By Kay Montgomery
Cape Town – Prolonged drought and water restrictions have focused attention on the need to simplify our gardens.
Too much in a landscape can be confusing, too little variation can be monotonous.
When the top landscapers in the world came together at the Chelsea Flower Show in London last month, many of their designs revealed that if your garden lacks interest, it could be because the same plantings are repeated throughout the garden, or there are too many beds of similar shape.
A series of small flower beds or shrubs planted randomly in a lawn not only detract from the flow of the garden but it is also very time-consuming to trim the edges. Rather link beds so that they flow easily into each other.
Create different water-use zones, known as hydrozoning, by grouping plants with similar water needs. Grow those that need the most water near the house and in containers on patios. Where there is a large area to be planted, choose drought-tolerant plants.
Avoid over-crowding by leaving sufficient space for each plant to reach its full potential. Instead of a variety of plants, simplify by planting easy-to-grow, low-maintenance plants, such as agapanthus, day lily or dietes in clusters.
Where grass is not growing well, consider converting this area into a permeable gravel garden, leaving occasional spaces for plants. Before spreading gravel, level the area and lay down a weed-suppressing membrane. These areas retain heat, so choose hardy, waterwise plants.
The no-dig garden
Eliminate most of the time-consuming part of weeding and digging by using a year-round mulching system. Organic gardeners believe in replenishing the soil and increasing its fertility, rather than depleting its natural resources.
Cover the soil with a blanket of mulch 8cm to 10cm thick to keep soil cool, retain moisture, discourage germination of weeds and insulate soil from temperature extremes. Organic mulches in the form of coarse compost, shredded bark, cocoa husks, peanut shells or pine needles will break down and return nutrients to the soil. Bark chips or nuggets are decorative and long lasting.
Spaces are as important in the landscape as those filled by plants. These restful spaces are transitions between colour schemes and can take the form of lawn, paving, gravel or foliage plants of green or grey to achieve a quiet space.
Design space to suit your garden
It is not the size of the garden that matters but rather how well the space is used. In small gardens, every plant must earn its keep, so choose only the best. Layered or multi-storied planting allows many more plants to be grown in a small space.
The sound of water is always pleasing and a fountain head spilling water into a basin on a patio wall takes little space and will add to the pleasure of sitting outdoors.
Avoid overcrowding. Use shrubs to provide a permanent backdrop and foundation in a border, with less maintenance and planting of annuals. Tough, shrubby plants and seasonal bulbs suit dry beds, instead of plants that require regular water.
Whenever possible, use plants that grow naturally in your region, or those that grow in similar conditions in other parts of the world and that will adapt quite readily.
If they are to look right, permanent features should enhance the design of the garden. A simple bench, sundial or birdbath is charming in a cottage-style garden.
Stick to a colour scheme
As gardeners, we have many colour options. We may decide to be conservative and stay with green and earth shades, play safe with pastels, be bold with citrus or trendy with lilac and plum.
Pastel colours blend easily with each other and with any background. There is a restfulness about a garden of soft colouring and gentle form, a quality that is increasingly important in our busy and often stressful lifestyles. Simplicity and harmony are the keynotes.
Green plants soften hard landscaping and add freshness and coolness to hot gardens. Combined with water in some form and weathered rocks they create a tranquil garden that offers shelter to wildlife.
Grow disease-resistant roses
Eco-Chic roses are resistant to black spot and mildew. Shrub rose “Rose de Cap” grows to shoulder height, has glossy green leaves and orange tinted blooms and has been bred for Cape gardens. “Rooi Rok” is a floribunda rose with “Knock Out” rose in its background, making it resistant to black spot and downy mildew.
Find space for vegetables and herbs
There is nothing more satisfying than harvesting and eating fresh vegetables from your garden. Make space to grow sufficient vegetables to feed your family. Containers can grow chemical-free salad greens, baby cabbages, cherry tomatoes and flavourful herbs for the family’s enjoyment.