Gorgeous Green House

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


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Leap Frog Day

The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) is holding its second National Awareness Day for threatened amphibians on the 28th of February 2014 – a date now designated as Leap Day for Frogs! The day will comprise a number of events, activities and opportunities for learners, homeowners and employees to take a leap of action to save our frogs.

There are 160 frog species in South Africa, of which 30% are threatened due to habitat destruction, increasing levels of pollution in freshwater systems, disease and changes in climate.

Frog 650px wide CARLA HARDMAN

“What many South Africans don’t know is that frogs play a key role in our indigenous ecosystems because they act as both a predator of insects, some of which are disease-spreading, as well as being prey for a host of other species.  Their habitats are sources of freshwater and also assist in water filtration and flood reduction,” said Dr. Jeanne Tarrant, Manager of the EWT’s Threatened Amphibian Programme (EWT-TAP).

frog

“Frogs are also important bio-indicators due to their sensitive skins and because they inhabit both aquatic and terrestrial environments. In other words, if they are around, it means our environment is healthy.  The fact that one third of our frogs could potentially disappear is a warning sign that our natural environs are in jeopardy and that urgent conservation action is crucial.”

long toed frog (Small)

The good news is that unlike a number of other endangered species, which require global support and intervention, the protection and conservation of frogs is something in which ordinary South Africans can play a meaningful and impactful role.

tigerlily holding frog 3

Said Tarrant, “The conservation of frogs is so closely related to existing environmental management and conservation policies and practices, that it’s really just a matter of paying more attention to them.”

The awareness campaign aims to put frogs on South Africa’s conservation map by providing information on what people, businesses and government can do towards reducing their negative impact on amphibian habitats, as well as how they can create environments that are conducive to the survival of frogs.

Reed Frog in the Karkloof -  Pat Cahill

Various events will be held throughout the country focusing on threatened species including the Critically Endangered Pickersgill’s Reed Frog from KwaZulu-Natal, the Critically Endangered Amathole Toad from the Eastern Cape and the Endangered Western Leopard Toad from the Western Cape. Jeanne will be involved in two events during the course of the day:  she will be addressing local residents of Mtunzini on the afternoon of the 28th about their area being a hotspot for Pickersgill’s Reed Frog and how they can help. That evening she will be in her local town of Kloof for a family outing including kids activities, an illustrated presentation and a guided walk in Glenholme Nature Reserve. Activities focused on the Western Leopard Toad will take place in Noordhoek, Houtbay and Stanford. In the Eastern Cape, two events will be taking place to create awareness about the Amathole Toad – the local Hogsback school will take part in a wetland clean-up and a trail run on the Amathole Trail will take place on Saturday, 1 March.

More importantly though, individuals are asked to organise their own events at home, school or the office to bring attention to and celebrate these important creatures in general. The website dedicated to the day will have plenty of information on ideas, tips on how you can help and events in your area.

window frog 3.res CROP.

For further information about the EWT-TAP and Leap Day for Frogs visitwww.leapdayforfrogs.org.za  or contact Jeanne Tarrant on jeannet@ewt.org.za.

Contact:   Jeanne Tarrant
Manager: Threatened Amphibian Programme
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 31 765 5471
Cell: +27 83 254 9563
jeannet@ewt.org.za

and

Nomonde Mxhalisa
Communications Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 11 372 3600
nomondem@ewt.org.za


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Vermiculture: gardener’s gold

I have developed quite an emotional attachment to my worms.  For good reason, they are truly amazing and greatly underappreciated creatures.

Gardeners Gold.  the result of vermiculture is the Rolls Royce of compost

Gardeners Gold. the result of vermiculture is the Rolls Royce of compost

If you haven’t yet discovered the joy of worm farming I urge you to give it a go. For the yet to be initiated:

Vermicompost is the product or process of composting using various worms, usually red wigglers, white worms, and other earthworms to create a heterogeneous mixture of decomposing vegetable or food waste, bedding materials, and vermicast. Wikipedia

Earthworms aerate, till and fertilize the soil, breaking down organic waste into plant-available forms, improving the soil structure and nutrient and water-holding qualities of soil.  darwin quoteCurrent farming practices that use chemical fertilizers, pesticides and over-tillage of the soil kills earthworms and other beneficial organisms, leading to poor soil fertility, loss of soil structure and soil erosion. At the same time, rotting organic waste dumped in landfills is polluting our underground water supply and releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases which contribute to global warming.

Earthworms eat organic waste and give us healthy soil and organic fertilizer in return. The knock on effect is healthy plant growth and food that is significantly more nutritious and delicious.  Farming/gardening without man-made chemicals enables us to avoid poisoning our soil, environment and bodies. This perfect partnership is easy and fun to develop on a smaller scale at home.

There are numerous commercial systems available but you really don’t need a hi-tech operation to get started so go with what your budget allows or make your own.  My

Worm Farm. Simple design.  Effective.

