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Saturday, 27 September 2008

Behind The Scenes - Long Narrow Garden

About 10 years ago, there was nothing but grass and weeds around this old church building. We used to mow mainly weeds every couple of weeks in order to keep the place tidy, but it never did ever really look tidy.
The church was growing, and so were their needs. This meant that they needed some places to flow out into: for kids to have Sunday school and play, as well as a place to have tea and chat after the service. The existing paving was inadequate, and boring.

Initially we talked about extending the paved areas around the back of the building, but to do this as cost effectively as possible we needed to re-use the existing brick pavers. We bought some basic concrete flagstones, and used the brick pavers to add some detail. The large squares created, helped to reduce the scale and minimise the feeling of narrowness of the area down the side.

The next area that we tackled, was the weedy area on the other side of the building. The plan was to convert it into a low maintenance garden. The church building created a little bit of a problem, as it sheltered the area from the prevailing winds and therefore the rain. To solve this, we sloped waterproof sheeting into the areas that tended to remain dry. This would in effect, cause rainwater to run into the areas that would not get much natural rain.

We cut holes in the sheeting, and planted up the area with succulents, and other low maintenance indigenous plants. To hide the sheeting we spread decomposed granite over the top, and in between the plants.

The last requirement was an area for the children to play in. We considered planting grass, but this would have required weekly cutting, and in such a small area, the likelihood is that the grass would never have looked very good. Eventually a fine gravel was spread over the relatively small area. This was not the ideal solution either, as the children took great delight in using the small stones to block up the drains, and spread them around. It was also not the softest landing for children if they fell, but in lieu of anything better this was the option we stuck with.

This last week we returned to the garden to do a bit of a spruce-up, and to replace the gravel with artificial grass. It looks amazingly real, needs no water or maintenance, and can be played on without dying off in patches. This seems to be the ideal solution for this area.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Indigenous Trees for Small Gardens

I get quite a bit of traffic on this site from people searching for indigenous trees for small gardens. I think its an indicator of the fact that people are moving from larger gardens to smaller more manageable gardens. Its also a great sign that people are moving towards planting indigenous trees. I'm also encouraged by the fact that people are taking the time to research before visiting nurseries or just planting trees that are unsuitable, or will get too big for the space available.

Ochna serrulata

The advantages of using indigenous as opposed to exotic trees, is that you'll be creating the natural habitat for all kinds of birds, bats, butterflies and other creatures. Also, very often indigenous trees are less prone to disease, and require less water.

I've placed the spotlight on a few trees that would be great in a small garden in previous posts. Some of my favourites are the Tabernaemontana or Toad Tree, and the Halleria lucida.

But there is an amazing variety of trees to choose from. These trees would be easy rivals to most exotic trees that are established first choice plants:

Aloe Barbarae - Tree Aloe - Majestic and statuesque

Brachylaena discolor - Silver Oak - Great coastal shrub/ small tree with silvery foliage

Cussonia species - Most Cabbage trees are great for small gardens, as they don't take up a lot of space, or create too much shade. Beware of the roots though!

Dichrostachys cinerea - not easy to find in most nurseries, but worth the search.

Dombeya species - there are several Dombeyas that are perfect for small gardens.

Heteropyxis natalensis - Fragrant and pretty.

Millettia grandis - attractive purple flowers and reddish pods.

Ochna serrulata - is covered in bright yellow flowers, and then red and black fruits. Is slow growing though. (Photo above)

Olea species - great for a mediterranean style garden, very neat looking, can be easily trimmed to shape.

Trema orientalis - commonly called a Pigeonwood because birds love the berries and use it to nest in. Very fast growing, but relatively short-lived. A little untidy though.

Turraea floribunda - attracts an abundance of birds and insects to its beautiful flowers.

Xylotheca kraussiana - Slow, but worth the wait...

I will expand on some of these trees in posts to follow, but check out Plantzafrica for details on each of them in the meantime. You can also check out other posts on indigenous plants for South Africa.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Indigenous Beauties - Bird attracting garden

My team and I are busy with the tidying of the garden of a beautiful old Durban home. It has a well established indigenous garden, with some exceptional plants.

