TURNING GARDEN EXTINCTION TO DISTINCTION

The Fynbos Circle on the Constantia greenbelt.

A new concept aimed at bringing living examples of threatened indigenous plant species to the doorsteps of urban gardeners in the Western Cape has been launched in Cape Town.

The 1 000m2 Fynbos Circle on the Grootboschkloof green belt in Constantia and the 1 000m2 Strandveld Circle on the edge of Zandvlei in Muizenberg showcase two of Cape Town’s endemic and endangered veld types, Peninsula Granite Fynbos and Cape Flats Dune Strandveld. The third circle is planned for Newlands.

The innovative concept is the brainchild of Fynbos rehabilitation ecologist Dr Caitlin von Witt. Her vision is to replicate the concept throughout South Africa and internationally as a user-friendly way of bridging the divide between urban and rural environments by positioning circular gardens in urban corridors in cities and towns.

Dr Caitlin de Witt at work in the field.

In partnership with the City of Cape Town, the FynbosLIFE nursery has created the veld circles as part of the FundaFynbos educational project ‘to illustrate by example how easy and rewarding it is for urban and rural gardeners to plant indigenous wildflowers in their gardens while becoming biodiversity custodians’, Caitlin says.

The Constantia ‘garden of extinction’ was the first example of the concept and features threatened indigenous plant species arranged in a circular pattern at the confluence of well used urban cycling and hiking trails.

‘The LIFE garden biodiversity project provides a model for such integration by linking environmental education and recreation in a creative space that closes the gap between gardens and nature reserves,’ she says. 

‘The Grootboskloof garden was the first of what we hope will be many such wildflower circles. This biodiversity garden uses the shape of a flower to exhibit locally indigenous plants in circular patterns. We transformed a field of invasive alien grasses into a sizeable area of natural vegetation that provides refuge for wildlife. The garden also improves connectivity between the mountain and Cape Flats nature reserves amidst the urban sprawl.

‘Pathways allow easy access to view the plants around the petals of the flower design. A “secret garden of extinction” containing threatened plants is positioned in the middle of each petal. The central area comprises a play area of large tree tumps representing the anthers and stigmas of a flower.’

Information signs on each plant species, including a brief description as well as info on their natural distribution, associated wildlife and cultivation in home gardens, have been conveniently positioned in and around the plantings. Gardeners can familiarise themselves with water-wise wild plants that are adapted to the local climate and wildlife – all in a completely non-irrigated garden.

Caitlin remarks that every garden owner has the potential to contribute to urban biodiversity corridors and water conservation in this way.

‘In exchange, adult and child gardeners are provided with the opportunity to reconnect with nature. They can learn about the intricate ecological interactions between plants, pollinators and the abiotic environment and understand the necessity for conservation of these ecological processes to sustain life on earth.’

She adds that the Grootboskloof LIFE biodiversity garden has attracted garden clubs, horticultural groups, hiking clubs, school visits and adult and children’s birthday parties. Trail and dog walkers, as well as MTB cyclists, often call in for an informal visit. The Sweet Valley Primary Eco-Club has adopted the garden as a biodiversity and nature project and a group of residents from the neighbouring Constantia Hills suburb is assisting with maintenance.

‘Positive feedback from users has been overwhelming. Joggers have said they feel safer in the area and other visitors have declared that they will plant some of the plants in their gardens at home after reading the signs.

‘A critical first step is reconnecting people with nature, thereby cultivating care for the local environment. I believe that bridging the divide between urban and rural through ecologically sound public biodiversity gardens is a key method of bringing the “wild” back into our cities and everyday life.

‘By rehabilitating a degraded fynbos ecosystem we have created a garden that serves as a biodiversity stepping stone, recreational visitor garden and outdoor classroom rolled into one. It is an educational tool for environmental educators, learners and recreational users, showcasing the importance of biodiversity corridors and raising awareness around lowland veld types in a biodiversity hotspot.

‘With over 83% of Earth’s wild mammals and 50% of plant populations lost to human overpopulation and overconsumption, urgent environmental action is required to protect our planet for future generations. Most of the damage arises in cities, which contain over half of the world’s population crammed into less than 3% of the earth’s surface. For the same reasons, cities also provide a backdrop for environmental education to have its greatest impact,’ Caitlin says.

The unique garden concept is a collaboration between FynbosLIFE, City of Cape Town, Friends of Constantia Valley Greenbelts and WESSA (the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa).

Visit www.fynboslife.com for more information.

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