Gorgeous Green House

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

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Last Three Beetroot of the Season

DSC07888As I pull out the last three enormous and beautiful beetroot in the veggie garden I have pause to reflect on our first winter in the Gorgeous Green House. Spring is now upon us and it time to take stock of what has been fairly experimental but also haphazard time in the veggie garden.

The beetroot have obviously been a huge success but I didn’t plant anywhere near enough! Most of the carrots were planted outside the monkey cage as our cheekiest neighbors raid the obviously fruiting things like tomatoes and aubergine.  Not so, I came home one day to find 80% dug up and eaten (very messily too).  The survivors were transplanted inside the veggie cage.  They are very sweet and the funny shapes are very appealing. Know now for next time.

This bright and beautiful collection of organically grown produce is more than just a delicious supper.  The process of nurturing tiny seeds into this abundance brings such joy.  If you already grow food you know what I’m talking about!  If you don’t why not give it a try? Even if you don’t have a garden you could grow some herbs, lettuces or chilies in a pot for a sunny windowsill. I promise you, the potential for getting hooked is quite high.


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South Africa’s wind and solar power busts major renewable energy myth

Solar and wind power

THIS SHOULD BE ON THE FRONT COVER OF EVERY NEWSPAPER!  As per previous post, we really don’t need to be spending billions on coal and nuclear power stations.

Re-blogged  from My Broabdand

Mainstream Renewable Power, a global wind and solar energy company, has released a research report which states that South Africa’s wind and solar power generation matches electricity demand in the country.

Mainstream analysed wind and solar resource data from 2013 for 18 wind and solar sites across South Africa.

The sites analysed represent a potential combined generation capacity of 42,000 megawatts – 30,000MW wind and 12,000MW solar.

The analysis set out to predict how much electricity the 18 sites could generate and at what times of the day.

The results showed that local wind and solar resources generate power at times of the day when it is needed.

The research further found that when wind and solar generation are combined, the net effect is a significant contribution to baseload power.

Mainstream’s CEO Eddie O’Connor said the initial analysis underpins the government’s commitment to renewable energy.

“Not only are wind and solar power cheaper than new fossil fuel generation here in South Africa, but when combined, they can make a significant contribution to baseload power at the time of day it is most needed,” he said.

The graph below shows the country’s wind and solar hourly generation profile, and the 2008 national demand profile.

Wind and solar power in South Africa

Busting a major renewable energy myth

Penny-Jane Cooke, a climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Africa, said this research is significant in busting a big renewable energy myth.

“This research effectively busts one of the biggest myths created by the anti-renewables lobby: that we require coal and nuclear generation to provide for baseload demand as renewable energy sources cannot meet this demand,” she said.

She said what is interesting about this research is that this phenomenon does not occur everywhere in the world.

“This means that South Africa is in a unique position to make the most of renewable energy.”

“Contrary to what has been argued about how renewable energy is not available when it is most needed, in South Africa the sun shines and the wind blows when electricity is most needed.”

“This should be enough of a reason to remove the barriers to renewable energy immediately – it’s not rocket science.”


What is the Cost of Going Solar?

Solar geyser and panels on The Gorgeous Green House

Solar geyser and panels on The Gorgeous Green House

Government mandated power outages for South Africans are to be part of our lives for many years to come.  As we complain and our economy suffers  one might think that many people and organisations of reasonable means are installing solar systems.  This is not so.

Barriers to entry are certainly perceived high cost, but also general lack of knowledge of how these systems work.

One of the frequently asked questions about The Gorgeous Green House is ‘how much did your solar system cost’?

I’ve learned that if I answer the question directly people’s eyes tend to glaze over and they mentally check out of the conversation.  I wish to challenge people to think differently about the subject as it may lead to a different set of conclusions (and hopefully actions!).   So I now answer that question with the following questions:

  • Do you know what you are currently paying for electricity? (you would be surprised at how many  people can’t answer this question)
  • Do you know what increases are on the cards going forward?
  • Have you drawn up a spreadsheet to really get to grips with what you will be spending over the next few years?

We did this exercise, and based on our rather shocking, (but not unusual) $200.00 (aprox. R2000.00) per month electricity bill, we projected our forward costs based on the 12.2% increase that we experienced this year and the 25% increase that ESKOM are asking for. As we have installed, these costs are now savings.

This is what it looks like in South African Rands (divide by 10 for a rough conversion to American dollars):

Old (Non-eco) House Electricity Account:

Aprox 2 000.00 per month

  12.2 % Annual Increase Accumulative Saving 25% Annual Increase Accumulative Saving
2014 24 000.00   24 000.00  
2015 26 880.00 50 880.00 30 000.00 54 000.00
2016 30 105.56 80 985.56 37 500.00 91500.00
2017 33 337.48 114 323.04 46 875.00 138 375.00
2018 37 899.46 152 222.50 58 593.75 196 968.75
2019 42 523.19 194 745.69

Like us, you may be rather shocked at how much you will be spending on electricity over the next few years.  The reality is, however, that South African’s have benefited from relatively low rates compared to the rest of the world and on that score we have little to complain about.

