Establishing and maintaining a graceful garden along the shores of the Garden Route’s lagoons and estuaries can be a frustrating chore rather than a relaxing pastime. Knysna-based Dallas Greeff of Earth to Eden gives some guidelines on gardening in sand and salt.
WORDS Jacques Marais PHOTOGRAPHS Lisa Greyling, supplied
“Lagoon-side properties are often either at the water’s edge, or on low ground,” says Dallas Greeff, who started operating as Earth to Eden in 2007, specialising in creating, establishing and maintaining gardens throughout the Garden Route. “The soil along the shore may be affected by the tides, while tidal action also influences the fluctuating level of the subterranean water table, affecting the soil of gardens in low lying areas. This saltwater infiltrating the soil leaves salty deposits behind when it retreats.
“Winds blowing in from our estuaries and lagoons are laden with saltwater vapour, which is deposited on plants’ leaves. The close proximity of the ocean and the sea breezes we experience also mean plants are getting more than their fair share of salt.”
Dallas suggests using indigenous plants, especially endemic varieties. “I prefer working with plants that are local to a specific region,” he explains. “They have adapted to thrive in conditions that other plants would struggle with like, for instance, salty soil and gusting winds. This is the easiest way to ensure a happy, healthy garden.”
In areas close to the water’s edge, or that are affected by the changing levels of the water table, Dallas suggests planting hardy vygies like the Carpobrotus edulis (sour fig or Cape fig). Members of the restio family, especially Elegia tectorum (Cape thatching reed), also do well in these areas. For extra colour Dallas suggests supplementing your planting with gazanias. “Gazanias bloom over a long period in the summer and produce large flowers in various colours.
“Don’t enrich the soil too much in these areas – the returning tides and fluctuating water table will wash most of the additives away. This is also why it’s a good idea to work with plants that naturally occur in these areas. Regular watering will wash away some of the salt deposits.”
For areas further away from the tideline and on higher ground, Dallas enriches the typically sandy soil with compost. “A great tip is filling a large cardboard box with a good quality compost and planting your plant in this box. Then you plant the box into the ground. The cardboard will disintegrate over time, but by then your plant will be well established.”
In these areas Dallas uses plants like the bushy Aloe arborescens (krantz aloe) and the taller, fast growing Aloe thraskii (dune aloe) in his clients’ gardens. Fruit bearing shrubs like the Carissa macrocarpa (num-num bush) are sure to attract a host of birds and even some small wildlife to the garden. If you want to bring in extra colour and texture into the garden, exotic plants like the Gaura (beeblossoms) and any of the lavenders also work well along the local lagoons.
“If you are going to introduce exotic species, you should compost your plants at least once a year, and water and feed them regularly. Speak with your local specialist about the specific requirements of each species.”
Trees that thrive in lagoon-side gardens include Syzygium cordatum (waterbessie), Erythrina caffra (coastal coral tree), Dodonaea angustifolia (sand olive) and Sideroxylon inerme (white milkwood). “The flowers and fruits of these trees will also attract many birds and small animals to the garden,” Dallas says.
“If you have your heart set on a garden filled with exotic plants, or plants that don’t naturally occur along our lagoons, consider using pots.”