Media Release: Gardens in times of drought, and towards water sensitivity


ALL green areas – whether planted landscapes, wild areas, or a road verge with weeds – contribute to the urban ecosystem. They are vital to our well-being: green areas produce air for us to breathe, they filter pollution, absorb storm water and reduce flooding, purify water and maintain a pleasant temperature. Without sufficient planted areas and infiltration – due to the many tarred and paved areas, and reflective surfaces – the city heats up. This is known as the urban heat island effect: pollution levels rise and our quality of life decreases. On summer days, especially when there is no wind, the raised temperature is already evident in the City Bowl, which is a few degrees hotter than the suburbs.

Gardens form an important part of the urban ecosystem and are not a luxury: they are a necessity. Green areas provide habitat for wildlife and are good for our well-being. Please do not feel guilty about gardening! We encourage anyone with access to alternative water sources, such as borehole or grey water, to use it responsibly to help maintain the urban ecosystem. Furthermore help spread awareness of its value and the importance of permeable surfaces for infiltration of rain. This will make a positive difference.

Some simple ways you can help preserve the urban ecosystem:

  1. Do not remove successful plants.Consider valuing plants for their resilience and ecological function, in addition to personal preference. A thriving common or weedy plant is better than nothing green at all!
  2. Mulch all planted areaswith a 5 to 10cm thick layer of mulch. This dramatically reduces water loss from the soil surface and keeps it cool. Organic mulches such as chipped wood and leaves are best, as they feed the soil and your plants.
  3. Keep areas planted, not paved. Consider how important it is for rainwater to infiltrate the soil: this is important for recharging groundwater (and good for trees) and keeps the ambient temperature down. Avoid hard surfaces where possible and use permeable pavingwhen a hard durable surface is required.
  4. If you do have a borehole, water deeply and infrequently. Mimic a good rainfall event of say 50mm and really saturate an area, with water penetrating at least 50-60cm into the soil. You may only need to do this every 3 to 4 weeks.

For more information on resilient landscaping and an educational quizz ‘How water-wise are you?’ please visit

Text by Marijke Honig, published as a media release, October 2017.

Shared as part of the Bridging Waters Conversation around the importance of trees for liveable cities (22 Feb 2018)

Trees reduce air pollution in the urban environment, absorb CO2 and shade roads to decrease heat sink aspects. (Clare Burgess)

Wild green belt / city parkland. (Marijke Honig)

Low maintenance road verge with no irrigation. (Marijke Honig)

Two local resilient plants species – Hermannia pinnata and Senecio crassulifolius. (Marijke Honig)


I don’t want to stay grubby forever!

Or, what does the new normal really look like?

I was at a dinner party recently, and the conversation inevitably turned to the current water situation. People were comparing how we manage to stay clean. Some of us choose to shower less often, but when we shower it’s a nice one, while others prefer a daily rub down. One person asked with exasperation, are we going to have to stay grubby forever? Is this how we are going to live forever?

The question caused a bit of silence, followed by the jokes that dinner parties exist for – to give us some light reprieve from the daily struggles. But it stayed with me and I want to try answer it here.

My answer is yes and no. Yes, some things have to change – for example how and what we plant. We need to rethink lawns, for example. Lawns in shared spaces like public parks I believe is justified, but at household level I would rather argue for indigenous, drought tolerant plants. The Cape Green Forum, a business network for landscapers and similar peoples recently (August 2017) hosted a workshop resulting in a website to assist with planting guides, for example: the Cape Resilient Landscaping Forum.

But also, no. We need to find better ways to supply water for the things we need – like proper showers. We need water to thrive, and having a strained relationship with how much we are allowed to use does little with keeping us well-balanced. Finding ways to improve our relationship with water is key to Water Sensitive Design, and as individuals we can help explore this. This is rewarded in the AquaSavvy campaign through category 1: Individual actions and retrofitting existing buildings.

We need to change how we think about water, we need to make it more visible to our daily lives, at all levels. The new normal demands us to be conscious about our water use, but this does not need to be a restrictive consciousness. Let’s find new ways to thrive!

The featured image is of an artpiece by Daniela Forti.