It is like old times on the South Coast these days for acclaimed landscaper Elsa Pooley, who is back at Crocworld near Scottburgh.
It was 28 years ago that Pooley and her late husband Tony – a crocodile ecologist – were first called in to set up a crocodile farm for the Crookes Brothers company.
Tony Pooley, involved in the feasibility study, suggested that as well as farming skins at the venue, people would be interested to see the crocodiles and that Crocworld should also become a tourist centre, which is exactly what happened. It welcomes 1 000 adult visitors a day during the peak season.
He was then asked to take on the overall management of Crocworld and the Pooleys moved from Lake St Lucia where Tony had established a crocodile research centre.
His botanist wife then transformed 17ha of land that had been under sugar cane into lush gardens, with thousands of trees and plants.
“Tony was initially worried about the crocodiles as there was no shade for them in the summer, no sun in winter and no protection from the salty wind. We wanted them to lay eggs and be happy and they needed to be reasonably warm,” she recalled.
“We had to put in trees that lost their leaves in winter and plants that handled extremely salty, windy conditions.”
She did not want a typical South African garden with hibiscus and bougainvillea as that would not have suited the crocodiles.
Elsa planted fever trees, which provided light shade and which lost their leaves in winter; Cape Honeysuckle for protection that kept the wind out while attracting birds; and Lagoon Hibiscus, which made the crocodile ponds look nice and natural.
The Pooleys were at Crocworld for three years and left for other challenges. Tony, a wildlife consultant, worked with international film crews on crocodile features. Elsa published definitive books on trees and wild flowers, going on to win a string of awards for her contribution to botany.
Crocworld no longer farms skins, and with the focus now shifting more to tourism, conservation and education (there are snakes and birds as well as crocs), a big revamp is under way and Elsa has been called back to work her landscaping magic again.
“Some things were a bit tired and run down and I am bringing them back up to scratch,” she explained.
She is now busy creating a botanical garden with all the trees and plants named. Paths will be put in so that visitors can study the plants up close.
“People like to know the names of things so they can then plant them in their own gardens,” she said, adding that the project should be completed by April.
She is also planting an indigenous garden to show what can thrive in the shade.
“There are 100 species that can grow and flower from tiny things to flowering shrubs and small trees. People – including visitors with holiday homes in the area – are constantly asking me what they can plant in the shade that looks pretty.”