The garden featured in this issue is located in Whale Rock Ridge, a 100-hectare estate situated a few hundred metres from Robberg Nature Reserve. This World Heritage site at the southern edge of Plettenberg Bay in the Western Cape has a rich heritage dating back 120 million years to the break-up of Gondwanaland and caves show evidence of occupation by Early Stone Age people.
From a floristic point of view, the reserve and its surrounds host many fynbos species, all of which are adapted to the harsh, windswept coastal conditions. The Whale Rock Ridge estate has gone to great lengths to preserve the natural flora of the area and much of the fynbos and heaths have been retained for the common areas. The garden of this home originally had a significant amount of lawn, but after a little persuasion on our part (and a big leap of faith) the owners removed the kikuyu grass and replaced it with regionally indigenous plants.
In June 2017, shortly after the owner had planted up the new garden, the estate was devastated by the runaway fire that raged from Buffalo Bay through Knysna and surrounds to Plettenberg Bay, destroying much in its path. While the trees recovered within weeks, producing new foliage, many of the smaller plants were destroyed and needed to be replaced. Most of the photographs in this article were taken exactly
one year after the fire.
When the garden was initially conceived, in a bid to screen neighbouring houses the original landscape designer had chosen tree species with non-invasive root systems that could be planted close to the home, most notably coastal silver-oak Brachylaena discolor and coastal camphor bush Tarchonanthus littoralis. He had also advised that these trees might possibly form a barrier in the event of fire. When the fire wreaked havoc on the estate, these trees did indeed save the house, as flames fuelled by the 100-kilometre-an-hour winds were directed by the arboreal barrier onto the tiled roof.
Other tree species in the garden included false olive Buddleja saligna, cheesewood Pittosporum viridiflorum, white pear Apodytes dimidiata and forest elder Nuxia floribunda, all indigenous to the Cape and excellent choices for a wildlife-friendly garden. So, with the trees in place and the lawn removed, it was time to select the shrubs. The main goals were to attract sunbirds, sugarbirds and insects and to have a collection of aromatic plants. With this in mind, numerous nectar-producing plants were selected, including Cape honeysuckle Tecoma capensis, wild dagga Leonotis leonurus and red hot pokers Kniphofia spp., as well as a variety of plants from the Proteaceae family. Other smaller-growing shrubs were added for their aesthetic appeal and to provide contrasting foliage. These included a selection of restios, buchu, ribbon bush Hypoestes aristata and some bulbs, namely Cyrtanthus spp., Watsonia spp. and falling stars Crocosmia aurea. The aromatics included golden pagoda Mimetes chrysanthus, saffron bush Gnidia squarrosa and blushing bride Serruria florida.
Once the trees and shrubs had been taken care of, it was time to select the groundcovers. A challenging facet of the home is that it is situated along the edge of the ridge and a large portion of the garden is planted on a steep slope. To cater for this and to prevent soil erosion, spreading groundcovers, grasses and more large shrubs were strategically planted. Species suited to this scenario included sour fig Carpobrotus edulis, lobster flower Plectranthus neochilus, red aptenia Aptenia cordifolia and Arctotis spp., as well as a number of indigenous grasses. At the front of the house, the verge allowed for an array of groundcovers with a neat form and the most notable inclusions were Acmadenia spp. and Gazania spp., while on the shady, east-facing side of the house, paintbrush Haemanthus albiflos and forest lily Veltheimia bracteata were mixed between hen and chicken Chlorophytum comosum and a range of Plectranthus species. Finally, some perennial favourites, such as Agapanthus spp., wild garlic Tulbaghia violacea and bush lily Clivia miniata, were added as fillers.
Once all the planting had been done, a generous layer of mulch was added and it was then time to wait and see how the local fauna responded. The garden rapidly attracted birds and insects and some species are now regular visitors. Sunbirds are prolific, flitting between the various nectar-producing shrubs throughout the day, while insectivorous birds such as Cape Robin-chats and Cape Wagtails unearth a wealth of new life beneath the leaf litter. Cape Canaries frequently arrive to eat seeds of the Tarchonanthus trees, and female Greater Double-collared Sunbirds (and others) use the fluff from these seeds for nesting material.
Importantly, although an irrigation system had previously been used for the lawn areas, the homeowners now only water manually when the need arises. This proves how economical we can become with water usage if we reduce the size of lawns. In conclusion, it should be mentioned how happy the homeowners are with their new garden. By removing their lawn, they have significantly improved the biodiversity of their garden and of the estate. Not only are they helping to conserve and protect local fauna and flora, but they are also enjoying the pleasures that each new plant species provides.