Gorgeous Green House

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


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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

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Daily News Covers The Gorgeous Green House

daily_news

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.


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Photo Update (part 2)

Pond at front door in.  This is a vitally important element  as it will be stocked with Tilapia fish whose waste will feed the plants on the vertical garden behind.

Pond at front door in. This is a vitally important element as it will be stocked with Tilapia fish whose waste will feed the plants on the vertical garden behind.

Master bathroom mosaic/tiling done in double shower. Very happy!

Master bathroom mosaic/tiling done in double shower. Very happy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The original outbuilding (now demolished) had huge concrete sink outside, presumable for doing laundry in.  It is now re-invented as the mint planter under the tap - perfect!

The original outbuilding (now demolished) had huge concrete sink outside, presumable for doing laundry in. It is now re-invented as the mint planter under the tap – perfect!

 

Solar geyser in!  Fantastic.  This is such an easy energy/money saver  (minimum 40% on your electricity bills) so a win all round.  Please visi

Solar geyser in! Fantastic. This is such an easy energy/money saver (minimum 40% on your electricity bills) so a win all round. Please visit this post to see why we didn’t go the heat pump route

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Induction geyser  in!  Visit this post if you are curious as to why and induction geyser when we have also installed a solar geyser.

Induction geyser in! Visit this post if you are curious as to why and induction geyser when we have also installed a solar geyser.

 

My first Knipfophia of Autumn.  Will it turn into a red hot poker?  Time will tell as I have no idea which one it is.

My first Knipfophia of Autumn. Will it turn into a red hot poker? Time will tell as I have no idea which one it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And finally, another yellow beauty, not commonly found:  Agrolubioum tomentosum.

And finally, another yellow beauty, not commonly found: Agrolubioum tomentosum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And finally, our enormous pit that will house the water harvesting system.  This HUGE project is so exciting and the technology so amazing it will get a post all of its own.  Suffice to say its 9m X 3m X 2.5m deep and has taken weeks to build.  Happy to report that not a grain off soil went off site, its it the roof garden and being spread around the property.  Watch this space!

And finally, our enormous pit that will house the water harvesting system. This HUGE project is so exciting and the technology so amazing it will get a post all of its own. Suffice to say its 9m X 3m X 2.5m deep and has taken weeks to build. Happy to report that not a grain off soil went off site, its it the roof garden and being spread around the property. Watch this space!


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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

 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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Green Demolition Can Be Easy and Fun

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Slate roof conserved for another home.

One of the least green aspects of building or renovating is the waste that is created.  Figures from North America estimate that 3 600 kg of waste are typically thrown into the landfill during the construction of a 700 square metre home. Landfill operations are generally under pressure and are expensive.  Transportation to sites, normally at a distance from residential areas, increases the carbon footprint of a project. Waste from sources such as solvents or chemically treated wood can result in soil and water pollution.

Doors, sink etc to be re-used

Doors, sink etc to be re-used

What I’ve learned is that it is really easy and fun to minimize waste. Many  materials can be re-used. I’m saving items such as doors, stainless steel sinks, balustrading, metal gates curtain rails etc to put into the new house.

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Oregon floor gone to new home and cavity to be filled with rubble

The Oregon floor has already been lifted and installed in a new home.  The slate tiling is being carefully stacked for the same.

The cavity left in the floor will be filled with the rubble from the walls to be demolished.

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Brick paving will be reinvented to veggie planters

Re-purposing other materials just needs a little planning. For example, all the brickwork in the garden is being lifted and stacked to be reincarnated into veggie planters.  All decent solid wood from cabinetry and shelving will be re-used for storage units.In South Africa we have programmes whereby flourescent light bulbs and old shower heads can swopped for LED’s and energy-efficient products, green and economical.  Great combo!

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Conserving/protecting Pavetta lanceolata with fence. Thanks team!

Perhaps the greenest aspect of Day 1 of this project was measures to conserve.  A fence has been built around our precious Pavetta lanceolata (Bride’s Bush) which is located where it could easily get destroyed.  Thanks Pretty, Wise and 3rd person (still to learn name).  I appreciate that traditional building practices are not very sensitive to the vegetation on site and it means a great deal to us that these measures have been taken.

Lastly, the easiest and most fun part of green demo is donating the multitudes of materials that don’t have much resale value but are desirable to many. Friday was the first day of our build and it is clear that everything from the old melamine kitchen, windows, doors, in fact all manner of materials will find new homes.  People were literally walking in off the street asking what they might have.  So no excuses, South Africans.  We can massively reduce our contribution to landfill and help out a few people at the same time.