El Niño ready 2: Gardener or Earth custodian?

As we approach the new El Niño climate cycle, we also enter a deeper understanding of how influential and important the gardener is. Predicted dry times and heat waves ahead will have a significant impact on gardening and likely to our usually cheerful dispositions as hardships from around the country make the news. It can be challenging to remain positive and solution-driven during these times. However, The South African Nursery Association (SANA) and Life is a Garden are working hard to ensure you thrive, not only survive this period.

The first step in preparing for this weather cycle begins with the correct education. Be sure to have read Article 1 to school yourself on the fundamentals of El Niño. In this article, we arrive at the second phase of our El Niño preparedness, which is a change in mindset or ethos upgrade that recognises the evolution of the gardener from an everyday plant grower to a mighty Earth Custodian (if you aren’t one already).

We hope that you are just as inspired as we are to take on this shining title and join Life is a Garden on our mission to play for team plants, people, and planet!

In this article, we’ll be answering the following questions:

  1. What is the Good Gardener ethos?
  2. What is my conscious gardening advantage?
  3. How can I be a wildlife guardian and habitat creator?
  4. How can I look after my family?

*Before we dive in, this article is number 2 of 3 in Life is a Garden’s El Niño Preparedness Series. We recommend that you read them in chronological order for a comprehensive understanding. Together, these 3 articles will leave you well-informed and equipped for resilient gardening.

Article 1: El Niño - the new climate cycle 

  • What is El Niño and why the change from La Nina?
  • What has Africa learned from El Niño in the past?
  • What can South Africa Expect?
  • How will El Niño impact the home gardener?

 

Article 2: Gardener or Earth Custodian? (you are here)

 

Article 3: The Water Warrior Way

  • How can I affordably collect and store rainwater now?
  • How can I grow a resilient garden?
  • Is hydrozoning right for me?
  • How should I be watering my containers, beds, and lawn?
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1. What is the Good Gardener ethos?

The full impact of El Niño is predicted to play out in 2024, with temperatures expected to soar across the globe. The duration of the cycle is difficult to predict but is estimated to last for 9 to 12 months - certainly long enough to cause long-term damage if we are not prepared. This is where the Good Gardener Ethos comes in to help us acclimatise to the new mindset needed to ensure our gardens, wildlife, and ecosystems make it through the dry time ahead.

Simply put, adopting a Good Gardener Ethos means that we have taken full accountability for how we collect, conserve, and utilise each drop of water. By extension, this also means that we do not transfer all resource and infrastructure responsibility to municipalities and government. In addition, the Good Gardener acts as a Water Warrior, which includes all aspects of water-wise gardening.

The Water Warrior is part of the Earth Custodian mindset upgrade that recognises the gardener as more than just a plant grower, but an essential service individual who is aware of and ‘awake’ to the big-picture footprint their water habits have. In other words, the Good Gardener has ‘woken up’ to the accountability of their household’s water consumption and how their practices impact the country as a whole as well as surrounding wildlife and the precious balance of Mother Nature.

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2. What is my conscious gardening advantage?

In line with adopting a Good Gardener Ethos and integrating Water Warrior habits into your daily routine, conscious gardening advantages lie at the heart of the new Earth Custodian. So what does this mean? What benefits are blooming for you by taking on such a sparkling title? Have a look at these:

  • If/when Day 0 arrives, your family and your garden will have private water reserves.
  • If/when water shedding happens, you will still be able to tend to plants in need.
  • Exotic and collectable plants will still be able to thrive.
  • When you are not in survival mode, you may be able to turn your attention to the surrounding community and offer support.
  • An increased undependability from government as you put more permanent water-saving infrastructures in place, such as rainwater tanks and greywater systems (discussed in article 3)
  • A chance to redesign your landscape for optimal hydrozoning, saving you so much time and maximising your water conservation (hydrozoning unpacked in article 3)
  • A deepened connection with Mother Earth and the weather patterns.
  • Your garden may increase in indigenous flora, thereby attracting more local fauna.
  • A sense of purpose as the wildlife around you becomes increasingly dependent on you for survival.
  • You will become a wildlife guardian and habitat creator.
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3. How can I be a wildlife guardian and habitat creator?

