Gorgeous Green House

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


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


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.


Photo Update

The build seems to have accelerated, or maybe its just because we are starting to get to the best bits.  The most exciting installation, so far, is the vertical garden.  I’m going to be really mean though, and not show you a single picture yet because it is so magnificent, and the landscape artist James Halle is so talented, it has to have its very own post with lots of elaboration.  Watch this space!

Floating staircase

Floating staircase

The shuttering has come off the ‘floating’ staircase, and although this is not a green aspect of the build it is so beautiful I just need to show it off!

The interior painting has commenced.  There are loads of eco-friendly paints on the market these days.  They are much lower in volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) which basically means toxic stuff our bodies don’t like.  Confirm this with your paint supplier though because you won’t automatically get a low

Low VOC paint primer

Low VOC paint primer

VOC paint as there are still mixed perceptions about its efficacy.  Rest assured, they are equally effective and no more expensive than traditional.

veggie box

Mesh lining veggie box

The veggie garden now has 3/5 veggie boxes installed.  We are using a plastic timber product. These recycled planks are now widely available.  They are 100% recycled plastic so get great green points.  We lined the base with chicken mesh too keep out the moles.  Galvanized rods secure the sides from bowing out. This stuff will last forever, looks attractive, is easy to install and cheaper than recycled brick options which we had considered

3/5 Veggies Boxes Installed

3/5 Veggies Boxes Installed

Trichocladus crinatus

Trichocladus crinatus

I was really excited to see my Trichocladus crinitus (Black Witch-hazel) in flower. This small indigenous tree is quite rare and the petal form delicate and unusual.

Insualation Made From Recycled Plastic Bottles

Insualation Made From Recycled Plastic Bottles

There are lots of eco-friendly options for insulation these days.  We’ve gone with a product made from recycled plastic bottles.  The recycled newspaper product was a close contender.  The team on site report that the green stuff is really great to work with as it doesn’t shed prickly bits like the more traditional pink products.


Off Shutter Concrete

Off Shutter Concrete

The off-shutter concrete wall has had its first of two buffs and polishes.  It looks fabulous. I love the industrial /contemporary aesthetic and the honesty of the material.  Its a great ‘hard’ contrast to the green abundance of the garden.  Very happy with how its turned out.

Erythrina humeana

Erythrina humeana

The Erythrina humeana (Dwarf Coral Tree) are exquisite at the moment.  A really showy splash of red at the bottom of the garden.    

The pool has a new rectangular shape and fits snugly into the space of the old.  The reed beds are almost complete. It’s going to be great fun planting them up.  I’ll be sharing much more information on how to install an eco pool.  Suffice to say at this stage that the plants will do all the filtering of the water and no harsh chemicals will be required.  The plants and water provide the foundation for the wetland eco-system and we look forward to the

New Rectangular shape to pool

New Rectangular shape to pool

Reed beds constructed

Reed beds constructed

bird, amphibian and insect life we will be attracting.

Next to the veggie garden we have two of the Baunia’s in flower at the same time.  Gorgeous!

Bauhinia natalensis

Bauhinia natalensis

Bauhinia tomentosa

Bauhinia tomentosa

The whirly gigs are on site. Prith and Eamonn are finding them quite amusing.  Definitely a first for them as they are usually found in industrial builds.  We are putting them in to draw and pull up the cool air that will pass over the pond outside and into the hallway.  The best way to reduce the need for air conditioning in this space.

Whirly gig

Whirly gig

So overall fantastic progress!  And still so many of the best bits to come:

  • Vertical Garden (as promised)
  • Roof Garden
  • Rainwater harvesting
  • Eco Pool
  • Veggie garden
  • Chickens
  • Bees
  • Worm farming
  • Grey water recycling
  • Solar system
  • Induction geysers
  • plus…plus… plus

 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!


Staying Motivated and Keeping the Vision Alive

The Gorgeous Green House property was purchased about 4 years ago.  In October 2011 the architects were briefed and it felt like the dream was beginning to materialize.  Since then endless planning approval issues and delays have been taking their toll on general levels of energy and enthusiasm.  I don’t want this space to be a whining forum so you will be spared the details until they can be condensed into a useful guide to navigate the new SANS (South African National Standards) 10400 building regulations.  I decided I needed and injection of happiness and positivity and a reminder of what this project is all about.

'Forest' Walk

Indigenous ‘Forest’ Walk

I invited some special ‘green orientated’ friends for a picnic in the garden.  We started with a stroll through the indigenous ‘forest’ to admire old trees and newly planted ones.

Picnic Freinds

Picnic Friends

Fascinating Beetle

Fascinating Beetle

We marveled at an extraordinarily beautiful beetle then relaxed on the veranda and oohed and ahhed at the bird and butterfly life.

Newly Resident Egyptian Geese Family

Newly Resident Egyptian Geese Family

We ate  a delicious picnic and talked about the future food that will be grown here, meals to be shared and parties to enjoy and about how absolutely fabulous this urban farm/nature reserve is and how utterly blessed my family is.

