The water-wise succulent garden

Let’s face it, water is perhaps our most precious natural resource and we are notoriously bad at conserving it. The recent ‘day zero’ scenario in Cape Town was an ominous sign of just how scary life can be without water, and although it may have caused a few nervous breakdowns in Constantia, it’s no doubt been an invaluable lesson in water conservation for the masses.

Cape Town is by no means out of the woods yet, and many other parts of the country have been threatened with the impending arrival of ‘water-shedding’ as a proactive approach to managing this essential resource. So, in the interest of inspiring a new wave of H2O heroes, we’re looking at a particular solution to saving water: growing a water-wise succulent garden.

Indigenous, water-wise and oh-so-nice!

Did you know that of the roughly 10 000 different succulent species on the plant, 47% are indigenous to South Africa? Not only are these gorgeous little marvels proudly South African in origin, they’re amongst the hardiest, most resilient plants you can grow and they are perfectly adapted to life here in sunny SA.

Succulents are commonly recognised by their fleshy storage organs (found in the stems, leaves or roots), which enable the plant to store excess water and survive the most hostile, draught-ridden conditions, during which water is not readily available to the roots. A succulent’s shape, colour and texture (for which they are highly prized, incidentally) are products of evolutionary adaptation to combat moisture loss and minimise heat absorption, truly making them water-saving powerhouses and ensuring that they require very little maintenance or care.

You may love the lush green leaves and bold flowers decorating your carefully cultivated garden, but have you considered how many of these extravagant species originate from humid rainforest biomes, and require hundreds of liters of water to maintain? The water you waste on these alien plants doesn’t help our country or your monthly utilities bill.

Furthermore, when one considers the nearly endless array of different succulent species and their myriad sizes, colours, textures, fractal growth patterns and spectacular flowers, the landscaping design options are just as extensive as when using more water-intensive plants.

Many succulents even have a variety of medicinal and homeopathic applications, with various Aloe species being hailed for their efficaciousness. 

Some starter succulents

Head down to your local nursery and take a look at some of these wonderfully water-wise options:

  • Aloes
  • Crassulas
  • Kalanchoe
  • Echeveria
  • Senecio spp.
  • spekboom (Portulacaria afra)
  • Bulbine frutescens

So, why not play your part in saving water, promoting indigenous garden plants and introducing practical beauty to your garden with some South African succulents?