You have to have plants on the estate, so why not plant things that can bring in a bit of an income?
Many estates have quite significant tracts of open land, some of which is used for recreation, and some of which is just there because the plan for the estate specified a certain percentage of green open space. So, as margins get tighter, and HOAs are loth to raise levies, perhaps those tracts of land could be put to use. Think about it. You have to grow something on that land, so it may as well be something that will bring in some revenue. Or is that a tad complicated?
Of course, this concept is nothing new for some estates – wine estates and agricultural estates – and those have dedicated farm managers. So, is it possible to cash in on what you can grow without buying a tractor and a big floppy hat and actually becoming a farmer? That depends pretty much on what you grow.
Local is lekker
For this concept to work, you would have to grow something that does not take much looking after. So here are some indigenous plants that will – pretty much – grow like a weed:
- Thatching reed (Elegia tectorum) is particularly good for stabilising slightly marshy ground. Needing little attention, once harvested, it is used for thatching houses. You can sell it or, if you have thatched roofs on the estate, save money by growing your own.
- The essential oil of the indigenous Helichrysum, of which there are many species, is used in the perfume industry, and also for its medicinal properties. Buchu (Agathosma ), too, is very popular for its essential oil. With both of these, if you’re in the right place, you just have to plant them, wait a year or so, harvest them, and sell them to a distiller – perhaps even a small business in a community close to the estate.
- The spectacular – and spectacularly useful – Aloe ferox grows in much of the country, and is harvested for its gel, which is used in a variety of cosmetic and medicinal products. Anything you can do with exotic Aloe vera, you can do better with indigenous ferox.
Gorgeous giant grasses
When we say ‘grass’ we tend to think of lawns (or that other crop that is now legal, but won’t be covered here, because it’s quite complicated, so that’s another story). But bamboo is a grass, and so is vetiver.
- Bamboo is – rightly – being hailed as far preferable to many other crops for the production of building materials, paper and fibre. It’s super easy to grow, and it forms fabulous natural hedges with good soundproofing and soil stabilising properties.
- If it’s soil stabilisation you’re looking for, vetiver (Chrysopogon zizanioides) has long roots, and has been used primarily as a soil stabiliser in many parts of the world. The grass can be harvested for the making of delightfully fragrant woven products (in India they weave window blinds from vetiver and wet them on hot days to create a natural fragrant air conditioner), and vetiver oil (an ingredient in many expensive perfumes) can be distilled from the roots – but then you have to kill the plant.
Plant a tree
- In some societies, people plant a tree when a child is born – not just for sentimental reasons, for practical ones. And not just any tree: a good timber tree. The theory is that, when the child reaches about 20, and wants to study further, get married and/or start a business, they cut down the tree and sell the timber. It’s an investment. Not a bad idea if you know you’re – oooone day – going to use a certain piece of land, but not for a while. In the meantime, rather than spending money on landscaping that will just be ripped up, plant pretty trees and then harvest them later. Just make sure it’s something that’s appropriate for your area, and that it produces great wood.
- Also, rather than buying in firewood, you could plant a woodlot that, with careful management, could give you shade and pretty trees as well as firewood for a long time – for ever, actually. Preferably go for something indigenous like kameeldoring (Vachellia erioloba) or, in the Cape, keurboom (Virgilia ), which also has lovely scented flowers.
Unless you put a lot of time and energy into this, it’s not likely to be a serious money-spinner, but with minimal input, you can reap double rewards by having attractive plants that pay their way.