Around 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to water, that’s according to World Wildlife’s website. The world is watching Cape Town and everyone’s asking how did we get here? Or why didn’t anyone do anything before things got worse? The thing is, we are here, and this is because of the everyday choices we all make when it comes to water use. It’s said that World War 3 will be for water; as satellite data from NASA shows that 21 of the 37 water aquifers are severely distressed. Tomorrow it could be elsewhere.
We have four constructed sites in Cape Town, three of which had horticulture. A year and a half ago when the water restrictions kept getting worse, I asked the contractors to switch the irrigation off and not water the sites. As much as we take pride in the way our sites look and strive to do better, we also had to be responsible as we did not want to be seen as an organisation that valued pretty plants and green grass over the daily water needs of people. It was the right thing to do. By the time the water restrictions reached an all-time low, we already became proactive.
Last year on my trip to Cape Town, I stayed in a bed and breakfast whose owner was serious about saving and using water responsibly. Showers were limited to three minutes, there were waterless hand sanitizers and she put out only 2 x 5L bottles of water per day, which was less than the 57L per person daily use imposed by the municipality. The used (grey) water was directed to a tank and reused in the garden and toilets. It was a real lesson for me as well.
Most trees and plants have died and have been removed. I am of the opinion that the water restrictions will not be lifted now or this year and if they are there will be stricter measures put in place so that there isn’t a repeat of this situation. It’s been sad seeing the sites deteriorate but it is also an opportunity to introduce water-wise and waterless gardens. We unfortunately don’t have any well points or boreholes in any of these sites and even if we apply to install a borehole we have to comply with the Department of Water Affairs legislation (National Water act).
Truth be told we are certainly not the only people in the world to re-think our gardening approach because of water. With dry gardening one uses drought tolerant plants in dry climate areas. I have seen some very lovely CWGC sites on twitter like El Alamein, Tobruk war cemetery and our very own Thaba Tshwane Old 1 military cemetery which don’t even have turf and have plants selected to suit the climatic condition of that area. Sometimes it’s about changing our mindset and taking the situation we are in and turning it into something positive and exciting.
I’d like the sites to look better and show that it is possible to create beautiful dry gardens, so I went on a fact finding mission and visited the Karoo Desert National botanical garden in Worcester just over 100km from Cape Town. They have the most insane Aloes, Mesembs (best time to see them flower is around July), Crassula’s, Echeveria and so many plant species. It gives an idea of how one can use different leaf shapes, textures colours for garden design. I then went to the renowned Kirstenbosch Botanical garden to establish contacts and build relationships and to see some of the plant species we can use in the near future. I think I got to appreciate Fynbos plants a lot. I walked away thinking it is possible, it can be done. How can it not! We (CWGC) have the best minds all over the world who can help and give guidance too..
Let’s do our part and be responsible with water!