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




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

 When presented with the concept of resilience in relation to garden practices words like sustainable, hard-wearing (as in strong) and healthy came to mind.  All of these words describe any vibrant eco-system.  The opportunity for the gardener is then to take our lessons from nature if we want gardens that will thrive without too much intervention.  It is no coincidence that nature just goes about her business (if not interfered with) in a sustainable and resilient way. These are some of the lessons I’ve learned on my gardening journey:

SOIL HEALTH Easy to make Leaf cage

During autumn nature provides her most important harvest:  fallen leaves.  This is the perfect cycle of replenishment to the soil and the provision of nourishment for all life in the ecosystem; yet we sweep up this abundant gift into plastic bags and send it off to land fill.  Come spring we drive to the garden center and buy compost in more plastic bags.  Mulching is vital for soil health and the quality of store-bought compost is not the same as that of its natural counterpart.  Worse still is the application of chemical fertilizer.  Over time it throws out the natural balance of minerals and nutrients and impacts on microbial and other life.  So get mulching and with all your excess leaves, lawn clippings etc. then start composting to improve your soil health. Next investigate the fascinating world of vermiculture (worm farming).  These little creatures can take your soil health even further.


Applying chemical pesticides is at best a short-term solution.  It might kill the insect that you believe is destroying your plant but which has, in fact, been providing an important service.   I’ve seen Cussonia spicata and Erythrina lysistemon infested with the most fascinating caterpillars, devouring every available leaf  and yet the plant emerges stronger and more beautiful than before. (Don’t forget that a caterpillar is also a moth or a butterfly and who doesn’t want those lovelies in their garden!).  Bear in mind that a poisoned insect often poisons other wildlife who feed on it and so on up the food chain. If you are desperate to remove insects, do some research on organic alternatives.


Caterpillars and ants also belong

Caterpillars and ants also belong

The most fun I’ve had gardening is copying what occurs naturally.  I’ve done this on a largish scale at my conservancy (converting sugar cane into four biospheres) and on a tiny scale in my 1 500sq my town garden.  What I have learned is that bio-diversity = healthy.  Monoculture requires a lot more maintenance (intervention) and is therefore less resilient. Even surrounded with neighbours paved yards one is able to create, even in the tiniest garden a beautiful haven filled with birds, butterflies, gorgeous colour, cool tranquil spaces, movement, energy, sound and joy. I would recommend developing your garden with these plant groupings in order of priority:

Tranquility under the trees

Tranquility under the trees

Woodland section:  Trees enhance even very small gardens giving us somewhere cool to escape the heat of summer and our homes are more comfortable without excessive direct light.  When researching species, look for trees/shrubs that don’t grow to great heights and give you great ROI.  By that I mean look for trees that attract birds and butterflies and have an appearance that you like i.e. great value in one plant!  Don’t worry about planting them close together, in the forest they have to compete for light so they will make their own way.  Think about which side of the garden you want the shade and plant accordingly.  Bear in mind that some trees are deciduous (good for leaves) but you may lose the shade you want on your veranda in winter.  Most importantly though, if resilience is what you are after, plant locally indigenous as they will need no attention once they are established.  Once you’ve got your trees in think about your understory.  These plants will need to change over time as the shade area increases.  Once again, take a walk through your closest nature reserve and see what is growing happily.  If it is attractive looking there is a very good chance it will be available to buy.

Alternative plants to lawn

Alternative plants to lawn

Grassland section:  Large expanses of lawn are much overrated. The argument for soccer and cricket falls short in most urban gardens as they are generally too small.  Lawn requires more water, fertilizer, weed and insect treatment (and labour) than other parts of the garden. Grass is also mono culture and as far as attracting wildlife to your garden it has little to redeem it.  Why not create a natural grassland habitat?  There are so many gorgeous grasses that attract seed eating birds and an abundance of flowers, aloes, bulbs, small shrubs etc that are a visual delight and will provide hours of entertainment because of the wildlife they attract.

Tiny pond attracts mega wildlife

Tiny pond attracts mega wildlife

Wetland Section:  Ok, the term Wetland may be pushing it for a small garden, but even the tiniest of gardens can support a small pond. They bring a wonderful element to a garden and require very little work.  Even a large plastic tub filled with some water plants (e.g. Cyperus prolifer, Nymphaea nouchali, Nymphoides indica, Zantedeschia aethiopica) works.  My pond is about 1.5 X 1 M and attracts multitudes of dragonflies, and birds including Woolly necked storks!  If you’ve got plants in the water you don’t need to fuss with pumps and the like, the plants keep the water clean for you.  You can even add some fish.  My indigenous tilapia have been going for years in my tiny pond.  

Veggie garden:  On a macro environmental scale, agriculture (monoculture) presents a huge threat to the

Plant some veggies for the planet and your own resilience

Plant some veggies for the planet and your own resilience

environment and therefore the capacity for resilience of all life.  If we all carved out a small space (even if it’s just a sunny windowsill) to grow some food we would be making a contribution to the resilience of the planet as a whole!

Happy Gardening!