Worm Farm. Simple design. Effective.

son has designed this ingenious system which enables us to maintain the health of the farm and easily harvest the ‘gardener’s gold’.  These simple re-cycled plastic boxes are divided by a section that has holes cut into it.  One side of the box is filled with food until full.  At this point we begin filling the other side leaving the first side to break down further.  As the food disappears the worms will move into the food rich section leaving behind the easy to harvest worm castings which contain up to 100-million microbes per gram – up to 20 times more than ordinary soil!  Added to your garden, these microbes continue to break down organic matter into plant-available forms, thereby enabling plant roots to take up nutrients that would otherwise have stayed bound in the soil. These beneficial organisms also suppress the growth of pathogens, which means healthy soil and healthy plants.  In addition to harvesting the castings we catch the worm wee (leachate) which drips through a hole in the base. It makes a wonderfully nutritious tea when mixed with water.  Tea for plants that is :-).

Rat nibbled aeration patch

Rat nibbled aeration patch

My farms, however, we getting a bit to much attention from other wildlife in the garden.  I realised that the aeration patches had been gnawed through and at least one rat was feasting on my red wrigglers.  I’m all for ‘the cycle of life’ etc. but realised my population was taking to much of a knock.  It was time for some maintenance and harvesting anyway so I got stuck in.  The old aeration patches

Air vent repaired with rat proof metal mesh

Air vent repaired with rat proof metal mesh

were replaced with wired mesh, the harvestable sides were harvested, the worm filled sides set aside and the whole box was given a good clean.  Worms were returned with a note on top to advise other family members to now only feed on the one side (yes it is necessary in my family!). Worms are now safe from predators and I have buckets of gold to mix into my veggies boxes.

repaired and restored

repaired and restored

P.S.  I know many of you are very anxious to see images of the incredible vertical garden.  I ask you to bear with me a little longer.  The scaffolding will be coming down soon and then you will get a much better sense of this exciting project.  If you can’t wait to get started on your own VG but need some help, get hold of the plant wizard James Halle on james@halle.co.za.  

Beautiful organic harvest grown in gardeners gold fed soil

Beautiful organic harvest grown in gardeners gold fed soil


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Dwarf Chameleon: Best Xmas Gift

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Dwarf chameleon (Bradypodian melanocephalum)

All chameleons are threatened.  They are terribly sensitive to pesticides, their habitats are disappearing and their range of predators is increasing to include the likes of domestic cats.  For many conservationists and  indigenous gardeners the discovery of chameleons is a wonderful indicator of a healthy eco-system.  They feed on insects so dead wood is vital in their environment .  This can be the antithesis of gardening styles that embrace the ‘neat and tidy’ aesthetic.

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In Durban our Dwarf chameleon (Bradypodian melanocephalum) are especially vulnerable.  I have spent many days in our nature reserves and my own conservancy and had not yet seen one until Xmas this year in the garden of our very own Gorgeous Green House!  What a spectacular gift and cause for much whooping and jumping up and down with joy.

Unfortunately he/she didn’t appreciate our noisy enthusiasm and contrary to popular belief, scurried up the branches of the River indigo at such a pace we were only able to take these rather poor pictures.

Pavetta lanceolata (Bride's Bush)

Pavetta lanceolata (Bride’s Bush)

To top off this bounty the Pavetta lanceolata (Brides Bush) and Gardendia thunbergia (Wild Gardenia) are resplendent in profusion of heavily perfumed flowers.  What abundance!

Gardenia thunbergia

Gardenia thunbergia

(FYI:  Because chameleons are so appealing they are sometimes taken as a pet, but this is illegal; no indigenous South African animal may be kept in captivity without a permit.)

 

 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.

PESTICIDES

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.

COPY NATURE’S ECO-SYSTEMS

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!


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Avaaz Helps Create Breathing Space for Our Bees

Bees worldwide are under threat.  Bee colonies are collapsing on a frightening scale. The main culprit that has emerged is a new type of insecticide which is 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.  In SA we are now using these toxic insecticides even though they have been banned in Germany, France and England.

Bees pollinate two-thirds of all our food.  Their contribution to the SA citrus industry alone accounts for 1.6 million rand in value.  When scientists noticed that silently, they were dying at a terrifying rate, Avaaz swung in to action, and kept on swinging until they won. This week’s victory is the result of two years of flooding ministers with messages, organizing media-grabbing protests with beekeepers, funding opinion polls and much, much more.

As Einstein pointed out:

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

Bernie, the huge inflatable bee, helps deliver the 2.6m strong petition to Brussels

Some good news.  Avaaz’s activism has convinced the politicians in Europe to ban these lethal insecticides.  Vanessa Amaral-Rogers from the specialist conservation organisation Buglife, says:“It was a close vote, but thanks to a massive mobilisation by Avaaz members, beekeepers, and others, we won! I have no doubt that the floods of phone calls and emails to ministers, the actions in London, Brussels and Cologne, and the giant petition with 2.6 million signers made this result possible. Thank you Avaaz, and everyone who worked so hard to save bees!”

However, the EU ban is only in place for 2 years pending further review. In South Africa and across the world there’s lots of work to do to ensure sound science guides our farming and environmental policies. 

PS: Let’s keep this going — chip in to ensure we can launch rapid-fire, multi-tactic campaigns on the issues we all care about: https://secure.avaaz.org/en/bees_victory/?boAYgab&v=24668