The property, which was acquired in 1993 – unlike most of the adjacentlying or surrounding landscape – thus benefits from both an unusually strong natural water supply, in addition to compost-rich earth, instead of clay, the result of hundreds of thousands of years’ biological mass washed-up by the natural water course.
Below ground level, three ‘french drains’ had been installed, crisscrossing the property in its width, from east to west. One is buried behind the guest house, another below the guest house. A third lies above the cottage. The ones around the guest house, catch subterranean seepage and divert this into the artificial stone-built water-course, which runs down the length of the property, exiting in the dam. This cumulative run-down of ground water, tops-up the dam.
Duration of winter rainfall water level
Such flow can last up to November, in a good rainy year, keeping the dam topped-up for some time, when the high temperatures of the dry summer months (lasting from around October to April), are upon us.
Dam as artificial above-ground aquifer
The dam is then utilized as an above-ground level self-replenishing aquifer reservoir from which-
(a) irrigation of the garden thus proceeds, by continuous pumping of water from the dam into the garden or pumping it up to allow it to gravitate downwards in a more selective way for irrigating higherup lying beds;
(b) it ensures ground water levels being maintained or at least augmented for long after the normal rainy season had ended. This replenishing process can last anything from July up to December (in very good rainy seasons), thus replenishing the garden in a self-sustaining way for an extra 5-6 months period post-rainy season;
(c) not only do we save water – an ever scarcer commodity in Greater Cape Town with its burgeoning 3,5 million population and growing – but it practically makes the property virtually self-sufficient and independent from municipal water supply, (during normal rainy seasons), except for the very high day-temperature, dry, five, summer months from November – April.
Water consumption for garden in winter
The monthly municipal water account for the garden, during a normal rainy season comes to a nil consumption reading, but picks up from November up to April, with an annualized monthly average consumption of around 12,93 cubic meters, municipal water being consumed. But even during these hot, dry, summer months, there is very little need for watering of the lawn, since underwater seepage and a thoroughly established routing system for the lawn itself, restricts this need.
Average annual water consumption
The final result, therefore, is that the combined consumption – of both garden plus domestic use – only needs as negligibly little as 156,0 Kiloliter PER YEAR support from municipal water supply, during ordinary rainy seasons. We are justifiably proud of this extraordinarily low consumption rate - the outcome of a combination, resulting from the natural lie of the land on a perennial water-course; maximization of natural seepage; artificial retardation of natural flow-off through a combination of optimal damming, storage and diversion of natural seepage; followed by a slow-controlled release from the artificial aquifer from catchment-water, being restored for under ground replenishing.
This all being achieved, by minimum use of electricity. We estimate our municipal off-take/rain water recovery-ratio, to be easily be in the order of a very favourable 1:500, and thus extraordinarily frugal in comparison to other like-sized garden/dwelling establishments, by a factor of at least 6 to 20 times, if comparing to dependency on municipal water off-take consumption.
The existing borehole (which is 110 meters deep but did not strike water), serves, however, to collect underground seepage by creating a partial vacuum), used to augment the dam as a reservoir system, for the above purposes. However, its capacity is limited, as only 2 X 10 cubic meter polyurethane water container tanks – sited along the upper Northwesternmost corner of the property - comprises of this rather very limited additional water reservoir system (which, incidentally, can equally easily be replenished from water pumped from the dam).
High degree of self-sufficiency
All the above read together, this also has the additional benefit of making the garden less vulnerable – indeed more resistant – to inevitable recurrent periods of drought; emergency water restrictions, and general dependency on the whims of authorities.
The dam consequently not only doubles as a relaxation area and focal point, but plays a cardinal role in the ‘water-wise’ policy, whilst the carps and khoi fish kept therein, keep the water both fresh and mosquito-free.
As far as possible, only indigenous flora of the Cape Floral Kingdom are still being added to the garden, as they are naturally adapted to withstand both the region’s wet winters as well as hot, dry, summer.
Succulents are used as surface coverage both for purposes of ground water retention as well as to keep the surface cool (‘hotnotsvy’ = sour fig) (carpobrotus edulis) (of which there are 7 species in Southern Africa, all edible: ‘brotos’ = Gr. = edible)
Some indigenous grasses (they might look untidy) sprout during some months,
then disappear again, but we allow it to grow to a certain extend as it serves the same ecological
Fynbos life span
Fynbos plants normally have a reasonably short life-time, so we constantly are busy replacing dead ones and also executing our plan of fulfilling our stated intention of making the garden at least 95% indigenous and local.
