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GARDENING: Capturing the rain

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This year’s award-winning rainscaping projects installed by South Africa’s top landscapers offer inspiring examples for gardeners to manage precious rainwater in the suburbs

With rising water costs, water restrictions and the effects of climate change, gardeners no longer have the luxury of opening a municipal tap in order to keep a beautiful garden. Water is precious, and every drop counts. When rain falls, the water is free of charge, but how much is wasted down your driveway and out into stormwater drains?

By learning to manage the rain that falls within your property boundaries, you can maximise its benefits. Rainscaping is a way to store or slow down water flow to give it time to percolate into the soil.

“The amount of water run-off from a property should be minimised by either capturing rainwater from the roof of your house in a storage tank that can be reused in the garden when needed, or by creating swales in the garden to try to replenish the groundwater levels as far as possible when it rains,” says Bidvest Top Turf chief executive, Mikki Roxmouth.

Scrub everlasting (Helichrysum teretifolium) is an indigenous perennial suitable for bank planting in winter rainfall areas. Picture: New Plant Nursery

Top project honoured

Professional landscapers are leading the way in the installation of ponds which capture and store water, create a vibrant ecosystem and are a place for rest and relaxation.

This June, Bidvest Top Turf received the landscape industry’s top award for 2019, the prestigious South African Landscapers Institute (Sali) Shield for Excellence in Landscaping for their work at Hertford Office Park, Midrand. “The use of captured rainwater at Herford Office Park is done on a huge scale,” says Sali national judge Morne Faulhammer.

“Sandwiched between office buildings, the dam lies above a three-storey underground parking facility which made access and soil preparation difficult,” he says.

“Rainwater harvested from the offices is directed into the dam area. where employees of the Hertford Office precinct can unwind during their work day.” The Hertford project received a Sali Double Gold award for Landscape Construction with Design by Others and its water-wise design elements.

Forest Swale

The Forest Swale at Somerset Lakes is a planted stormwater channel which drains a large
catchment area. Picture: SALI

Atlanticscapes, based in in Milnerton, also received Sali Double Gold awards for two projects at Somerset Lakes, Somerset West. The forest swale is a planted stormwater channel which drains a large catchment area.

When it rains, a large volume of water passes through the swale fairly suddenly, which provided a challenge for design and planting on the project. Both the clubhouse and forest swale projects received gold awards for Landscape Construction with Design by Others and water-wise design.

The clubhouse project also received the MayFord Trophy for the Best Use of Colour in the Landscape. “The awards are a recognition of all the hard work our team has put in over the years to reach this point,” says Atlanticscapes’ Anthony Teuchert.

Capturing the rain

How can you better manage the flow of water in your garden on your property?

Ponds: If you have a natural low area of your garden where rainwater pools, consider a garden pond or mini wetland for the space.

“The most important aspect to consider when creating a pond is the quality of the lining used,” says Roxmouth. “Consider adding aquatic plants to help filter the water and keep the balance by adding the necessary nutrients and oxygen needed to keep the water healthy. Also plan an overflow outlet in case the pond becomes too full.”

This can be achieved by constructing an adjacent wetland or bog garden.

Berms and swales: Berms are raised mounds that divert water to flow along a specific path, for example, a slightly raised edge along one side of a driveway to divert water to a flower bed on the other side.

Edges of the dams and stream at Hertford Office Park were heavily planted to create a natural look for the water feature. Picture: SALI

Swales are shallow depressions that may be bermed on the sides to allow rainwater to flow along the course. Teuchert says when building a swale in your garden, consider several important factors.

“Firstly, the gradient and levels. You do not want the water not flowing or flowing the wrong way or flooding the rest of the garden. “Then consider where it is directed, either a pond or sump, and if there is an overflow.”

Depending on soil type, the swale may need to be lined and you can add pebbles to prevent erosion and improve aesthetics. Water attracts insects and birds, so consider wildlife visitors when selecting your plantings.

“Start with marginal plants, such as mat sedge (Cyperus textilis), along the water’s edge and gradually phase into water-wise flowering shrubs and bedding the further away from the water you get. It is always rewarding to see wildlife using your created space,” says Teuchert.

When planting up a swale or pond area, begin with marginal plants along the water’s edge. Picture: SALI

Over a period of time, ensure plants do not clog the bed of the swale. A swale needs to slow the flow, not restrict it. 

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