‘Forget everything you know about gardening.’
This was the first thing Alex Lansdowne told the eight community members who gathered at Rondevlei for the Princess Vlei Indigenous Gardens workshop on 27 May. The workshop was hosted by the Princess Vlei Forum, and facilitated by Alex, a specialist horticulturalist who has been overseeing the indigenous plant restoration projects at Princess Vlei. The participants soon realised that this was a ‘gardening workshop’ with a difference, because it was all about growing wild plants.
Growing indigenous plants, particularly those endemic to your area, helps to create small patches of wilderness in gardens, on road verges, at schools. These patches are critical for sustaining biodiversity in urban areas. They can provide ‘filling stations’ for indigenous pollinators, such as sunbirds, bumble bees and butterflies, and beetles. These help the pollinators to follow their natural migration and movement patterns. Sustaining the pollinators helps to enable our rich biodiverse plant community to thrive, and overcome the fragmentation created by urban development.
Alex explained that cultivating wild plants is different from conventional gardening. These plants grow in adapted ecosystems in the wild. Understanding the conditions of these ecosystems can help you create the right conditions for these plants to thrive with little maintenance and expense.
The workshop began with a walk of discovery to explore the fynbos and strandveld plants growing at Rondevlei. Alex explained that there are four key aromatic species in the fynbos kingdom: Pelargonium, citrus, daisy, and mint. ‘All of these have medicinal properties. The only member of the citrus family in the fynbos kingdom is the Buchu plant, which not indigenous to Rondevlei, but all the others grow abundantly in Dune Strandveld and Cape Flats Sand Fynbos plant systems.’
Pelargoniums are great plants for wild plant gardens, with hundreds of different varieties. They have ingenious spiral growths on the seeds, which function as a helicopter to help the wind disperse the seed. Once on the ground, intermittent rain enables the spiral to alternately straighten and coil, effectively drilling the seed into the soil. Once more consistent rains come, the seed will germinate.
Other good candidates for the indigenous garden are the salvia species, such as Bruin Salie, which are part of the mint family, and members of the daisy family. An important plant in this family is Helichrysum petiolare, known as imphepho, or Khoegoed, which is widely used for medicinal teas and burnt for ceremonial rituals.
‘My grandfather taught me to drink a tea of imphepho and Wilde Als when I’m sick. We also use the imphepho in the nesting material for the chickens, as it helps to keep troublesome insects away from the hens when they are laying,’ Alex explained
After the walk, Alex showed the group how to propagate the different plants, using three different methods: Growing from cuttings, growing from seeds, and planting seedlings. The Salvia and pelargonium samples were used for cuttings. Alex supplied several seedlings of the Fountain Bush, which the workshop participants potted. He supplied seeds from the aloe plants, and showed participants how to mix them with sand to spread them in seed trays. He also gave advice on plant maintenance and soils for growing indigenous plants.
Karen Fraser had this to say about the workshop: ‘I was very nervous because my gardening knowledge is like almost non-existent. So when Alex said "forget everything you know about gardening" I didn't have much to lose and knew I was in good hands. Our meander through the park was fantastic. Alex imparted soooo much info but, he related it to things we knew eg. kombuis raad, household names of the different plants as well as what it is used for-especially the one I could put in my gin.
‘Not only did I get an understanding of cuttings, nodes, seedlings and the ecosystem in and around the vlei, but I learned about the history of our indigenous plants and the Flats, which would have been overrun by these plants in the early days of the Cape. The workshop has surely benefited me as I am going to use the skills taught in our community and at CAFDA. I am looking forward to more interactions with Alex, the Forum and the crew that attended with me.’
Grassy Park resident Colleen Saunders commented, ‘We had an enjoyable, informative and relaxing morning, learning about different plants and how they grow, taking a walk to see them in the wild, then messing with sand like little kids as we planted our own cuttings and seedlings and took them home.’
Emma Oliver said, ’The workshop was a great combination of ‘learning by doing’ – especially how to make cuttings and pot them – and ‘learning by looking’ – touching smelling and seeing the different fynbos, and learning by listening – as Alex shared his deep and wide knowledge of the fynbos endemic to Rondevlei and Princess Vlei.’
The participants each left with several potted plant cuttings; a tray of seeds and potted seedlings - a good kit to start an indigenous garden. We hope to see these wild plants thriving in every possible corner of land in and around Princess Vlei.
Posts by Bridget Pitt unless stated otherwise.