Medupi Coal Station.  As unattractive as it is unhealthy.

Medupi Coal Station. As unattractive as it is unhealthy.

Our government’s solution to our energy crises is the building of even more filthy, polluting coal powered stations and extremely controversial nuclear stations.  The science shows us that with some political will and sensible interventions we can avoid these options with healthy, earth affirming renewable energy systems.  Starting at home seems like a good place to begin.

If you do you sums as above the next step would be to consult a reputable solar provider  for a quote.  You may be very surprised at the ROI time frame.  Ours will be somewhere between 4 and 5 years. If your quote to go ‘off grid’ is not possible, why not start smaller.  You can add to and expand your system very easily as your means allow.  In the meantime at least benefit from avoiding the incessant power failures!

We plan to be in our house for many years so relatively soon we will be scoring financially and using electricity in a way that serves our concern for the health of the planet!

In addition, we continue to lobby our authorities to implement systems to pay small scale electricity generators  for their excess electricity as this will offer further incentive to others to get on board. Watch this space!


Top Billing Visits the Gorgeous Green House

The Gorgeous Green House  will be making her TV debut this Thursday 16 July via the very glamorous No.1 South African magazine programme Top Billing. ( 07:30 p.m. on SABC 3). For those outside of SA there will be a shorter segment on You Tube – will advise when I know.

This 3 day process was absolutely fascinating. At times it was nerve wracking, and at times tedious (“take 43”!).  It was also overwhelming and humbling as I know how the intro goes:

Good evening and a very warm welcome to Top Billing. Tonight we come to you from the Gorgeous Green house in Durban, the culmination of one couple’s desire to ‘live more gently on the planet’. It’s quite fitting as this Saturday is Mandela Day, a day to remember that everyone can help to make the world a better place.

This was how we experienced the overall process:

Day 1:  Lorna interviews Jane, Caitlin (daughter), Chen (architect) and James (vertical garden designer) about the house

Jane extolling the virtues of the eco kitchen

Jane extolling the virtues of the eco kitchen

Interviewd In the lounge: "no we didn't get in an interior designer, the garden is the decoration:.

Interviewd In the lounge: “no we didn’t get in an interior designer, the garden is the decoration.









James, Jane and Lorna explaining how the vertical garden works

James, Jane and Lorna explaining how the vertical garden works

Walking, talking and shooting, eeks!

Walking, talking and shooting, eeks!

Day 2:  Lorna arrives in elegant evening gown, make-up artist in tow, to do all the ‘links’ that appear between the different segments of the show

Sparkling Lorna Maseko

Sparkling Lorna Maseko

Lorna next to the pool

Lorna next to the pool

Lorna verandaLorna bedroomDay 3: The director and team return with a drone to take aerial images!

Thanks Top Billing for this wonderful opportunity to get our “living green’ message out to such a wide and diverse audience.

Awesome team: Adrian (director).Lucky (Technician),Mfundo (Camera)

Awesome team: Lucky (Technician),Mfundo (Camera), Adrian (Director)

Setting up the drone

Setting up the drone

Away it goes!

Away it goes!


Final Indoor Space all Greened Up!

Since moving into the Gorgeous Green House our son has had a metaphorical ‘NO ENTRY’ sign on his door.  All appeals to decorate have been declined except for reluctant access to the bathroom with a thumbs up for a grey/black colour scheme.

I got mosaicing, moving as quickly as possible, as mom’s presence in boys bedroom was desirable to neither of us!DSC02505


I’m of the firm belief that the definition of ‘living green’ includes the expression of all of the parts of ourselves, including the creativity that we all have (even if we haven’t accessed it yet!). My daughter is especially talented with a paint brush and has been itching to be let loose on her brother’s walls.

The next process began with with energetic calculations and measuring.  DSC02496I hotfooted out of the way as geometry and algebra are but faint blips in my memory banks but was thrilled to see the sibling collaboration.

The grey/black/white theme has been extended with glorious chunks of green.DSC02497

Peter’s personality is expressed through the addition of his butterfly prints from our friend and leading lepidopterist Steve Woodhall, the mosiaced horns and a specially constructed (by Peter) display cabinet for his precious crystal and fossil collection.

DSC02535DSC02538The final result it quite spectacular. These images really don’t do justice to how dramatic and beautiful it is.  I hope a space to draw my university student son home as much as possible.



Wonderful Professional Images of the Gorgeous Green House

Our architects Sagnelli Associate Architects are entering our project into the  AfriSam-SAIA Award for Sustainable Architecture.   The exceptionally talented Grant Pitcher has been commissioned to take the photos for entry.


My favourite is this one. It is a birds eye view shows off the solar technology, roof garden and eco-pool from a vantage point not seen before.

gorgeous green house

Good luck Chen Sagnelli and team for the competition!


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