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GARDENING: Teeming with life

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From deep in the soil to the tallest of trees, thriving ecosystems are helping to protect our planet’s biodiversity

Environmentalists, scientists and academics are preparing for the first conference on ecological restoration to take place in Africa. The Society for Ecological Restoration hosts its 8th World Conference at Century City Conference Centre in Cape Town from September 24 to 28.

Under the theme of “Restoring Land, Water and Community Resilience”, delegates from around the world will join to share knowledge, debate global issues and adopt strategies for ecological restoration.

Ecological restoration

Select plants that will attract pollinators to your garden. Picture: Lukas Otto

Healthy ecosystems help to regulate climate and play a role in food production and the purification of water and air. Without them many species of flora and fauna could face extinction.

Ecological restoration is a process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged or destroyed. Human activities like mining, logging and expanding urbanisation damage and destroy ecosystems.

Human intervention is needed to assist in the recovery of damaged ecosystems.

Depending on the degradation, this can be as simple as removing invasive plants and replanting vegetation or intervention can be extensive and areas can take many years to fully recover.

On March 1, the UN General Assembly declared 2021 to 2030 as the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. The restoration of damaged and degraded land is an important tool for fighting climate change, enhancing food security, water supply and biodiversity.

The UN states that the restoration of 350million ha of degraded land by 2030 could take an extra 13 to 26 gigatons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.

Keep leaves, grass clippings and fruit and vegetable peelings and begin a compost heap for your garden. Picture: Supplied

Conservation corridor

Restoration ecologist, Deon van Eeden, team leader at Vula Environmental Services, says that restoration ecology takes a dysfunctional piece of land and returns it to a pristine or near pristine state.

One of Van Eeden’s current projects is restoration work in the area known as the Sandown Fynbos Corridor, a conservation area that forms part of the Sandown Development Area, owned by Milnerton Estates Limited. The area will link the Blaauwberg Nature Reserve with the Diep River section of the Table Bay Nature Reserve.

“Prior to building in the residential area, my team and I collect all the bulbs and valuable plant material and we take it back to the fynbos corridor,” explains Van Eeden. With the first phase, the removal of invasive alien plants like Port Jackson willow (Acacia saligna) complete, the area will be subjected to an ecological burn next year. The next phase comprises fine-scale restoration, including the introduction of seed and propagated material and ongoing management to keep invasives in check.

Working with nature

An ecosystem comprises a number of living organisms within a particular habitat. It can be as large as a desert or forest or as small as a suburban garden.

Your garden is a small ecosystem that forms a part of the greater ecosystem of your suburb and city. How can you turn your garden’s ecosystem into a thriving one?

Van Eeden says while ecological restoration cannot take place in a home garden, gardeners can use some of its principals for good results. Mimic nature, don’t work against it.

Start with soil

Improve the quality of your soil before planting and add organic compost, but don’t over fertilise. Picture: Supplied

Know your soil type. Clay soil forms a firm ball when squeezed in the hand. Sandy soil is loose and well-draining, but consequently doesn’t retain water very well. Loamy soil is neither compact nor crumbly and has good water retention properties.

Van Eeden says it’s important to build up your garden right from the soil. Add organic compost to improve soil quality but don’t over fertilise. When you do fertilise, choose an organic product, he says.

Earthworms are a gardener’s friends. They feed on living and dead matter in the soil and assist with aeration and provide channels for root growth and better drainage.

Pick the right plants

Choose plants native to your area. Also consider where you place your plants and group those with similar water requirements in the same areas.

“Your foundation plants must be strong, hardy species that can withstand adverse conditions,” says Van Eeden. “Choose specials for focal points and couple these with plants with similar water requirements.”

Rather than plant masses of one type of plant species, plant in a matrix, aiming for good variety.

Move to mulch

Mulch keeps the surface of the soil cool and helps to retain moisture in the depths. Before putting down mulch, add a microbial inoculant, a mix of beneficial micro-organisms, to the soil to improve quality for strong, healthy plant growth.

For more information on the 8th World Ecological Restoration Conference, see or email


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