Cape Town - In just two years, an eroded river bank on what had been a farm has been transformed into a meandering walkway lush with indigenous plants.

The end of summer, as any gardener knows, is a difficult time for gardens. The heat, the drying effect of the wind and no rain means that most gardens are not looking their best.

This riverside garden at the Brandwacht Aan Rivier housing development in Stellenbosch may not have brightly coloured flowers right now, but it is abundant with a diversity of plants in shades of brown, grey and green.

White agapanthus, Bauhinia, known as Pride of De Kaap blousalie, add touches of colour. Soon the red-hot pokers (kniphotia) will burst into colour... tall ones, short ones, red, orange and yellow ones.

Landscaper Danie Steenkamp’s challenge here was to turn the eroded river bank – overgrown with silver poplars and other aliens – into a low-maintenance natural area where residents of the new development could walk and enjoy the garden.

The garden had to be established using ecologically sound principles.

“It was a major job to rehabilitate the banks along the river, keeping all non-invasive existing trees and plants.

“We used gabions for erosion control. You can see the wild olives are tall and spindly as they struggled to grow among the poplars,” said Danie.

In hindsight, it would have been better not remove all alien vegetation at once. “Doing it incrementally would have allowed the seeding of endemic plants, to lessen erosion.”

December’s extreme storm brought down many pine trees, worsening erosion.

Danie sees himself as a facilitator in the garden, allowing it to establish itself.

“You set out with an intention, but it’s exciting to see how it turns out. It’s a surprise the way it grows.”

Happy surprises here are the number of plants popping up, either self-seeding from existing stock, or endemic species.

The slangbos came up on its own, there’s self-sown polygalla, and hundreds of wild olives and wild peaches are appearing.

“It’s important not to destroy the seedbed by working the soil too much,” advises Danie, “and adapt the plants to the soil, not the soil to the plants.”

Danie’s speciality is large-scale indigenous planting, and he has an eye for design, which is pleasing.

Many varieties of restios line the walkway, which meanders along the river. Tall trees on the opposite bank, and the mountains in the background add scale and depth to the landscape.

It’s a place to rest and breathe in deeply. Chrysantanoides are coming up among the restios; there are plantings of agapanthus, different helichrysum and wilde wingerd, which is endemic to the area.

Danie has used fountain grass, a wonderful soft-looking indigenous grass.

There are different sages – blousalie and bruinsalie, camphor bushes, Watsonias and arum lillies.

The children’s play area had to be flattened out and drained, one of three areas of lawn along the walkway for residents’ use.

The garden only needs irrigation in the dry months, from November to February, and has just had its summer pruning.

Wildlife such as Guinea fowl and porcupines can be seen here, and there are lots of owls.

The garden is beautiful in spring when the bulbs flower, says Danie. And soon the red-hot pokers will make a showing.

This is a great example of how landscaping along the urban edge can transform degraded areas into something beautiful, waterwise and creature-friendly.

“People are wanting this more and more,” says Danie.

Indigenous has become desirable.

Jeanne Viall, Cape Argus