Landscapes in Drought

Posted by New World on Thursday, February 23, 2017 Under: Drought
Cape Town and the SW Cape has been experiencing a severe drought in the last few years. Now, in late February 2017, the city's reservoirs have only 4 months water supply left! And the hot, dry and windy weather is continuing, especially down in the Peninsula where gardening in this extreme weather with water rationing is highly challenging.

Nevertheless, life goes on and so does development. A current project under construction in Bellville, a landscape we are collaborating on with Earthworks Landscape Architects, at the Karl Bremer Hospital, where two office blocks have been developed and are completing soon, has suffered the city-wide ban on irrigation of landscapes by hosepipes and irrigation systems. Furthermore, more severe restrictions on any type of watering are likely.

So how do you plant a landscape under these conditions? Quite simply, as far as possible, don't! At least, not until the hot dry summer and early autumn are over. Conditions in the Peninsula have been so windy that once the 30-40km/h "strong breezes" (according to weather app YR), in reality near gale force, have blown for days and nights, any soil preparations have been blown flat and scoured of their top inch of compost and soil! It is not a good idea to plant, especially if you can't water!

However, as a sustainable industry by its very nature, landscape architecture needs to be practising sound planting design, which we already are, namely, through the specification of locally indigenous, that is, endemic planting, as well as a good soil preparation specification that includes heavy composting and mulching.

An autumn plant or even early winter is recommended under these conditions and should be practised all the time anyway in a Mediterranean type climate. NWA has been practising this very essential planting and soil preparation specification for years and the results have been excellent. A similar scenario was faced a few years ago at our Bloemhof Electricity HQ project and the plants, mostly planted during winter, thrived once the warm weather arrived, their roots well grounded in the winter wet soils.

For the domestic landscaper or gardener, the same approach needs to be followed. On a personal note, we managed to successfully install new beds at our property in Fish Hoek just before Christmas by following this safe "recipe for success". Beds heavily composted and manured, and planted with hardy waterwise plants from the Geranium and Daisy families, all endemic species and cultivars, have been a huge success thriving on minimal watering.

If you are wanting to use some exotics, there are many good species of similar waterwise or seaside character that also thrive even under such stringent conditions. These are well known garden favourites like your classic Mediterranean herbs: parsley, sage, thyme, basil and our local Wild Garlic (Tulbaghia). I was amazed how well these responded under the severest windy conditions, also rocket, onions, chives, aubergines, fennel, tomatoes (do like water) and leeks! Seaside hydrangea and Texan Gaura have also taken off.

The other essential practice is to minimise lawns and use the local couch or Cynodon dactylon varieties. They do brown down somewhat in the dry weather but remain alive and with a good turf. Others also enjoy tough but rough Buffalo, Stenotaphrum secundatum. It all depends what look you are going for, fine lawn or bushveld. The occasional rains we get in summer help revive them and keep them going. Try using a rainwater barrel too if you can for garden irrigation.

If you can divorce yourself away from the lawn and shrub beds look, try minimising your lawn areas or doing away with them altogether, using alternatives like ground covers such as the hardy Mesems (vygies) including the giant Carpobrotus or Wild Fig, or the creeping Crassulas. Both are succulent groups of plants and are perfect for these conditions, sun and shade species available. You can also try stone chip or bark chip mulches but avoid hard paving wherever possible.

There are more ways than one of gardening but a wise gardener and landscape designer will look for plants that thrive under local conditions. You can choose from tried and tested exotic or indigenous species according to your preference, but try more indigenous and endemic species from your very area for best results and a new look that you may be happily surprised with.

Back to the drawing board or keyboard as it is today!

Bruce Eitzen NWA

In : Drought 

Tags: drought  waterwise  endemic  indigenous  lawns  herbs  crassula  carporbrotus  "shrub beds"  "autumn planting"