The house WILL come when the time is right 🙂

Pavetta lanceolata (Bride's Bush) in full bloom

Pavetta lanceolata (Bride’s Bush) in full bloom

Thank you wonderful people.  It really was a great reminder of the bigger picture and a bolster for the ongoing challenges we have in getting the house aspect of the project underway.


Why Removing Exotic/Alien Trees Doesn’t Have to be Painful

In South Africa we have a long history of importing trees. Many came to us by accident and I expect many immigrants wanted reminders of home and planted what was familiar in their adopted country. Many very common exotic and alien trees are quite pretty and so prolific that many people are not aware they are not South African.

It could feel unnecessary or even cruel to remove a beautiful large specimen of say, a Jacaranda, Hibiscus or Frangipani so what would justify it?

  1. Because exotic plants fall outside of their natural environment they often have to be pampered with extra water, fertilizer or sadly sometimes pesticides.

    Professional Tree Fellers

  2. Plants categorised as aliens go in the opposite direction. They are so comfortable in their new environment they multiply exponentially, crowding out indigenous flora, sucking up water and nutrients from the soil and reducing our biodiversity.
  3. Exotic/alien trees may offer some food to some bird species but they will never fulfill all the requirements for feeding, breeding, resting and nesting that our indigenous species do.

    Ficus natalensis provides all the nesting Hadida’s family’s needs in the bottom of our Gorgeous Green House Garden

  4. Most of our other wildlife rely on our indigenous (native)  flora for survival. Some are so fussy that only specific species will do.  As aliens march onward crowding out indigenous plants all the life in the eco system in reduced.
  5. Indigenous trees once established need no further watering or fertilizing.  Perfect for the lazy gardener!
  6. The joy that creating a natural wildlife habitat, rather than a garden planted just for its appearance, is an experience that our whole selves resonate with. It helps us remember that we too are just creatures in this amazingly complex and beautiful world.

Burchellia bubalina, fantastic indigenous tree for birds and moths. As beautiful as any exotic!

Ring barking process

Mushroom growth less than a month after felling.

Perhaps you’ve been thinking about taking the plunge to convert to or add more indigenous but are a bit overwhelmed by the idea of removal and wonder where to start.  You could consider ring barking which will kill the tree off slowly and in the process provide a larder full of insects for birds and other wildlife to enjoy (and you to watch!).

Alternatively get in the professionals.  They charge more to remove the stump but I think it’s unnecessary.  Stumps don’t take long to become covered in fungi and mushrooms and rot away.

Sawdust for the Gorgeous Green House compost heap

One more tip:  when choosing your tree feller ask if they will chip your wood and as a bonus you also acquire a mountain of organic matter to add to your compost heap (and prevent it from going to  landfill :-)).

Once you’ve cleared space in your garden you now have the fun of selecting the replacements!  I’ve got a list of my favourites for a Durban coastal garden.  I’ve put them in a table describing size, fruit, flowers, wild life attracting properties, and what butterflies they may be hosts for.  I am delighted  to share.  Just write a comment and I will mail it to you. 

My best tip:  get yourself a copy of Bring Nature Back To Your Garden by Charles and Julia Botha.  If you want to get closer to nature this fantastic handbook, written without pretension and much humour will be a wise investment!

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Lose the Lawn!

In 2007 NASA identified grass production as the number one agricultural group in the US at a staggering 23 million acres.  The second-place cultivated crop was corn at seven million.   I couldn’t find any equivalent figures for South Africa but I do know that we love our lawns and I wonder why.

Lawn requires more water, fertilizer and weed and insect treatment (and work) 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.  Using chemical fertilizers and pesticides have a horrible environmental impact.

Hibiscus praetuertus

Why not consider converting some of your lawn to a veggie garden or to planting more indigenous (native) bird and other wildlife attracting plants in your garden? Using your lawn as a small rug in the garden and not the carpet will change the way the space looks, feels and impacts on your local ecology. In addition you will save money on your water and fertilizer bill.  It will be a safe for children and pets and your will have a reduced dependence on lawn mowers and their maintenance.  Think also of the time saved!

At my Gorgeous Green House there isn’t a massive amount of lawn, but more than I want and I immediately need to create beds to propagate plants for the roof and vertical gardens. Digging up lawn is backbreaking work and you never seem to get all the roots out.  This is an old permaculture technique that works a treat and really is the easiest and greenest way to lose the lawn.

Well watered cardboard. Thanks Vusani

1.  Layer down some cardboard (you can also use newspaper). Water it to soggyness. This layer kills the grass and weeds by blocking sunlight, adds nutrients to the soil as weed matter quickly decays beneath the barrier, and increases the mechanical stability of the growing medium.

2. Add an approximate 10 cm thick layer of compost.

3.  Add some further woody and leafy matter, wood chips etc. If you have access to manure, fantastic!  These layers are now encouraging favourable soil microbial activity and worms and enhancing soil structure

Additional mulch

4.  Continue to keep moist

5.  In a few months the layers will have disintegrated and you are now ready for planting.

Rich, grass free soil ready for planting

Your plants will get a fantastic start often leading to improved resistance to pests and diseases and your garden will always be filled with the sounds of nature, bees, birds and butterflies. .