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 beneath the lawn of our client's garden in Olivedale. We eventually took out 8 tons.
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, homeowners are left with no 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 garden ready for composting 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. Often builders actually need rubble for stability or to fill in old spaces, such as a swimming pool that has 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, the garden has been compromised, and it needs to be removed. In most cases these gardens are finished off with lawn, which adds aesthetic appeal and complies with estate guidelines - because most new homes in estates are required to have lawn before homeowners move in. For the buyer though, there is usually little incentive to be concerned with the quality of the soil, as homes are purchased on visual appeal: the above-ground structures, the beautiful furnishings inside. Rarely do homeowners question what lies beneath the lawn in their gardens, and may only find out years later when they begin working on it.
The rubble from our client's new garden in Greenstone Hill
Fortunately, there are estates that enforce policies surrounding the protection of topsoil, and these are good practices to adopt. It means homeowners will have healthy soil to begin with, and they'll be saving costs and avoiding gardening headaches if they later want to work on their gardens.