We recently completed a small garden for a client in Olivedale, a beautiful home in a modern complex. Although our client had owned the property for 10 years, they’d continuously worked on their garden, adding lawn as well as a few trees. They’d maintained an automatic irrigation system and had used appropriate watering cycles for their plants.
Despite their best efforts though, the garden never seemed to flourish. Their lawn became patchy and they’d lost two leopard trees within a few years of each other. When we visited their home they suggested that the trees might have died due to concrete they’d found in that particular area when they’d planted them, but little prepared them for the amount of concrete and rubble we eventually found.
Once we began to prepare their ground, we soon found ourselves digging up all sorts of debris – concrete bricks, wire brickforce, hessian bags, plastic litter, glass bottles and rusted tins, and even a wheelbarrow tyre – all of this barely centimetres below the surface of their soil. You can imagine their surprise when they saw what actually came out of their home!
The first load of rubble from our client’s garden in Olivedale
Unfortunately this is not an isolated case. The burying of builders rubble in gardens is common practice, and has turned some of Gauteng’s new complexes into informal ‘landfill’ sites. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that once the TLB’s have moved out and the homes have been walled in, home owners are left with little choice but to hire a labour force to dig it all up and have it removed. In the case of our client, their garden space covered barely 130sqm, but required 5 days of work and two 4-ton trucks to remove the rubble beneath it. Only then was the soil ready for composting, nutrient enrichment and planting.
Rubble from a new garden in Midstream Estate – the area is 12 square metres
So why is this practice happening? To answer that question, one has to put oneself in a builder’s shoes. Sometimes builders actually require rubble for stability and to fill in old spaces, e.g. swimming pools that have been removed, and you can actually buy builders rubble for this purpose if you want to, as it is cheaper than bringing in loads of topsoil. But in cases where rubble is buried just below the surface of a garden, shortcuts have been taken, and the garden has been compromised. In most cases these gardens are finished off with lawn, which adds aesthetic appeal and complies with estate guidelines. For the buyer, there is often little incentive to be concerned with the quality of the soil, as homes are usually purchased on visual appeal: the structures above the ground, the beautiful furnishings inside. Rarely do home-owners question what lies beneath their gardens, and in most cases it may only be years later that they find out the true nature of their soil once they begin working on it.
The rubble from our client’s new garden in Greenstone Hill
Fortunately though, there are estates that now enforce policies surrounding the protection of topsoil, and these are good practices to adopt. It means that home owners won’t be having their children playing on top of waste material, and they’ll be saving costs and avoiding gardening headaches if they later want to work on their gardens.
Something we stress to our clients is that when it comes to a garden, you cannot compromise on soil preparation. Most are happy to admit that that is a good policy to have once they see what comes out of their gardens, what we put into them, and how they subsequently flourish.