If you could incarnate as a plant, you’d probably want to avoid being a Cape Flats fynbos plant. For a start, you’d have to withstand flooding in winter. Then, because you grow in sandy soil, in summer, any available water drains rapidly, leaving you parched. Add to this relentless urban development and the accompanying march of invasive alien plants, (including lawns), it follows that you’d probably prefer to be a pampered rose.
To appreciate the gravity of the situation consider the following. In the case of the Cape Flats sand fynbos, a particularly threatened vegetation type, 85 percent is now destroyed and covered by urban sprawl. Half of what remains is badly infested with invasive alien plants.
It’s a sorry situation, but, as Neil Major says, “What matters now is that there is a great opportunity and responsibility for gardeners and landscapers to put it back!”
Neil describes the Cape Flats fynbos as “a natural heritage that people aren’t embracing”. Traditionally, landscapers in the Cape, like painters using only primary colours, have stuck to a limited palette of over-used species which are planted en masse. Dietes, Plectranthus and Agapanthus are ubiquitous. These plants are reliable and easy to grow, but Neil calls it “an easy way out that lacks creativity”. Neil explains, “Fynbos doesn’t produce showy, seasonal flowers, but provides year round interest with subtle mosaics of greens. My garden isn’t flashy, rather it has a calm, harmonious feel. I combine the various shades of green and create a subtle mosaic effect.”
Neil is drawn to water. Working at the Two Oceans Aquarium for seven years and living with his family in Zeekoevlei, a wetland area, has given him ample opportunity to observe the interplay of plants and water. This made him aware of another way to incorporate Cape Flats wetland plants into the garden – through organic swimming pools.
The trend for organic swimming pools is slowly catching on locally. Admittedly, for many South Africans, a gleaming turquoise pool is a source of national pride, but many prefer the pleasure of swimming with lotus blossoms rather than Kreepy Kraulies.
In an organic pool nature eventually spins that wonderfully independent web when left to her own devices. One example is mosquitoes. Neil cites the example of a client who was concerned that an her pool could create a mosquito haven, but instead the natural pool has bred dragonflies that eat the mosquitoes, so that there are less mosquitoes than ever!
Encouraged by the success of others, and my failure to manage the chemistry of its maintenance, I asked Neil to convert my pool into an eco haven. Looking at my rectangular pool, with little space to create a wetland, Neil opted to build banks on either side, which he planted with plants from his nursery. He built a filter system, which circulates the water through the roots of the wetland plants, absorbing the nutrients that cause algae to grow.
Having my pool converted to an organic swimming pool was a fantastic experience. One of my greatest pleasures is waking to the sound of the frogs croaking. Apparently, my pond houses three different species and I am beginning to distinguish my clicking stream frog from my Cape river frog. I was ecstatic to find a leopard toad, but it seems likely that he was a lone ranger, as I haven’t spotted one since. Now in summer my organic pool is swarming with life. Dragonflies, with their wings refracting rainbow colours, flit above the surface of the water. And the best is yet to come: splashing without the stench of chlorine on my skin.
Contact Neil Major @ The Cape Flats Nursery, Cnr of Perth Road and Fisherman’s Walk, Grassy Park, 076 473 7095, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Some other contractors are Dr. Jerome Davis of aQua-design, www.naturalswimmingpools.co.za, 021 761 3759
or www.ecopool.co.za, www.capecontours.co.za/2011/10/10/natural-swimming-pools-closer-to-nature/