Gorgeous Green House

The Renovation Journey of a 1940’s ‘Traditional’ to 2015 ‘Contemporary, Green & Gorgeous’


Creating a Grassland Habitat in Your Garden

beautiful imageMany people believe that wetlands and forests are the most threatened habitats on the planet and are unaware of how critically threatened our grasslands are as well. It’s easier to convert grassland to farmland than forest or wetlands and property developers also incur lower input cost.  Of course they are also victim to mining and forest creep.  In much of the literature on the subject they are referred  to as vanishing biomes which is most alarming.

In South Africa’s  only 2.5% of our grasslands are formally conserved and more than 60% already irreversibly transformed. Internationally only 1.4% are protected the lowest of any terrestrial vegetation types. Our grasslands host over

Wattled Crane

Threatened Wattled Crane





Threatened Hilton Daisy

Threatened Gerbera aurantiaca

4 000 plant species, 15 of South Africa’s 34 endemic mammals, 22% of our 195 reptile species and one-third of the 107 threatened butterfly species. In addition, grasslands are home to 10 of South Africa’s 14 globally threatened bird species, including the Yellow-breasted Pipit Anthus chloris, Blue Swallow Hirundo atrocaerulea, and the Denham’s Bustard Neotis denhami. As a consequence, grasslands have been assigned a high priority for conservation action.

The maps below show the level of threat to all biomes in KZN South Africa and how rapidly the problem is accelerating . I can’t find more recent maps (perhaps the province has not invested in further research into this area) and really fear for how grim the picture must look today.

KZN Vegetation TYpes Conservation Status 1995













Meadow Garden

Meadow Garden

In Europe and the UK it has been fashionable to plant ‘meadow’ gardens for quite some time.  If the rest of gardeners on the planet could get excited about this diverse and exceptionally  beautiful gardening opportunity we could make our own small yet collaborative contribution to species conservation.  Best of all its really easy and fun!


With all aspects of gardening prep is vital though my sense is because of the nature of the species the long term problem of unwanted grasses will be more difficult to manage.  I decided ‘scorched earth’ approach to be best because Cynodon Grass (common lawn species) can be extremely aggressive and I wanted to be sure I had all of it out.

Layering to kill off Cynodon

Layering to kill off Cynodon

Reluctant to use herbicide I used the layering technique, also called solarization if you use plastic.  Basically you cover up the soil with either layers of mulch and cardboard of plastic for an even quicker result. Hopefully I will be warding off years of tricky grass removal.


Now for fun part! We obviously want to use grasses local to our area so do a little research and see what you like.  This is what I’ve come up with for Durban

  • Melinis nerviglumis

    Melingus pubinervus

    Melingus pubinervus

  • Panicum natalense (prefers to be a little wet)
  • Andropogon eucomis
  • Eragrostris racemosa(prefers to be a little dry)
  • Eragrostis capensis
  • Themeda triandra
  • Hyparrhenia filipendula (tall up to 1.5m)

There are soooooo many bulbs and flowering plants to choose from.  I’ve got a long wish list of my own at the end of this post but here are a few gems  I’ve got in already:


Hypoxis angustifolia


Ceratotheca triloba (pink form)



Senecio polyanthemoides


Aloe cooperi


Gladiolus dalenii

Gladiolus dalenii






























Gomphocarpus physocarpus


Polygala virgata

Polygala virgata








The insects found me during the planting process and the birds (especially the Manikins) are delighted with the seed for food and nesting material.  I think it looks beautiful.  I’m looking forward to adding to it and seeing what new visitors it brings to the garden.

New vistors

New visitors

Two months after planting

Two months after planting












Short list of potential flowering plants

FOr KZN South AFrica:

Aloe maculata

Anomatheca laxa

Anthericum saundersiae

Aristea ecklonii

Aster bakerianus

Berkheya insignis

Berkheya speciosa

Berkheya umbellate

Bulbine abyssinica

Bulbine asphodeloides

Crocrosmia aurea

Gerbera ambigua

Gerbera aurantiaca

Gerbera piloselloides

Gladiolus daleni

Gladiolus woodii

Gomphocarpus physocarpus

Lobelia erinus

Plectranthus hardiensis

Pycnostachys urticifolia

Ruellia cordata

Scadoxus puniceus

Senecio coronatus

Thunbergia atriplicifolia

Thunbergia natalensis

Vernonia capensis

Vernonia hirsutus

Vernonia natalensis

Watsonia species

Helichrysum aureum

Hypoxis angustifolia

Hypoxis hemerocallidea

Hypoxis rigidula

Kniphofia tysonii



Gorgeous Green House Covered by Papers Nationally


It has been a fantastic week of media exposure for the Gorgeous Green House. Lindsay Ord has written up our story and shows how living green can be much more accessible than many people realize.  If you missed the article in your local paper you can see the online IOL version HERE.