This is a very pivotal time to be a gardener as we have a chance to reap deep fulfilment and purpose. How special we are to be the reason the owls have a home, to be the ones who feed the bees and create beautiful safe havens in the middle of cities. How kind a gardener's spirit is to treat the barbets like old friends coming for tea. Gardeners are so important that when we grow together, our greenery can be seen from space. Be it a plot or blooming balcony, wherever there is an accountable gardener, there is life that thrives!

Here are some ways you can begin your wildlife guardian journey:

  • Plant for pollinators, especially bees, butterflies, and wasps.
  • Create a body of water for birds and frogs who will really need it. Something as simple as a pond in a pot with easy critter access.
  • Build a simple but essential bird hide home.
  • Build a bat house.
  • Build or buy a bee hotel.
  • Get your bokashi buckets and compost heaps in full operation.
  • Have multiple bird feeders around your space with both fruit and seeds. GCA Garden Centres stock so many cute feeding houses and sunbird syrup with bottle drip feeders that are both decorative and much appreciated by our birdlife:
  • Only use eco poisons for rodents and prohibit any secondary poisoning as this has a devastating effect on the food chain.
  • Consider your location and what local flora grows there. Incorporate more of your region's indigenous plants  and then think about what wildlife these plants attract. You can then begin to landscape your garden to accommodate these friends.
  • If you are a balcony or small space gardener, really zone in on your plant selection and layout. You can easily include solar water features and multi-layered planters to provide perching places for birds.
  • Introduce more beneficial predator bugs into the garden that will take care of plant pests.

 

Here are some champion goeie goggas:

- Lady bug: https://www.lifeisagarden.co.za/ladybird-lovebug-garden/

- Lacewing bug: https://www.lifeisagarden.co.za/ecowarrior-lacewing/

- Lizards: https://www.lifeisagarden.co.za/eco-warrior-lizards-january-2021/

- Predator plants: https://www.lifeisagarden.co.za/incredible-carnivores-with-roots/

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4. How can I look after my family?

Beyond only caring for your garden in a drought, there is also the need to provide and care for the ones we love, of course. We wouldn't want a loved one to be in a place where they are without water for basic needs like drinking, cooking, and hygiene. The best solution is prevention, which begins with the right education and an important mindset upgrade.

Water Warrior techniques extend to inside the home as well and really includes all manners of mindful water use and storage. A free water source is the rain and we should harvest and collect as much as we can before El Niño fully sets in. Luckily, we still have time to prepare and ensure we have the correct infrastructure and tools in place. In article 3 we will look closely at the practical and affordable ways to go about this.

*The Western Cape Government has put together this informative how-to document that lists plenty of ways you can save water in your home: https://www.westerncape.gov.za/general-publication/saving-water-your-home

For now, we really need to begin the intelligent water use conversation and not because we want to start a fear-based panic and burn our gardens, but rather because we want to ensure our families are prepared and have access to the right information. Similarly, informing communities around us in areas that will particularly suffer if/when Day 0 arrives and/or water shedding happens. You can begin preparing by:

  • Collecting rainwater water in sealable containers, bottles, and tanks.
  • Educating those around you and helping them to accumulate rainwater collection items.
  • Help others to initiate water conservation practices and spread the Good Gardener Ethos.
  • Educate your household on how to use water intelligently now so that Water Warrior habits are already in place before the dry climate cycle begins.
  • Begin assessing your garden and noting the different water requirements of plants (hydrozoning).
  • Begin installing permanent infrastructures like greywater collection systems and gutter runoff catchment tanks.
  • Be sure to read article 3: The Water Warrior Way, for guidance on hydrozoning your landscape.
  • Head down to your GCA Garden Centre for water-retaining crystals and other products to increase the resilience of your garden.
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Final thoughts 

Life is a Garden and The South African Nursery Association (SANA) will continue to support you with relevant information and everyday solutions to El Niño-friendly gardening.

You can rest assured that the flower show will go on! All GCA Garden Centres and Home Stores part of SANA will be working together to bring you more products, landscaping inspiration, resources, plant suggestions, and practical guidance to support sustainable gardening.

The entire country will need to acknowledge El Niño. We invite all gardeners to embrace their new roles as Earth Custodians and journey with us as we continue to sculpt lush landscapes in dry times. The message SANA sends is that sustainable gardening plays an essential role during El Niño and some changes will need to be made to landscaping and watering methods currently used.

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