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A hassle-free holdiay home garden

Written by  Nikki van Coller
| in Tuin
| December 15, 2015

If you are in the fortunate position of owning a beach house or holiday home along our beautiful coastline, you’ll know the effort it takes to maintain the garden when you are only there a few times a year. We’ve put together a comprehensive guide to keeping your holiday home garden healthy and thriving all year long.

When planning your beach house garden, the first rule is to forget about trying to create a lush green oasis. Gardens along the coast are at the mercy of strong, salt-laden sea winds and tend to have deep sandy soils that are neutral to alkaline. So it is absolutely vital that you gain an understanding of the area and its natural vegetation before you start gardening. There is no point in planting hundreds of pretty flowers if they are going to die during the winter months when you are not around, or get obliterated by strong winds and high temperatures. The idea is to plant a garden that will be easily maintained, and continue to prosper for a very long time.

Planning, using the natural structure of the garden, choosing the right plants, and being water-wise are all important elements to consider when developing your holiday home garden.

Be water-wise

Let’s talk about water-wise first. A water-wise garden is basically one that requires very little watering, or that uses water-saving methods to irrigate. Water scarcity is a very real issue in South Africa and - as the population burgeons - will continue to be an issue in the years to come. Gardens, particularly those with large lawns, are still the main cause of water-wastage, with many gardens consuming up to 50% of all domestic water used in suburban areas.   Quite staggering when you consider that domestic gardens are an aesthetic luxury, rather than a necessity, and that in many parts of the country people do not have access to clean water.

“Gardens, particularly those with large lawns, are still the main cause of water-wastage...”

So when you plant a water-wise garden, you are not only helping it survive when you are not at your holiday home for long periods of time, you are also ensuring that you are part of the water scarcity solution, rather than part of the problem.

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Leave the lawn

The biggest culprit when it comes to water-guzzling, is a lawn. As pretty as a lush green rolling lawn is, the reality is that times are changing, and lawns are being seen more and more as wasteful. In terms of maintenance, a lawn also means that one of the first things you will do when you get to your holiday home, is the chore of mowing the lawn – that’s if you’ve managed to grow a lawn along the coast! Consider foregoing a lawn for something more natural, but if you absolutely must have some lawn, keep it to a minimum, and speak to your local nursery about finding varieties of grass that are indigenous, low maintenance and water-wise.  And don’t cut your lawn too short, as the longer leaves provide shade for the roots and lead to less evaporation. Alternatively, come up with creative, natural ways to incorporate large indigenous beds, walkways and areas with stones, bark or shells to make a flowing, inviting space with plenty of layers; far more interesting than a lawn!

Planning according to the site

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By planning your garden properly before you plant, you can consider the entire site, and take advantage of the characteristics unique to your garden – the soil, sun, shade and wind patterns. It’s important to group plants with similar water needs together. Divide the area up into different hydro-zones according to their water needs, with the area that needs the most water being the smallest, as well as closest to the house. This way you can attend to that area’s water needs, without wasting water on plants that don’t need as much.

“It’s important to group plants with similar water needs together. Divide the area up into different hydro-zones...“

Wind and the consequent salt-laden air, is a major issue, especially along the south  Western Cape coast. But with planning, you can find clever ways to use your house, boundary walls and hardy shrubs and trees as windbreaks, so that you can plant a few wind-sensitive plants and ensure a wind-free outdoor entertainment area.

Many coastal homes and beach houses are on sloping sites, which can be a nightmare. But with retaining walls, terracing and rockeries, this needn’t be a problem and can actually add to the interest and aesthetics of the garden. Mild slopes can be planted with indigenous trailing groundcovers, and shrubs with a spreading root system. This will help to hold the soil and retain moisture.
Planning ahead also allows you to consider your irrigation at the same time as you plant. You can then use the natural slopes and layout to collect rainwater and use it as part of your irrigation system. Also consider the views of the garden. Where will you spend the most time when outside? What will you be looking at? What will you see when you approach the house, or when you are inside looking out? You might be itching to get to the nursery and start planting all your favourites, but consider that proper planning will save you time, money and energy in the long-term.

Add organic matter to your soil

Compost, mulch and composted manure will improve the health and water-holding capacity of your soil. Mulch – whether shredded leaves, grass clippings, nut shells, pine needles, straw or even shredded newspaper - can cut water needs by 50%. Not only does it stop thirsty weeds from growing, it also reduces evaporation.

Use rainwater for irrigation

Rainwater is the best choice for your plants, as it is natural and unchlorinated. There are several, fairly inexpensive ways to introduce water harvesting - with swales/berms, rain tanks, collection ponds and basins around plants. Also, do away with your hosepipe. Drip irrigation is by far the most effective water-saving method of irrigation, where rainwater is not being used.
Choose the right plants

Obviously, one of the most important elements to a low-maintenance beach house garden is what you choose to plant. This will be dependent on which coastline you are on; you want to plant trees, shrubs and plants that are endemic to the area, not merely indigenous to the country. These will require less watering and maintenance, because they have long adapted to the local climate, soil and rainfall. It stands to reason that plants that do well with summer rainfall are going to require a lot more effort and watering in summer, if planted on the West Coast.

A good way to truly understand what will   prosper with little maintenance in your garden, is to explore the nearby intact landscapes. What has thrived – unatten-
ded – for decades? Let’s look at each coastline.

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