World Water Day is celebrated on the 22nd of March and this year’s theme is accelerating change!
This year, World Water Day is about accelerating change to solve the global water and sanitation crisis. We can all can make a difference by changing the way we use, consume and manage water on a daily basis.
One of the easiest ways to save water is by planting indigenous, water-wise plants in your garden. The first thing that normally comes to mind when mentioning water-wise plants is succulents and aloes, but there are many other plants that are beneficial in their own way to help you conserve water in your garden. A great example of this is groundcovers which cover the soil and help to reduce evaporation, thereby helping to conserve water.
Water-wise plants refer to plants that typically grow in regions with lower rainfall, and thus require less water throughout the growing season. Succulents, aloes, and cacti are good examples of water-wise plants.
Here are some suggestions of indigenous plants to add to your Lowveld garden if you want to be water-conscious.
Agapanthus praecox (Blue lily)
Agapanthus is one of the most popular plants in South Africa and is cultivated world-wide. The beautiful blue or white blooms look stunning during the summer flowering season and help to liven up an otherwise dull area of the garden. The evergreen foliage provides colour throughout the year, and the plants can withstand a fair amount of neglect.
Ledebouria petiolata (Leopard Lily)
The Leopard Lily (previously known as Drimiopsis maculata) is a small, but hardy deciduous bulb that makes a wonderful groundcover if mass planted. It prefers semi-shade conditions but will survive in sunny areas and can handle a fair amount of neglect. Use it to liven up a dry, semi-shaded corner of your garden, or add it to a mixed container. It has beautiful spotted leaves (hence the common name), and produces tiny white flowers on long stalks which are pollinated by moths at night.
German bearded Irises have sword-like leaves that form from the base of the plant with dark purple-pale blue flowers. They are very easy to grow and are great for beginner gardeners. They grow throughout South Africa but are not well suited to the humid coastal regions of KwaZulu-Natal and the Lowveld. A common mistake gardeners make is to overwater their Irises; once established they are extremely water-wise and will only require watering when the top three inches of soil dries out. Less frequent deep watering is better than frequent shallow watering.
This beautiful succulent groundcover more commonly known as baby sun rose is a favourite for retaining walls and dry patches of soil where other plants may struggle. It is rich green in colour, with dainty pinkish-red flowers and can spread rapidly, helping to cover an area in a short space of time. It can be used to stabilise soil in areas which may be susceptible to run-off or erosion or can be used as a lawn replacement for difficult to reach areas. A golden-coloured variety is also available.
Tulbaghia violacea (wild garlic)
Tulbaghia (Wild Garlic) is one of the hardiest species on the list and has become very popular with gardeners and landscape architects around the country. It has a long-flowering period, and when mass planted creates a stunning display with its pinkish-mauve flowers. It can survive extended dry spells as well as heavy rain and is generally a fuss-free plant provided it is used in a sunny to semi-shade position. Clumps can be split after a few years and used elsewhere in the garden.
These clump-forming groundcovers have tubular succulent green leaves, giving them a grass-like appearance. They spread quickly, producing star-shaped yellow or orange flowers borne on tall spikes. They can be mass planted for a water-wise border or added to a verge to cover bare patches of soil. Cuttings can be taken and planted at the base of young trees to assist with water-retention and to help prevent accidental damage from weed-eaters.
Apart from attracting beneficial pollinators to your garden, the sap found in the leaves of the plant also has antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and wound-healing properties.
The gel-like sap can be used to treat burns, cuts, insect bites, rashes, eczema, acne, cold sores and many more. It also helps to stop bleeding and acts as an immune booster. Both the leaves and flowers are edible. No wonder it is considered as a wonder plant and the perfect natural first aid kit.
Aloes are hardy, beautiful species that can be used as shrubs or as structural plants in water-wise gardens. Numerous species exist in Southern Africa, and several hybrids have been cultivated for the market. Care should be taken not to over-water aloes, which may increase their susceptibility to disease. Popular species include Aloe arborescens (Krantz Aloe), Aloe marlotii (Mountain Aloe), and Aloe Ferox (Bitter Aloe). Note that many Aloe species suffer from a leaf scale which can turn the plants white, and homeowners should be proactive in removing this – consult your local nursery for a solution.