Beyond the Drought: Designing for Water Scarcity

Water wise species - and most gardeners interpret this label to mean plants that survive on little water - are currently the go-to plants as gardeners respond to a drought that ranges in degree of toughness from harsh to disastrous. But, beyond the drought – what then? Focusing on drought-hardy planting suggests to me a temporary fix, a way to ease a garden through a current crisis. We live, though, in a country of low rainfall and unreliable water supply, where future droughts are a certainty. Designing for water-scarcity then requires more from us than simply a change in plant material and installation of a water tank to collect roof runoff.

For the most part, we have gardened on through recent years, planting the same kind of landscapes as if the world was not changing around us”, wrote horticultural journalist, Thomas Christopher, in a recent blog post on Garden Rant.

Decades of American and English-style garden design, plant choice and management has given South African gardeners a legacy of high-input landscapes, leaving us high and dry when this latest severe drought hit. Yet, as the rains arrived in Durban and Gauteng, volumes were heavy and concentrated, causing wide-spread damage as water flowed off hard surfaces rather than soaking into ground prepared to receive it.