Friday, October 30, 2009

Waterwise gardens - Prince Albert style

- Richard Dean -

A visitor’s first impression of a town is important. The drab and dusty entrances and main streets of many Karoo villages are so unappealing that the weary driver just wants to keep on driving, hoping that that the next place will look a lot better. The village entrance sign can set the tone for the whole village.
Gardens at the entrance to a village or town say more than just being a colourful patch in what may otherwise be a dry and dusty landscape. They are an advertisement, in their way, for what the visitor may expect culturally and ecologically. They can be used as a statement of environmental and social values of the people of the town. For example the little garden at the entrance to Prince Albert displays a number of aloes and other indigenous plants, offsetting the Prince Albert sign.

A garden such as this, and neat and clean roadsides, suggests that the citizens of that village have a sense of pride in their surroundings, are aware of the water-saving and aesthetic qualities of local plants and want to offer a place where visitors can feel comfortable.
With this in mind, and with an eye on the cleanest (and, it goes without saying, most attractive) town award, and given that water is a limiting resource in our village, the Prince Albert Municipality recently commissioned several gardens in the northern parts of the town. The town does have its own, unmanaged flower displays, but these are something of a lottery - in "good" rainfall years the flowers on the golf course and roadsides approaching Prince Albert from the north are as showy as anything Namaqualand has to offer, but in "bad" years there is no show.

What is critical in the Karoo, and particularly in a village such as Prince Albert, where the rainfall fits the United Nations definition of a desert (less than 250 mm average rainfall per annum), is that gardens are waterwise, with plants that do not need to be watered every day, or even every week. English country gardens are not only inappropriate, but seriously out of place in the Karoo. It is possible to create a colourful and attractive patch in a garden without resorting to a water-hungry lawn fringed by hollyhocks and roses.

The new garden at the municipal building opposite OK Foods, where BADISA and the local office of the Dept of Sports and Recreation are housed, has made a drab, dusty and somewhat rundown building rather more interesting, colourful and attractive. BADISA is a Tswana word meaning shepherd and caretaker. It is a social service and development organisation that runs programmes for people in need. A cheerful garden may help to uplift the spirit if not offer more tangible benefits.

The gardens in Voorstraat at the entrance to the North End community and at Rondomskrik have similarly brightened the surroundings. What has been good to see is that vandalism of these gardens is fairly minor, suggesting that there has been the development of a sense of pride in the environment. These gardens were prepared by Freeman Williams and his team, working with the Renu-karoo team who planted the plants in the compost and mulch that the Municipality purchased from Renu-Karoo.

The Municipality had been forward thinking in commissioning indigenous gardens, and their choice of gardens is also appropriate for this water challenged village. A number of visitors have recently mentioned that they are surprised and impressed by the large number of interesting and unusual indigenous plants they have noticed in Prince Albert gardens – apparently far more than in other villages – so the Municipality seems to be setting the trend.

But getting back to the beginning of this piece, and the show piece theme; gardens can be successfully used to advertise businesses, or at any rate, to put the name of a business in the public eye. Sponsored gardens are popular in other parts of the world, for example the garden in the picture below is located in Bishop's Waltham, in the UK, where the name of the sponsor can clearly be seen.

A well tended garden is one way of demonstrating that the sponsoring business is keen to put something back into the community. Local businesses in Prince Albert have an opportunity to do something similar, and the local garden club could also sponsor a garden, demonstrating how to create a waterwise garden.

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