SUCCESS: Besides the pleasure of being surrounded by a lush oasis of vegetation, animal life is also increasing as the garden fills out.
Additional to the seed eating birds already drawn to the feeders, Olive Thrush, Cape Robin and Fiscal Shrike have arrived, which all enjoy scratching in the mulch and leaf litter, along with Malachite and Lesser Collared Sun Birds which come to feed on the nectar plants.
We have also seen more frogs and most exciting: the Cape Dwarf Chameleon… a true stamp of approval from nature. Chameleons will only be happy in garden with dense planting where harsh pesticides and hedge sheers have been banished. We only selectively prune with secateurs… and the only maintenance required here is a monthly or bimonthly clean up.
Wild Bird Garden
Location: DeWijnlanden Estate,
Completed: July 2018
A garden to attract and watch birds
A soft, gentle, magical space for grandchildren to explore and for grandparents to
Very hard, compacted clay. Few of the existing plants were thriving.
Hot, dry areas. The pool area receives full day sun with a large proportion of hard, heat retaining surfaces which further dehydrate the soil and plants.
As yet no reason to be drawn into the garden which consisted of a few withered, struggling plants and patchy dry lawn which Rob disliked having to mow.
Cape Town’s worst drought in memory (Summer 2016/17 to Summer 2018/19)
The most important task was changing the microclimate from one that was harsh (hot, dry with heavy clay soil) to one that would better facilitate lush plant growth.
The same approach is used with soils of high clay or high sand content: Thick Mulch (10cm). Mulch insulates the soil preventing compaction in the case of clay and erosion in the case of sand. Mulch retains moisture, thus directly benefiting plants and also creates the environment that (good) bacteria, fungi, beetles and earth worms need to further contribute to the health of the soil, including aerating the dense clay soil structure. Mulch is a lot more important than compost… when the soil is kept covered, it actually heals itself. Only a very thin layer of compost was added here. We have not used fertiliser.
• HEAT and MOISTURE
Dense planting shades the ground, regulating the temperature, retaining moisture and reducing the effect of desiccation from drying winds. This dramatically improved the health around the existing plants we chose to keep. We are still working on a very dry corner south of the pool where the bed is very narrow and the reduced foliage means that it dries faster. The existing Viburnums in this area had to be removed and replaced with hardier Spek Boom. We intend to train a creeper onto the wall to further reduce heat retention and glare.
Concave spaces were created in which to plant red hot pokers which enjoy the extra moisture which collects there.
Carefully chosen indigenous plants which have the best chance of coping with drought conditions
We removed the non-waterwise lawn (to Rob’s relief) and added rain water tanks and a drip irrigation system. This garden’s first summer was during the big drought – it managed well with only rain tank water when it was available. Drip irrigation placed under thick mulch is the most efficient use of irrigation in a garden.
• Adding pathways dramatically altered the experience of the garden by providing the activity of walking through it, connecting spaces, providing directional flow. The light coloured stepping stones with a ground cover between meant that the additional bare minimum of hard surfaces would not add more heat.
• Small hills and valleys add height and microclimate (aspect) interest for a wider variety of plants
• Wrought iron arches dripping with lush creepers add to the magical, Secret Garden -like atmosphere
• Rocks act as focal features which the children enjoy climbing on. They also visually anchor the soft planting and act as informal seats
• Plant species were chosen for softness and movement and to attract birds