Beat the heat and keep your garden cool
Cape Town - The heat is here, and with climate change, forecasters expect things to get even more intense. Expect your garden to sizzle more often, be buffeted by hectic rainstorms, be exposed to periodic flooding and be devastated by an increasing frequency of freak winds.
So what can you do to address this new world of hectic heat, nightmare floods and wild wind?
Here are a number of wide-ranging ideas:
Now is the time to be informed. Former US vice president Al Gore will be in South Africa for three days of climate change training (March 12-14), the first in Africa.
The Africa training event follows two similar events held in Istanbul and Chicago last year, and will be held in Johannesburg, in partnership with Jeunesse Park’s Food & Trees for Africa organisation.
The three days of training is free, but you do need to apply online, be accepted, get yourself to Joburg, and organise your own accommodation. Between 500 and 1 000 people will be accepted for the training.
During the three days, leading activists and advocates will join Gore in conveying the latest information about climate change. The purpose of this intensive programme is to train a new cadre of 1 000 Climate Reality Leaders.
The aim is to turn the trainers into energised and skilled communicators with the knowledge, tools and drive to educate diverse communities on the costs of carbon pollution, and solutions for the future in Africa.
To date, the Climate Reality Leadership Corps has trained 6 000 leaders from more than 100 countries.
To apply for the training course, go to www.climatereality project.org/Africa. The deadline for applications is February 7.
Cool it down
Preparing for the new world of climate change in your garden means having the right plants in the right place. A tree in the right place is a great asset, linking the garden to the larger landscape beyond its borders, and shading our homes, streets and office buildings. Trees are nature’s air conditioners – their leaves and branches slow the wind and catch the slightest breeze, creating air movement.
Landscapers often refer to trees as “ceiling” plants because they create an overhead canopy and hold a design together. A patio will benefit if a deciduous tree is planted to provide afternoon shade in summer. By choosing a tree that loses its leaves, welcome sunshine will warm the patio in winter.
Check that the tree you choose is suitable for the position, as even small trees can have extensive and invasive root systems that can damage drains and foundations, and lift driveways.
Should there be no space for a tree, a vine-covered trellis over a patio will filter the fiercest of the sun’s rays.
Be wise with water
Invest in a water feature. Water in the garden can play a major role in producing a cooling effect in hot weather.
Not every garden has room for a pool, but there is enjoyment to be found in the sounds of water bubbling from a millstone, spilling from a fountain, or cascading from a series of small pools.
Water early in the day, and make sure the moisture reaches down to the root area of plants.
Group potted plants with similar water and shade requirements.
Make sure there is always fresh water in birdbaths and in pets’ water bowls. In dry weather, water lawns thoroughly at least once a week, and lift the setting on the lawnmower to prevent roots being scorched.
Blanket with mulch
Spread a thick (8-10cm) layer of mulch around plants to conserve moisture, protect roots and suppress weeds. Before applying mulch, make sure soil is damp, but not soggy. Organic mulches in the form of coarse compost, shredded bark, cocoa husks, peanut shells or pine needles will break down and return nutrients to the soil. Bark chips are decorative and long-lasting.
Make a list of heat-tolerant plants that will survive best in your garden and neighbourhood on hot days.
Dianthus cope well with heat and rain and are perfect for pots, planted along pathways, or planted in clusters in the front of borders.
Marigolds are one of the toughest summer annuals, with long-lasting lemon, yellow, gold, orange and coppery-red flowers. Also heat-resistant are Celosias with silky, feathery plumes of yellow, orange, pink, red or burgundy. Grow tall varieties in bold groups, and dwarf kinds in containers and in the front of borders.
Along a driveway, plant a carpet of water-wise Verbena with pink, rose, violet, scarlet or purple flowers. Water-wise, mauve-blue, powder-puff flowers of Ageratum cultivars with Vinca cultivars in white, blush, pink, apricot, lilac and grape look good together.
Zinnias are reliable with brightly coloured flowers in a range of heights, from dwarf Thumbelinas that brighten rockery pockets to tall Zinnias suitable for sunny borders.
The dainty flowers of white, gold and orange Zinnia angustifolia are pretty spilling over a low wall.
Green is usually seen as a background and unifying colour in the garden and green foliage plants are useful in shady gardens. Green also adds a touch of freshness and coolness to hot gardens. The arching fronds of Asparagus densiflorus, rounded leaves of Hostas, lacy maidenhair fern and the smoothness of arum leaves, are just some of the many green plants in shapes and textures to add interest.
Blue flowers are cooling on hot summer days. Old summer favourites Hydrangeas can reach two metres in height and make excellent background shrubs and low hedges in dappled or filtered shade. Modern cultivars are smaller and compact, making them suitable for the front of a lightly shaded border.
Every summer garden should have Agapanthus. They are so worthwhile with their umbels of flowers in shades of soft blue to dark violet-blue. Group them in borders, in broad ribbon plantings and on banks, where their strong roots will help to bind the soil.
Felicias are neat, low-growing shrubs with dainty daisy flowers in light or deep blue, useful in sunny rockeries, containers and indigenous gardens. Salvias with blue vertical flower spikes include Victoria, Cambridge Blue and Black and Blue.
GENERAL GARDEN TIPS
* Create a mini wetland in your garden where there is run-off from a slope. Suitable plants for growing in marshy conditions include tree ferns, white arum, Aristea, Cape thatching reed Elegia tectorum (syn. Chondropetalum tectorum), sedge, wild iris (Dietes), Moraea, dwarf glory bush (Dissotis canescens) and Kniphofia. Crocosmia, Primula, Louisiana and Japanese iris and many ferns thrive in damp soil.
* A depression in the garden can become an eco-friendly pond with gently sloping sides and rocks at different depths for small creatures to climb on or hide under. Line with heavy duty black plastic, or install a pre-formed pond available from garden centres.
* There are miniature water lilies for small ponds. Generally water lilies are planted 60cm to 1.5m deep, in baskets or pots of soil. Miniature varieties needing less depth of water. To avoid soil being washed out when planting, lower the container gently to the bottom of the pond.
* Cover one third of the surface area of a pond with aquatic plants to achieve a good balance, while providing shelter for fish and frogs. Aquatic plants known as oxygenators help prevent algae forming. - Weekend Argus