In the face of a changing climate (and water shortages), how do we keep on gardening?

April 6, 2017

....with special mention to the use of indigenous South African plants.

 

According to Andrew Lowe (Professor of Plant Conservation Biology, University of Adelaide), the average global temperature has increased by 0.8℃, since 1880, with large changes in rainfall redistribution.
With these changing conditions upon us, and set to continue, it’s a no brainer that gardeners will have to alter the way we do things.

But are South Africans (and more specifically Capetonians) ready and willing to change the traditional way we garden?

 

As climate largely determines the distribution of plants and animals, a rapid shift in these conditions forces plants and animals to adapt, migrate or die. It seems that gardeners face the same changing conditions these days – especially seen lately in Cape Town where lawns die back because of lack of water.

If you look at the back of a seed packet, there is often a map showing the regions where this particular plant thrive. But with a changing climate, it is seen that these regions are shifting. Some established plants are already adapting to the changing climate: some narrow their leaves and other plants close their pores - both adaptations to warmer, drier climates.

 

It’s possible that gardeners can typically ameliorate some of the more extreme influences of global warming (for instance by providing extra water or shade on extremely hot days), and such strategies can allow plants to thrive in gardens well outside their natural climatic habitat, and have been practised by gardeners around the world for centuries. BUT with water getting more scarce, water bills rising, and the need to become more sustainable, we should think more carefully about what we plant in our gardens.

 

In the future we will need to put more thought into what plants we include in our garden design – especially with water shortages in mind. A definite shift towards the inclusion of more drought tolerant indigenous plants, as well as other water wise plants such as those from the Mediterranean regions and those from the succulent and cacti category is a must and we can no longer shy away from this fact.
 

We will need to start incorporating plants that are better adapted to cope with warmer and drier conditions, and as the climate continue to change, we NEED to be more selective with what we plant.

 

Good news is that with an increasing awareness of the need to conserve water, we already see a shift towards a greater appreciation for tough plants that require very little water.

With Cape Garden’s Facebook post on 10 February asking the question: ‘Yay or Nay? Grow food, not lawn’, an overwhelming majority agreed that they would prefer to be more sustainable and environmentally conscious and rather grow their own food as an alternative to keeping a water thirsty lawn.

 

Thus, it’s definitely noted that many Capetonians are reducing the size of thirsty lawns these days – often replacing them with stones, rockeries, containers, drought tolerant plants and even edibles!

With our busy lifestyle a low maintenance garden is also a must these days, and together with professional landscapers focusing a lot more on a minimalistic garden style these days, the need for hardy, drought tolerant and easy plants are rapidly increasing.

 

As a result, old “forgotten” plants are becoming more popular lately. Plants such as Agave, Asparagus Meyersii and Echeveria are currently seen as trendy and more often seen in water wise gardens.
 

A shift towards the inclusion of more indigenous plants is also seen, with Aloes, Spekboom and Sanseveria making a “come back”.

But these indigenous plants not only grow well and require very little care when grown in proper soil under the right environmental conditions; by choosing the right indigenous plants for your garden, you may even be able to use fewer pesticides (equipped with natural protections, indigenous plants are resistant to disease, drought, and pests and grow happily without the need of pesticides).

Other advantages of indigenous plants include the following:

 

 

Many indigenous plants are quick-growing, super tough, and long-lived, which means you'll rarely have to buy replacements. They grow in sync with local conditions and can withstand regional climatic changes, be it drought, flood, frost, or blizzard.

Low maintenance and Drought tolerant:
They also need very little (if any) fertilising or watering once established. Not only is this good for the environment, it also saves time and money! Furthermore, they cover ground quickly to crowd out weeds, which translates to less time spent weeding.

 

 

Soil and Water Conservation:
Indigenous plants' growth habits keep soil in place, store water where it's most needed, and stop storm water from running off into waterways. Their dense forms, lush foliage, and plentiful flowers break the fall of plummeting raindrops, causing rainwater to drip into (rather than flood) the soil; the plants' extensive, deep root systems siphon off moisture and prevent soil from eroding. Consider the Plectranthus neochilus.

Refuge for Wildlife:
Planting indigenous plants in your garden allows you to build natural habitats custom-designed to accommodate local fauna. Indigenous plants are naturally programmed to produce fruit, nectar, seeds, and nuts at the times they are needed by year-round inhabitants and passing-through critters. Surrounding your home with many indigenous plants guarantees you'll benefit from close encounters with birds, butterflies, and insects! Consider the Tree Fuschia and Cape Honeysuckle.

Enhanced livability:
An ecologically functional landscape full of indigenous species, offers so much more than a sterile, static landscape. It stimulates our children with colour, sound and wonder. It is cleaner, quieter and healthier, and may even increase property values.

 

And with many indigenous plants being bred into wonderfully compact forms these days - which are well suited to small gardens or for use as small hedges (or even clipped balls in formal gardens) - just think of the Coleonema ‘Sunset Gold’ and Carissa ‘Green Carpet’ - there is simply no excuse not to plant indigenous!!

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