Mulching is aggressively practiced by us from cuttings of trees, branches and dead plants, to reduce evaporation, retain ground moisture and which serves to cool the ground surfaces, all conducive to propagating and preserving plants during the dry, hot months.
The lawns are retained to attain a balance between the natural indigenous “wild” fynbos veld-look (90%) and an orderly “garden” appearance. It also serves to make walk-ways interesting as well as negotiable during the wet winter months, when numerous fountains spontaneously sprout-up as ground water levels overflow at ground level, making for muddy and drenched shoes.
We have, some years ago, already removed all non-indigenous so-called “problem” trees (for this biome at least !) trees: black wattle, Port Jackson, eucalyptus, Rooikrans, introduced to the Cape during the 19th century for industrial purposes, but they served to crowd-out the indigenous, slow-growing trees, and also prove immune to local parasites and insects.
Cape indigenous trees
Cape indigenous trees are slow-growing, susceptible to natural diseases and also prone to damage from the fierce northwest wind squalls during winter, ripping of branches, or limiting growth. However, over the past 16 years (the property was acquired in 1993 as a sandy, sparsely-planted piece of undeveloped and largely uncultivated, empty, land), we succeeded in firmly establishing the following types:
- 3 types of yellowwoods (Podocarpus Falcatus, P.Latifolius and P.Henkelii) normally conducive to cold, wet climates, endemic to the ancient super continent Gondwana before it broke up into its components of Africa, South America 105-45 million years ago, slow-growing.
- Cape Milkwoods (Sideroxylon inerme) very slow growing and prone to infections
- Wild Plums (Harpefyllum Caffrum) , which are very well adapted to this climate (next to the car port of the cottage garage)
- Cape Ash (Ekebergia capensis), very much look-alike the wild plum (you will see the two species growing next to one another at the car-port of the cottage), also very well adapted
- Karee (Rhus)
- Forest Elder (Nuxia Floribunda) the big tree which shades the big wooden table at the dam, another growing next to the dam.
These are the ‘staple’ of the garden and will, in the next ten years (given a combination of mild summers and wet winters), convert the garden into a fully-fledged park landscape. Growth occurs unevenly, but we are finally getting there, whilst the garden now approaches its third decade.
Since the garden should not only be attractive (to birds as well as humans) during spring time and autumn (when most of the fynbos are in flower, the garden is interspersed with various fynbos species, some of which also flower in mid-winter (June to July) and midsummer (November to March) as well.
We have introduced a tagging system for the garden to identify individual species and sub-species, however, some individual plants do die out, and so that is not practically possible to tag them all. Our policy is to Tag only those which are well-settled and prominent to the eye, but we are constantly (if slowly) extending our tagging.
Dedicated areas for plants
The size of the property is plus minus 2 acres, whereof the garden comprises approximately 96.4%. There are about one kilometer of lawn walkways already in existence, interspersed with benches for relaxation, meditation or simply for enjoying the natural surrounding environment, bird life or flora. The garden is still very much in progress and many dedicated areas are in the planning stage or are currently being implemented.
We are currently in the process of dividing-up parts of the garden in order to achieve our
stated goal of reaching a 60/40% balance between-
(a) those areas dedicated to a specific fynbos species (40%)
(b) generally mixed fynbos areas (60%).
The more dedicated areas being planned in stages or already in existence (if not always fully developed yet – it can take between 3-5 years to achieve this) – are the following:
This area is to be found just below the guest house front deck and already
contains the following scented species, as a starter (others will be added)-
- 6 types of Agathosma (buchu, from honey, garlic, lime fragrances)
This is the area already partially planted and which lies directly below the sauna and sauna deck. Ericae are notoriously difficult to propagate, petulant and prone to die-off for no reason at all. So, it requires a constant removal of succumbed and replanting of young new plants and new specimens of this species. But over the past 7 years, we have succeeded in maintaining, at any point in time, at least between 10-20 different growing types of sub-species, some having grown into big, established plants, of some girth or height.
