How to get water wise for summer

By Kay Montgomery Time of article published Dec 13, 2012

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Johannesburg - It’s been one of the coolest springs on record, but the heat of summer is just around the corner. What should you be doing in the garden this summer?

Start by adopting sensible water-wise principles in your garden to condition your plants for the heat of summer. The deeper the roots of a plant, the deeper the water must sink to reach them. When the days get hot, water plants thoroughly twice a week, rather than giving them a light daily sprinkling.

In small gardens, watering by hand is the most efficient way of making sure each plant receives the correct amount of water.

Group plants that need the most water near the house and in containers on the patio for easy access. Invest in a water tank for collecting rainwater off a roof.

Use a shredder to reduce the amount of garden refuse. Cover soil with this mulch to retain moisture, discourage germination of weeds and insulate soil from temperature extremes. Organic mulches in the form of compost, shredded bark, cocoa husks, peanut shells or pine needles can also be used.

In the vegetable garden, plant closely and in broad rows for less evaporation. A shallow basin around newly planted trees and shrubs, and around vegetables like tomatoes and squash, allows water to collect and slowly filter down to the roots.

Paths and fedges

People and animals always take the most direct route in a garden. To prevent this, paths should curve around an object, like a large shrub or bench. This summer, lay down a new path or install a fedge.

Fedge is a fun name for a boundary composed of a fence and hedge. The fence keeps out intruders, while the hedge filters noise and dust while lightly screening the home. Evergreen plants, like abelia, escallonia, freylinia, plumbago, raphiolepis and Cape honeysuckle, provide a year-round screen.

A grass path between two flower borders can be slightly narrowed at the furthest end to create an illusion of distance. This can also be done using flower colour. Misty blues and greys will lend depth to a garden, while red and orange will bring an object nearer.

Raised beds

A winner for seniors and gardeners with back problems, installing raised beds in your garden, brings the garden to you and makes it very easy. Raised beds also give you control over the soil mixture best suited to what you intend growing. Raised beds are particularly suited to vegetable growing, and can be used for growing herbs and plants that require specific soils.

Use wooden sleepers, concrete blocks or bricks and fill with a mixture of topsoil, compost and well-rotted manure. Beds should be a comfortable height and allow easy access to the centre without stretching. A further advantage of raised beds is they will help the elderly to continue to enjoy gardening.

Features in the garden

Features can transform an uninspiring summer garden into one that has lasting interest. Place a statue in a grove, an old plough in a carpet of meadow flowers, or balls and cones crafted out of saplings to create focal points in the right setting.

Decide where you need a statue, classical urn, fountain, or piece of modern art, then search until you find something suitable.

Add a touch of humour and whimsy to your garden. A specially designed molehill with a perky little pottery mole peering from its midst, or a mischievous stone rabbit hiding among vegetables is sure to amuse. Animal wire sculptures made by local crafters make charming features. Scarecrows suit vegetable patches, herb and country-style gardens.

Colourful combinations

Planting in blocks of colour is fashionable. Choose a single species or cultivar, otherwise their growth habit may not be similar and the effect will be lost. Most popular for massed plantings are mauve Tulbaghia fragrans, white wild iris (dietes), orange or yellow bulbine, and blue or white agapanthus.

Paint a feature wall and benches in a courtyard terracotta, add a central fountain surrounded by pots of citrus trees and red pelargoniums and you have set the scene for alfresco meals. Stand cinnabar-red chairs among tawny grasses, a teal blue bench near pastel flowers, and experiment with violet-blue, pumpkin or hot pink.

Grow lime-green nicotiana, lettuce and orange and yellow peppers with yellow, apricot, pink and red stems of Swiss chard Bright Lights. Ruby chard complements red peppers, ruby-red lettuce and dark-leafed basil, as does orange cosmos with blue-flowered borage. Yellow sunflowers mix well with feathery bronze fennel, and yellow and orange day lilies with the ferny foliage of tansy and lime-green lettuce. - Saturday Star

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