When you drive through the KZN Midlands and Durban area, you could be excused for disbelieving we are experiencing the worst drought in many years. Don’t be fooled, underneath all of that greenery, there is very little water, not nearly enough for a thirsty garden.
From channelling waste water into garden beds to showering over a bucket to capture a little run-off water for outside, if you are willing to make the effort, there are ways to maintain a garden during the drought. Another option, more sustainable than the rest, is to turn your garden into a drought-proof zone, with these simple suggestions:
The echeveria succulent, better known as a “rock rose” adds a decorative element to any garden. When planted in groups or rows, they create an eye-catching living rockery. While they’re not indigenous to South Africa, this drought-resistant plant species is a popular choice for water-wise, low-maintenance gardens. What’s more, succulents are easy to love and practically fool-proof.
Is your garden full of dying, thirsty shrubs? Replace them with “spekboom”, also known as portulacaria afra – a hardy indigenous succulent that grows to between two and four meters in height and can survive on as little as 250ml to 350ml of water a year. Spekboom is also easily propagated – simply cut or break off a piece, stick it in the ground, water every few days and you’ll soon have a new spekboom plant.
Perennials that tolerate dry conditions
If the fragrance alone isn’t enough to convince you to grow French lavender (lavandula dentata), consider that the plants are drought-tolerant and require little maintenance. When planted in masses, the blue flowers look spectacular in spring, while the dense grey foliage remains attractive throughout the year.
Another great drought-tolerant plant to add to your garden, is the watsonia. They are available in a large variety of beautiful colours. Watsonia are striking at the back of a border, where their almost two meter tall flower stalks will be seen over other plants.
Another firm favourite, rosemary (rosmarinus officinalis), is more than just a herb plant. Its category name means “dew of the sea” because it grows well by the ocean where the mist supplies all of its water needs. It also thrives inland though, in well-drained soil with little water.
Drought-proof your lawn
In most South African gardens, grassed areas make up a large portion of the garden. By replacing some lawn with either hard surfaces or ground cover, some valuable water can be saved.
If you are willing to replant your grasses when the climate allows, try to avoid cool season grasses and rather select indigenous, hardier varieties. For example, you could plant tifwolf LMG (low maintenance grass) that requires less mowing, kweek (cynodon) or carpet grass (phyla nodiflora). Another option is to plant carpobrotus edulis, better known as suurvy, sour fig or cape fig – an indigenous mat-forming succulent that spreads quickly to cover a dry area.
“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water” ~ W H Auden