Star 125cape-argus



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Bee Keeping and the Perils of Wax Moth

Peter, our apiarist

Peter, our apiarist

Bees worldwide are under threat with colonies collapsing on a frightening scale. The main culprit that has emerged is a new type of insecticide, a neurological toxin that affects information processing in the bee’s brain.  After a while they can’t navigate home.  Foraging bees die before they can get back to feed the babies or they pass it onto the babies and queen.

Einstein pointed out:

“If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.”

Bountiful harvest

Bountiful harvest

DSC00538There is a strong possibility that if we don’t change our agri-industry practices that use these insecticides, our urban bees may be the only the survivors. It will be the urban bee keepers who will be called on to re-populate our rural/agricultural areas when we are forced to return to earth friendly farming methods.

Bees-keeping is fun and the harvest of course a wonderful treat.  It can also be a good source of income as our son has experienced.

When we moved to the Gorgeous Green House there was no question of the bees not coming with us.  Not an easy task to transport.  The process has to be done at night as the swarm are out foraging during day and it would be rather cruel to take away their home before their return.

Lugging Hive up the Hill

Lugging Hive up the Hill

...and along the path

…and along the path

Our experience of bee keeping (other than the odd sting)  up until a few weeks ago had all been fairly uneventful.  We had been encouraged to add a second hive.  To our dismay we noticed that one hive suddenly had no activity.  On inspection we discovered the dreaded wax moth.

Wax moth

Wax moth

Wax moth larvae

Wax moth larvae

As you can see they have completely obliterated the brood and the adults have departed with all the honey they could carry.  Apparently swarms are vulnerable when they are still small as stronger colonies will evict the moth larvae. It seems it is also very important to make sure there are no additional access points other than the main entrance.

Another unwanted visitor:  millipede

Another unwanted visitor: millipede

Cacoon's and all sorts of nasties

Cocoon’s and all sorts of nasties

When we pulled out all the frames we discovered a few other unwanted visitors like this millipede.  There were also cockroaches that scuttled off before having their picture taken.

Frames into fire pit.

Frames into fire pit.

Goodbye wax moth

Goodbye wax moth

We did go into a bit of a panic. Mostly out of concern for the other hive and thought best to destroy all the frames so into the fire pit they went.  We have learned subsequently that this was an overreaction and all we needed to do was tie them up in black bags and let bake in sun for  a few days.  Alternatively, if you have a large freezer they can go in there.

We are not daunted by this small set back however.  And please don’t let this put you off if you are considering bee keeping.  The rewards are well worth the effort and we’ve learned a bit along the way.  Its the old story, prevention is better than cure, so we will be plugging up our entrances and taking more care in the future.


Gorgeous Green House Featured in Green Home Magazine

Cover Green home magWe are thrilled that our green message is being picked up by other publications.  Thank you Green Home Magazine for sharing our story.  They have shared an electronic version.  Click here  and go to p.12 to see what a wonderful job they have done!

Green home mag p.12


The Indigenous Gardener Magazine Covers the Gorgeous Green Roof

logo2Six pages of gorgeous images and step-by-step guidelines to create a living roof.  The Indigenous Gardener Magazine has done a wonderful job.  Be inspired!  Enjoy!




Daily News Covers The Gorgeous Green House


Today the Daily News published the third article on the most Gorgeous Green House on the planet!

Click HERE to read the on line version.

Thank you Lindsay Ord and Marilyn Bernard for getting this information to a wider audience. Fingers crossed it will inspire and motivate others to look at some greening options in their own home.


Green Roof Dream Actualized

Pic courtesy Geoff Nichols

Pic courtesy Geoff Nichols

Imagine our cities with birds and butterflies flitting from building to building. Imagine views from tall buildings that include roof tops full of plants, rich with life and colour and the sound of birdsong and insects. This is starting to happening all over the planet. People are seeking alternatives to the alienating and sterile world of concrete, without moving to the countryside.  Roof gardens provide all of this and much, much more!

I have dreamed of creating my own green roof for so long it hardly seems real that it is now in.  This post is about the benefits of green roofs and quite a detailed ‘How To’ guide for those who wish to do the same. Early inspiration came from the Green Roof Pilot Project (GRPP) at eThekwini which is testing various options that provide healthier urban environments.  This project among others has shown that these living roofs (as they are also called) naturally increase biodiversity and are aesthetically beautiful, but there are numerous other good reasons to seriously consider installing one:dog house roof garden

  • They insulate the house, reducing the amount of cooling and heating required
  • They lower the amount of storm water run-off
  • Improve air quality through the reduction of air borne pollutants, including harmful carbon monoxide.
  • They absorb chemicals and heavy metals from rainwater
  • There are positive climate change impacts via absorption of carbon dioxide and the release of oxygen during photosynthesis.
  • They help insulate for sound
  • They reduce maintenance cost of roofs and increase its lifespan by two to three times.
  • Can assist in the alleviation of food security issues.
  • Provide fire resistance
  • Offer electromagnetic insulation.