There are at least 600 species of Ericae in the ‘fynbos’ biome. We are dedicated to increase the number of successfully adapted plants, whatever it takes. The area, will be progressively split by new lawn walk-paths, over the coming years, thereby naturally demarcating it, from its surrounding area. Some Ericae specimens are more adapted to water-rich areas, so the area of the upper French drain is being experimentally targeted to see how well these water-dependent specimens will adapt (or not). We keep a book on Ericae in the guest house, for those feeling the urge to identify un-tagged plants.
These include the genae of Protea, Leucadendron and Leucospermum.
This patch will be found directly next to the guest house porch, facing west and they (depending on natural life cycles and survival) include:
- Leucodendrum argentum (Silver Tree)
- Protea Cyneroides (giant protea)
- several other species of Leucodendra (recognizable by the flowers at the end of the branches being coloured leaves of the plant)
- Several Leucospermae (orange, pink, ‘pin-needle’ flowers consisting of non-leave-like stem-like flowers).
As typical fynbos natural habitat comprises a variegated system, we try to retain the ‘natural veld look’ by planting at least 60% of the beds as a natural mix of various species of fynbos plants.
It is a long-held dream to establish a small wet-land area directly in the vicinity of the small stone-cemented dam immediately below the sauna and sauna deck area (next to the ericae area), to hopefully propagate, amongst others, Disa (Disa uniflora Bergius). This famous red (and very seldom yellow) orchid, the so-called ‘Pride of Table Mountain’, emblem of the Western Cape, a terrestrial (ground) orchid, grows under perennially wet or moist conditions. It is found along stream banks, waterfalls or wet cliffs on Table Mountain. Who knows, maybe, once successfully propagated, also some rarer types.
The restio beds are to be found towards the western side of the guest house, at some 20 meters distance. These are fynbos plants forming reed-like, radial, sticks sprouting upwards and outwards, producing small flowers at their tips, when in bloom.
Though not north-facing to achieve the utmost optimal sun-exposure orientation during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter, the house is nevertheless – otherwise - optimally designed for retaining solar radiation. With its ceiling and floors both of wood, the loss of heat at night or during overcast days is minimized.
Windows could not be sacrificed from an optimal viewing point of view, but thick, doublebound natural fabric curtaining or wooden slatting, also minimize heat loss during winter.
65% of the average dwelling’s electricity consumption, had already been eliminated, by opting for the following substitute alternatives to electricity usage or apparatus normally contributing such percentage to consumption, to wit:
(a) Solar Warm Water Geyser
The dwelling uses only a solar-heated water geyser installed on its back roof, with a dual-purpose electricity power augmentation supply, automatically triggered, once the water temperature drops below a pre-set chosen temperature. This also serves to supply warm water to the external shower
(for sauna or swimming).
(b) Gas Stove
No electricity is used for heating, warming or cooking, as the stove are gas-fuelled, unless, of course, the micro-oven and the oven is being used.
(cumulatively, (a) plus (b) ordinarily consumes 65% of the average household’s power consumption, which results in a 65% saving rate in our case).
The sauna uses the newest, most economical state-of-the art heater from Finland, which, together with the custom designed sauna, takes only 30 to 35 minutes to reach 85-C.
(d) External security lights
The external security lights as well as all other external guiding lights, are LED ones, for conserving unnecessary electrical power.
There are no plans at hand for adding wind- or solar panel energy apparatus, as the frequency of use coupled to the fact that only 35% energy is being consumed which could still possibly be reduced, but which does not economically nor ecologically, warrant the expenditure outlay or savings to justify such a capital investment. Also, the sauna and the water pump, require 3-phased electricity, which is not obtainable from battery-stored power, even had solar- or wind power been available.
Natural salt dechlorinator for plunge pool
The plunge pool is being maintained algae-free by natural salt (sodium chloride) being added to the water, which is then through electrolysis provided by an electric dechlorinator, broken down. In contrast to chloride which is calcium-based, the water does not burn the skin nor causes irritation to eyes. The monthly addition of salt is 25 Kilograms, which adds up to 300 Kilogram of salt on a yearly basis.
The water in the dam is entirely left in its natural state, without any artificial additives, being kept pristine and insect-free by the khois and carps (some over 20 years of age).