Inherent in the previous topic “Go with the Flow”, is the concept of low maintenance. Although many of you are already familiar with the topic I think it is worth highlighting some points in this regard none the less. I think that low maintenance gardening is something we should all aspire to.
The concept of low maintenance is very closely linked to water, and as we all know, water is becoming a great concern globally.
Water is not merely something that must be slowed, cleansed, and used, – it is a resource that keeps us all alive – and I mean ALL living things on earth. The importance of water is possibly deeply imbedded within us – that is perhaps why we love fountains, streams and irrigation systems. Water is life – It gives us a sense of permanence on this planet.
Water can also be a very destructive force of nature, as witnessed with the tornados that recently hit the Bahamas and parts of the US. We are fortunate that we do not have these extremes in South Africa, but every designed landscape walks a balance between too little water and too much water. This variability in water availability is actually built into our erratic rainfall patterns.
The first step to low maintenance is to match our plants to the local climate (incidentally, that not only refers to rainfall, but also to temperature and soil type).
The next step is to retain rainwater in the landscape for as long as possible. The most obvious way is to catch rainwater run-off in tanks for later use. During 2004, I conducted a study in the Maldives about the devastating impact the tsunami had on their groundwater resources on the numerous islands. What impressed me was that every house was equipped with a 5000 l water storage tank to catch and store rainwater. This is the most obvious way to stretch your resource, but since everybody is acquainted with this topic, I will not expand on it any further.
Another way to retain rainwater is to create subtle swales that would ensure some ponding and better infiltration of rainwater. It can be very gently created, so that it is hardly visible. Just make sure that the swale is perpendicular to the expected run-off direction. One approach would be to raise garden paths slightly to compartmentalise the landscape where possible.
Something that can also play a big role is to use permeable/pervious pavers instead of solid paving. This ensures better penetration of rainwater and reduces the run-off. It is also very beneficial for any plants close to or inside that paved area.
Applying mulch to the landscape is also a very effective way of reducing flow (except in a heavy downpour). It has additional advantages including keeping the soil cool (reduces evaporation), suppressing weed growth and assisting in soil formation. In winter, many worms and other creatures use it to hibernate and this is a good food source for birds during a time that food is scarce.
The mulch in the background is one year old and will become part of the soil this summer. The bark chips in the foreground are used on the garden paths.
As opposed to mulch, it is important to sparingly use fertilizer that could stimulate excessive growth. Over use of fertilizers make the plants more water dependent and also more susceptible to plant diseases.
Lastly, but not the least, it is important that when you water, water properly. This will ensure deep root formation that makes plants less susceptible to drought. Many people with irrigation systems fall in this trap, thinking a little water every day is the ideal, when in fact it is the worst approach. Watering your garden this way leads to shallow root formation and the plants now become dependent on regular watering (also called a self-fulfilling prophesy).
Low maintenance gardening is not something that happens perchance – it is something that requires careful planning and consideration. I trust that you find this information useful, please share your ideas and opinions with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.