Gorgeous Green House

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


Gorgeous Green Dream Kitchen

It’s a cliche that the kitchen is the heart of the home.  For families who love to cook and eat together, though, it is true. After many years of cooking (often alone) in a kitchen separate from the rest of the house I was excited about designing a space that was more open plan, with the main cooking and prepping area integrated with the dinning and lounge, but with a scullery area tucked out of sight.

View from dining room/lounge

View from dining room/lounge

I trust you will agree, that even if you have no interest in the green stuff, this is a beautiful kitchen.  You know you’re getting the green info any way, so here goes:

We chose bamboo for the cabinetry as it is the most extraordinary sustainable product.  It grows up to 10 cm per day (is actually a grass) and is as hard as nails by the time it is processed into a ‘plank’.  A far greener option than any wood you could choose. Better still, it has been heat processed to give it this gorgeous caramel colour, which will never scratch off like a stain/coloured varnish.  So for those of you who have been put off all the ‘blonde’ bamboo that’s mostly available this other option may be of interest.  Darryn Kemper from Woodkraft Kitchens did the installation.  Wonderful precision craftmanship, thank you Darryn, it was a joy watching you work!

Bamboo cabinetry edges close up

Bamboo cabinetry edges close up

I love the way the lamination is visible on the edges of the panels and doors – proudly announcing that this is a special material!

Composte work surface with 60% recycled content

Composte work surface with 60% recycled content

We found this fabulous work top product from Samsung.  It has aproximately 60% recycled content in it.  Natural granite is hard pressed to compete for beauty and no hillsides have been demolished in the process.  This particular composite has unusual copper coloured flecks in it – a beautiful tie-in to the colour of the bamboo.  Tracey and her team from Flintstone Granite and Marble did a wonderful job on the installation. Lots of tricky elements and cut outs all executed beautifully.

Recycling bins

Recycling bins

We thought long and hard about the re-cycling storage.  At one point we were thinking about ‘post boxes’ to outside bins. This could have led to a lot of broken glass so we went more conventional with large pull out drawers with off-the-shelf plastic bins lined with the bags that they go to the re-cycling depot in. I’ve made the bags out of large feed sacks simply by sewing on handles. Works like a charm.

Worm food drawer

Worm food drawer

After years of having containers with the worm food (vegetable, fruit cuttings) sitting on bowls on the counter top a special drawer was planned to scoop the peelings into as we go.  Far less unsightly.

Scullery area, small induction geyser under sink

Scullery area, small induction geyser under sink

We were also concerned about heating water and really wanted to stick to installing one solar geyser in the house.  The kitchen is at the furthermost point from the geyser which would not really have been practical as heat would have been lost over the distance. Our solution was this tiny induction geyser that sits under the sink.  It heats only 10L at a time, more than enough for a sink of dishes.  Perfect!

All the appliances are energy efficient.  Shop around and ask all the specific questions.  It is not just the expensive brands that do green appliances.  I am particularly thrilled with the induction hob.  After being a confirmed gas lover for many year (instant heat) I wasn’t easily convinced that it would work as well.  I am delighted to report that the heat is quicker, hotter and ‘off’ quickly to.  It is so easy to clean and ‘disappears’ into the work surface.  Best of all uses very little electricity, so it made sense as we are generating our own, not to bring another non-renewable product into the home.

Induction hob

Induction hob

The taps are also cleverly designed to minimize water use..  Grohe have a wonderful range of water wise sanware to choose from.

The splash back has no green credentials, but for those that are interested it is not mirror but brown glass painted black on the back which makes it somewhat reflective.  A beautiful final touch!

Bonus pic:  Dendrobium aggregatum growing on Bridelia next to verhanda

Bonus pic: Dendrobium aggregatum growing on Bridelia next to verhanda



This kitchen is a joy to cook in and we look forward to many many years of feeding family and friends from the beautiful space.




Dwarf Chameleon: Best Xmas Gift


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.


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.)



Concrete Log Idiocy!

I was watching a gardening programme on TV last night and the presenter was showing viewers how to make their own concrete logs.

Now I ask you with tears in my eyes why on earth would anyone want a concrete log in their garden? We were encouraged to get hold of a log, cover it in silicone which becomes the mould that you then press onto a concrete ‘sausage’ to aproximate a log.  The result was not very effective.

So lets unpack this.  One starts with a real log and and uses it to make something that looks sort of the same – but not really


one could, with that same log:

Log beginning to rot and growing moss

allow nature to take its course so beautiful mosses and fungi can grow.

Termites feasting

Termites and other insects can then begin to devour the log and birds and other wildlife will be attracted into your garden to feast on them.

Black Collared Barbet

Olive Woodpecker

If you are very lucky (but only if you absolutely  NEVER use pesticides) you may even encourage these gorgeous chameleons into your garden.

Black Headed Dwarf chameleon

I know I will have arrived as a  gardener when my garden’s health and vibrancy creates a home for these delicate and highly endangered creatures.

Or then again – I can put something that sort of looks like log… sorry, can’t even finish that sentence!

mmm…wonder how much the concrete company paid for that insert?


Green Cooking with a Polysterene Filled Bag

Even if you don’t give a damn about the health of our planet and are only swayed by  things that make obvious financial sense then this is a product for you.  I’m ashamed to say that I have only recently made my purchase and I am at a loss as to say why it has taken me so long!  Foolish me.  Here is how it works:

1. Prepare you soup, stew, curry, rice etc on top of the stove as usual

2. When bubbling furiously, snap on the lid and nestle it into the wonder bag.

3. Pull the drawstring tight and leave for as long as you would normally. You can’t burn the pot so if you forget about it it won’t dry out.

4. Several hours later (or less depending on what you are cooking) a delicious, tender and succulent curry!

South African eco-entrepreneur Sarah Collins came up with the idea four years ago during a power cut, when she managed to keep her dinner cooking by surrounding the pan with cushions. She admits: ‘It’s the oldest technology in the world. I don’t understand how someone else hasn’t made it already. Our ancestors buried hot stew pots in the ground to keep them cooking without fuel and our grandmothers tucked them into hayboxes’. With the Wonderbag, Collins has simply brought the idea up-to-date and made it portable.

So in addition to the obvious energy  savings (50 –  90%) using a Wonderbag also:

  •  leads to improved air quality in homes by reducing smoke from cooking fires.
  • reduces risk of shack fires caused by paraffin stoves.
  • empowers communities by increasing the cash available for discretionary expenses.
  • provides job opportunities and skill development opportunities in disadvantaged communities for women making Wonderbags.
  • allows tasty, nutritious meals can be prepared ahead of time.
  • reduces food wastage as food cannot burn or overcook.
  • provides cooling properties allowing people dependant on public transport to bring their food shopping home before it spoils.
  • with regular use, one Wonderbag can avoid one ton of carbon emissions every two years.
  • reduces total community demand for wood as fuel in rural areas promotes forest regrowth and biodiversity.
  • polystyrene is re-used instead of dumped in landfill sites.

Phew do you need any more convincing!  Look out for them at flea markets, food markets and the like.  I got mine for R100 ( about $12) at the Durban Sustainability Expo.