Fynbos Gardening

How to create an attractive firewise garden
– By Jenny Berrisford

This article, written by Jenny Berrisford, originally appeared in the January 2014 Kogelberg Branch Newsletter.  It is, without a doubt still incredibly relevant today. 

The recent very wet winter has resulted in either very lush new growth or dead plants which have been “drowned”  by the high water table.

First and foremost you need to remove all dead vegetation, and then prune back any tall growth near the house. This will certainly leave you with a huge pile of potentially hazardous material should there be a fire. Contact one of the garden service companies to remove this for you, or load up a bakkie or trailer and take it to one of the dumps.

Keep tree branches trimmed well away from the roof-line. Your shrubberies should be some distance away from the house. If you plant fire resistant ground covers around this area you will create a neat contained border which will help keep flames away from the taller, inflammable indigenous vegetation.

Again I state the obvious………..Alien vegetation; especially that which originates from Australia, is much more likely to burn, and very hotly at that.  There is an exception to this situation…….our indigenous “gonnabos” or passerine. This plant was used by the voortrekkers as  “firelighters” for their  “bak-oonde”. The pollen, produced in spring, can cause severe allergic re-actions. Remove these unattractive plants from your erf.

It is a good idea to have buffalo lawn or sourfig (carpobrotus sp.) planted near the house. Not only will this keep the flames away from the buildings but firefighters will have easy access to the buildings. You could add some height to this part of the garden by adding aloes or other succulents.

Suitable attractive groundcovers will help keep the soil from getting too hot in summer while at the same time act as fire-retardants.

* indicates succulent plants

 Very low growing on the outside of the bed:

Cotulata turbinate,

Helichrysum argyrophylla,

Diamondia margaretae,

Hermania angularis

*Sedum rubrotinctum,

monopsis lutea (for wet places)

Slightly taller plants towards the inside:

*bulbine frutescens,

*crassula multicava,

*tulbaghis violaceae,

*miniature agapanthus,

*plectranthus neochilus, Gazania rigens / uniflora,

Sutera for shady areas

Be careful of the sprawling larger “groundcovers” like the Barleria species, Osteospermum sp., Arctotis sp. and Geranium incanum. These pretty plants straggle into everything and need to be regularly pruned to keep them looking good.

GARDEN HINT: I mentioned in an earlier article how to treat the shady and often windy southern side of the building. If you wish to plant this area…now is the time…you have maximum sun and the soil temperature is warm enough for plants/cuttings to become established. Obviously some watering is required.