Halleria lucida - Tree Fuschia

The Tree Fuschia is a great plant for attracting birds. Sunbirds in particular love the nectar that they get from the tubular flowers that sprout profusely from the Halleria's stem. Fruit loving birds also love the green berries that appear in Spring.
Its an excellent plant when you're looking for fast growth, and it grows to a height of anything from about 3m to about 15m. It will grow in full sun or semi-shade, but will look better in a slightly sheltered spot.
It has been used medicinally for skin and ear problems.

Carissa bispinosa

The Carissa, or amatungulu is a very useful plant. It has attractive white flowers, which appear in Summer, followed by bright red fruit, which are high in vitamin C. The fruit are used to make a delicious jam.
It grows in Sun or Semi-shade, and does quite well on windswept dunes. It is often grown as an impenetrable hedge, as it is covered in painfully sharp forked spines.
It is relatively fast-growing once established, but takes a while to get going. It will reach about 3m in height if left, but looks better when cut back into a dense shrub.

Schotia brachypetala

The Schotia is also known as the Weeping Boer-boon (Farmers Bean) . It has been given this name because of the huge amounts of nectar that drip from the beautiful bright-red flowers, and because its pods are shaped like beans. Because of the dripping nectar, its best not to plant it too close to paved areas, or near parked cars. Nectar-loving birds are frequent visitors to this tree. Its relatively fast growing, and reaches about 15-20m high and wide.

Some of the other well-established bird-attracting plants were Aloes, Cussonia, Indigofera, Polygala, and a Toad Tree. One plant I couldn't identify, which had an amazing sweet scent was this little shrub (1.5-2m high):

Any ideas as to what it is?

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Behind The Scenes - Rooftop Garden

Its always a good feeling being called in to continue with a garden that you've planted years before. Its good to know that your garden has been appreciated.
I was called recently, by a client that I did work for about 5 or 6 years back - they've done some renovating and re-done the paving around the pool and house. In keeping with the fresh start to their home, they wanted to re-look at the garden.

A lot of the garden had been damaged by the builders (as usual), some plants had gotten a bit out of hand, but in general the garden wasn't looking to bad. Although it must be said, that it is hard for the garden to look bad, when your views from it are so good!

This garden was a little tricky, in that being a roof garden, it had a very shallow space for roots. Also, because it was so exposed, wind would exacerbate the problems associated with shallow roots. Another design consideration, was that my clients wanted to display their sculptures that they had collected on their travels.

The solution, was to plant grasses and flax-type plants (e.g. Dietes, Dianella, Liriope), that would create different textures and colours. These would not only be wind-resistant, but would look at their best as they moved in the wind. They would also, not need a deep space for roots. In between we planted small perennials (e.g. Agapanthus, Kniphofia) that would flower and add touches of colour.
We created paved axis, along which the sculptures would become the focal points, with the city skyline as the backdrop.

While I was taking these photos, a pair of Egyptian Geese flew past, and decided that the pool was a great resting point.

Now to begin, the planning for the new-look for this roof-top garden...

Monday, 1 September 2008

Mongoose or Mongeese?

Actually, they're Mongooses... While dropping my wife off at work, we spotted a band of mongooses warming themselves in the sun. There are usually about 20 of them seen playing in the indigenous plants around the office development that she works at.

As part of the development plan for the area (using DMOSS as an example), there are quite strict guidelines for the planning of the spaces around the offices. The landscaping has been planned in such a way that there are corridors of indigenous vegetation throughout each of the office parks, through which small animals like mongoose, monkeys, birds and in some parks small buck can move.

As the natural habitat for these small creatures gets reduced through development, it will become more and more essential to plan the landscaping of the open spaces extremely carefully. In some cases where this has not been done, some animals that are found only in very small pockets have become quite threatened.
Fortunately though, as in the case of the black-headed dwarf chameleon, developers are becoming more aware of their responsibility to the environment (if sometimes only by the impact on their pockets.)

With half a dozen little babies following the adults around, at least these mongooses seem to be happy with the extra thought that has been put into their environment.

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