There are broadly two options for installation.  One way to go is planting in trays.  I have used the direct method which involves placing the shallow amount of growing medium on top of various protective and drainage layers which I will show step by step.

Before you start though it is imperative to ensure a structural engineer has confirmed that your roof can take the extra load (or if you are building from scratch engineer into the design).

Layer 1:  Waterproofing

Layer 1: Waterproofing

We began by installing a serious waterproofing product called ExtruBit ® .  This stuff looks a bit like wet suit material is flexible and really tough. A company called Bertrade did the installation which involved heat sealing the overlap areas. No mean feat in Durban’s hot and humid February.

The next three layers provide the drainage and help ensure the soil won’t get into the full bores.  Pula Water supplied their amazing drainage mats (Flow-Cell ®) which are sandwiched by geotextile. This was a cinch to install, somewhat reminiscent of playing with Lego as you are rewarded with a very satisfying click as each mat slots into the other!  In addition to ensuring the water will drain

Layers 2 & 3: Geotextile (white) then Flow Cell mats.  Layer 4 on top is Geotextile

Layers 2 & 3: Geotextile (white) then Flow Cell mats.

away they are designed to do so slowly so plants have time to drink.

You are now ready for your soil mix.  My soil has come out of the ground being dug for the water harvesting tank. Not very nutritious so I have mixed it half/half with pine bark compost from Grovida.

Soil coming up on the conveyer

Soil coming up on the conveyer

In addition I have added bags of organic accelerator, agricultural lime and 2:3:2. Over and above general dispersal of the above, each largish plant hole received a handful of the extras to give a nutritional boost.Before we talk the about the most exciting bit which is obviously the plants I have to share with you the less interesting but vitally important info on how to deal with your full bores. This is the area you roof garden will ‘fall’ to (i.e. slope down to) and it is crucial that you have sufficient drainage or your garden will fill up and swim over the edge of it.  To help slow down the process in the event of heavy rain this is what you can do:

1.  Cut or drill holes/grooves into a section of pipe that is the diameter of your full  bore an height of your garden

1. Cut or drill holes/grooves into a section of pipe that is the diameter of your full bore and height of your garden.  Thanks Geoff!

1.  Source pipe the diameter of your fullbore and cut to height of soil

2. Position directly over full bore

2.  Surround the pipe with aprox. 500mm width of gravel encased by bidum

3. Surround the pipe with aprox. 500mm width of gravel encased by bidum

3.  Cover with rock

4. Cover with rocks

4. Plant around as you wish

5. Plant around as you wish

Choose your plant species carefully.  It goes without saying your locally indigenous/native plants must be selected and these should be water wise and heat tolerant. Plants that grow in cracks and crevices are ideal.  Bear in mind that the soil is shallow and will dry out quickly.  Plants should (in the main) also be low growing and wind resistant.  Ideally they should also be self seeding to replace themselves when stressed by heat and water fluctuations.

They beauty of using the correct plants means that after they have been established irrigation is seldom required.  Plan to utilize at least one of the many water harvesting options.  Gutters and grey water re-cycling are easily installed. (Detailed posts to follow).

Ecstatic me planting at last!

Ecstatic me planting at last!

For those of you in Durban South Africa here is a list of plants that will do well:

Aellanthus parvifolius, Aptenia cordifolia, Aloe maculata, Aloe cooperii, Bulbine abyssinica, Bulbine natalensis, Cissus quadrangularis, Cissus fragilis, Crassula multicava, 
Crassula hirta, Crassula ovata, Crassula obovata, Crassula perofliat, Crassula vaginata, Aloe rborescens, Aloe rupestris, Aloe thraskii, Aloe van belanii, Cotyledon orbiculata,Delosperma rogers   Hibisucs calphyllus, Kalanchoe thyrsiflora, Nymphoides thunbergiana, Portulacarai afra, Stafpelia ginantea, Vernonia capensis
Aloe van belanii, Crassula, Euphorbia, Venonia capensis

Aloe van belanii, Crassula, Euphorbia, Venonia capensis

more gorgeous hardy indigenous treasures.

Gorgeous hardy indigenous treasures.

I know this garden will give us much joy in the years to come.  I hope you’ve been inspired!

Small pond  awaiting planting to attract the kingfishers

Small pond awaiting planting to attract the kingfishers

What we will look like in a few months time (Pic Courtesy Geoff Nichols)

What we will look like in a few months time (Pic Courtesy Geoff Nichols)

P.S.  I know many of you are desperate for the post on the Vertical Garden.  The scaffolding is still in front of it and the minute it’s down I’ll be able to show you it in all its early splendor.  Here is a little glimpse of what is flowering at the moment.

Streptocarpus sp

Streptocarpus sp

Useful Reference:  Etekwini Guidelines Document