world (the most incredible experience is to see how seeds are germinating). This is followed by the exuberance of the youth (that need to be trimmed once in a while, but gently). It is normally during this phase that procreation takes place. In adult life, we bask in our glory and think how much experience we have and knowledge we collected. It is a very fulfilling period of our lives. Old age is a time for contemplation and quite often, we are just a skeleton of our former selves (Dry plants that are only the skeleton of their previous beauty can be a tremendous feature in the garden). And then the final demise to make room for a newborn baby.
In a natural garden, it is exactly the same. To quote Piet: “…they do it every year, year after year, which is perhaps less about perseverance and endurance, and more about acceptance, or appreciation—appreciating the present moment, whatever stage that happens to be”
In spring (in plant terms) new life sprouts. Plants are the most beautiful fresh colours and a feeling of rebirth is in the air. When the flowers start to appear in summer, we have entered the procreation phase (flowers, after all, are sexual organs). The plant reaches maturity and sheds its seeds. In autumn, the leaves start to discolour leading to very subdued colours that can be breathtakingly beautiful. In winter the plants loses all its leaves or go completely dormant. All that remain now are some skeletons, each with its own charm, colour and character.
Unfortunately most of the time we forget that plants, like us, go through the same life cycles. We expect gardens and landscaping to be something that is in the procreation phase, twelve months of the year and the plants should be well behaved. Stay evergreen, don’t drop too many leaves (and if they drop leaves remove the leaves as quickly as possible, we do not want to see the dead leaves) and PROCREATE!
Garden in Spring
Garden in summer
Is this not a rather silly perception of a landscape? The only way we can achieve this is by turning our plants into eunuchs. They can pretend to procreate twelve months of the year but in fact, they are useless to man and beast. The only happy person is the one who puts the money in his pocket. As the artificial, sterile procreation process is a never-ending activity whereby the plants are replaced and replaced and replaced every four to six months.
Instead, start to enjoy all four seasons that your local plants go through. No pressure is placed on stressed resources; we create a haven for wildlife; and contribute to carbon sequestration. But the biggest advantage is that we have created something sustainable with new surprises on a weekly basis. You will even enjoy the winter skeleton of your plants.
It need not emulate a particular veld type, but the plants (if not local) must be adapted to the local climate and be an advantage for the birds and bees.
To quote Piet Oudolf again: “Plants are characters I compose with; then I put them on the stage and let them perform.” The performance covers four seasons. This stage is for you to enjoy and to marvel at the variability and beauty of plants.
By following this approach you also demonstrate (visibly) your resistance to environmental destruction and people’s total disregard for nature.
For those who are new to this concept or want to expand the biodiversity in their gardens, we plan an ‘open weekend’ at the nursery as soon as lockdown will allow it. We can also assist with plant choices and quantities.
Find us on Google maps under “wildflower wholesale nursery”.
Any comments or suggestions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.