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Water smart plants

The benefits of water smart plants

Sustainable succulents with super-powers

By Di Brown

, |

The benefits of water smart plants

Sustainable succulents with super-powers

By Di Brown

, |

3 min read

The recent drought taught us that water is a precious commodity. However, lockdown drove home the benefits of access to green spaces.

The frequent and frightening headlines in mainstream media have shown us that global warming is a crisis that must be addressed with urgency.

These are valuable lessons that must all be applied to the way we approach landscaping on an estate. Indigenous and waterwise are the key words when planning and selecting the plants to green any new or existing development.

Fortunately, we are spoiled for choice in South Africa.

With nine diverse biomes, we have indigenous plants of all shapes, sizes and colours to enhance our living spaces.

Getting the right cacti and succulents

Consider the seven thousand cacti and other succulent species grown at the Obesa nursery ranging from the enormous Baobab of the savannah to the tiny Conophytums that thrive in the quartz outcrops of the Northern Cape and Namibia.

By selecting the right aloe from the 160 indigenous species, it is possible to have aloes flowering every month of the year.

And then there is the miracle plant, one that should be included in every landscape plan, the Spekboom – Portulacaria affra.

Spekboom – the miracle plant

This indigenous plant is known as the miracle plant due to its ability to absorb carbon. When grown in its natural thicket biome it can offset more than four tonnes of carbon per hectare.

This flexible succulent can grow rapidly and thrive in poor soil, wet or dry conditions and is resistant to drought.

It is easy to propagate by simply breaking off a piece and sticking it in the ground where it will grow and can live for up to two hundred years.

The Spekboom can stand alone as a tree, growing up to five meters in height, be planted as a hedge or border or used as a ground cover. Its tiny pink flowers are rich in nectar, attracting birds, bees, butterflies, and insects to the garden.

The leaves are edible, rich in moisture with a tart, lemon taste. It’s a great addition to stews or salads, making it an excellent choice of succulent for edging a kitchen garden.

Recently, it has even inspired two local distillers to create a spekboom gin, so look out for Spekboom Gin by New Harbour or Porkbush Gin from Porkbush.

Spekboom has been used for its medicinal properties by those in the know for thousands of years. Its applications include eating the leaves to combat dehydration and heatstroke, using the leaf sap to soothe blisters, function as an antiseptic for wounds, insect bites and stings, and chewing the leaves to treat a sore throat or mouth infection.

The Giant Flag

The Giant Flag Project is located outside of Graaff Reinet in the Camdeboo region of the Eastern Cape. This unique and ambitious initiative is using 2.5 million indigenous plants to create a South African flag so big that it will be visible from space.

Covering sixty-six hectares, the project is described as creating a living, growing flag and a long term sustainable economic development project. An additional benefit is that 740 permanent jobs will be created across various sectors, making a massive impact to the regions communities where unemployment is high.

Spekboom will be used for the green in the flag, fire barrel cactus for the red, mini agave for the blue and golden barrel cactus for the yellow.

The black of the flag will be a four-megawatt solar field that will be able to power more than four thousand homes. You can offset your carbon footprint and support this initiative for as little as R10. This project makes landscaping an estate look like child’s play.

3 Top tips for growing succulents

Here Anton Bouwer, who takes part in the Giant Flag project and owner of Obesa Nursery, offers advice and tips on the benefits of using succulents.

  1. Reap the benefits: ‘It is really easy to plant these specimens, and they do create an “instantly old” look. They require almost no maintenance once fully established. All these species will attract bees, and some will also attract bird life,’ he says.
  2. Be water wise. He warns: ‘The most common mistake made by first timers to succulents is over-watering. Remember that succulent plants need to dry out completely before every watering. Most Succulents and cacti do not appreciate water in winter months, especially when cold.’
  3. Keep to the basics. Bouwer reminds us of the importance of the basics of gardening. ‘The first and most important thing about gardening is that the medium that you use must be correct for the environment. In other words, a well-drained mixed medium. For most climate zones I would suggest a mixture of four equal parts consisting of compost, manure, sand and soil.”

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