It’s almost the end of winter and time to start thinking about the nice hot Cape sun that’s on its way. With that comes the need to protect and maintain our gardens with proper watering.

Before the season begins, check that your irrigation system is functioning properly. I often get asked to repair and service garden irrigation systems and most problems are fairly easy to fix, like the reprogramming of computer systems or the removal of grains of sands from irrigation heads.

If there is a problem, before you spend money on getting in an expert, here are 10 easy steps to check first.

1. If the system is automated then check the computer to see if it is plugged in! If it is unplugged and there is a backup battery it will still look as if the system is on but actually it is only storing the program info and the system will not come on until AC power is on.

2. When the system has been standing unused all winter and you turn it on for the first time, any grains of sand that may have got into the line will be pushed forward and block the heads up. If you know how to get the heads off then check them for dirt and clear them out.

3. If the computer appears to be working but no water is running then check that somebody has not switched off the stopcock, normally located at the green box holding the valves for the irrigation. Also check that the stopcock for the mains to your property has not been switched off. This would stop all water to the property.

4. You notice that one or more of your stations is running with a very weak waterflow. Walk from valve box towards the part of the garden that is being watered and check for any water that might be seeping out of the ground. This is where most of your water flow is going. Sometimes there is a surge in the water pressure which often causes the pipe to burst through a joint in the line. If you have dogs on your property, there’s a possibility that they may have chewed through the pipe.

5. If you notice that there is water leaking out of one or more of the valve heads and flooding the valve box, then you may have to replace a valve unit. Remove the valve and take it to your local hardware store and ask someone for a new one. Fitting this back on the system can be tricky, so this may be an occasion to call your local irrigation specialists for help.

6. You manually switch the valve on and the station works but when you try the computer, it fails, yet will tell you that the station is running. There is a chance the wires going from the computer to the valves have been disconnected. Look for any breaks in the wires or exposed wire that are being grounded causing the valve to fail.

7. You notice that the pipe has a nick in it, probably from a spade or a pitchfork. Dig up the area around the damaged piece to expose the pipe. Use a serrated knife and cut straight through the pipe 3mm either side of the nick. Buy a straight joiner which will join the two ends. A little trick is also boil some water and dip the cut ends into it to soften the pipes so they slide into the joiner easier.

8. When a micro head or sprayer is broken it is not always necessary to replace the whole set. A cheaper option is to take it in to your nearest hardware store and they will give you the relevant part for replacement.

9. If the pop-ups are sticking and not retracting into the ground once the water has switched off, it’s probably because there is a grain of sand struck between the shaft (pop-up part) and the housing. Gently unscrew the whole housing and slowly remove it from the ground. Try not disturb the ground around the hole as sand might get into the pipe and cause more problems. Unscrew the housing around the shaft and slowly allow the large internal spring to push up. Clean the shaft and the sleeve (this is the top you unscrewed) with water. Reassemble and slowly screw back into the line underground. If this does not work then replace whole unit.

10. Every six months check the back up battery. In most cases it is a 9v battery. Touch the two terminals on your tongue – if the battery is ok you’ll get a mild shock (don’t worry, it’s a VERY mild shock). You can also switch off the mains but if the battery is flat you will lose all the settings and it will all have to be reset. The battery is almost always tucked away at the bottom of the computer of behind it (the computer face clips open like a door). Always take a sample of what you need to replace as there are so many sizes and similar parts. If you can’t do that then use your cellphone to take a photograph as a reference.

If you get stuck, if you’ve tried everything and it still won’t work, give me a call, it’s usually a simple fix.

I’m so glad to see these days that nobody has any reason to dump illegally. Poorly managed municipal sites have been replaced by well managed ‘recycling depots’ which are so much more accessible and user friendly.

When I started my garden maintenance business 14 years ago there was no easy way to get rid of your garden waste properly. Ok there was a municipal dump here and there but they were run so badly that people were almost forced to drive to an open piece of land to dump their waste, anything from builders rubble to black bags of garden waste.
Thankfully these days the story is a very different one and I would love to meet the person who finally decided enough was enough and outsourced waste management in Cape Town. Whoever it was obviously understood that the way things were going it was a ticking time bomb.
The depots have been opened and enlarged to accommodate all types of waste that can be recycled and later reused.

I frequent the Hout Bay depot almost every working day and if you want to see how a dump site should be run this is probably the best in Cape Town. I’ve visited eight in the Cape region and it is so different from the previous tiny over crowded dump area that is now Hout bay police station. I used to see people bribing the council worker to let them dump for R10 so that they didn’t have to go to the poky office in the Harbour before 1:35pm to purchase a dump ticket, of which you were allowed only one per person per day, for R10.50! I still want to know what the 50cents was really for!

Today I, as the owner of a gardening company, can do up to 3 loads of garden cuttings, which includes anything from logs to bags of grass cuttings, a day or one load of builders rubble and its all for free! If you have any old planks they will take it as well but it gets stacked in a separate pile. I’ve been told the reason for this is that the chemicals they used in treating the wood is no good for making compost. A permanent industrial chipper processes all the green waste which is then taken away to a farm to be turned into compost. The removal company gets paid by the ton of waste removed.

What particularly impresses me about the Hout Bay depot is that it is clean at all times, as clean as a dump site can be, it has a large, well maintained, colourful garden – hell its even got a working pond with a pump and gold fish! The foreman tells me that 95% of what is in that garden is recycled waste and the remaining 5% is bought by all the workers on site with their own money! If that is not pride in your work place then I don’t know what is. They have old rowing boats filled with recycled soil and plants. All the irrigation is from site to keep all the garden areas green and flowering.

It’s so great to see a work force so proud of turning a dump site into a pride of joy. The depot employes are happy in their work, they’re friendly and chatty and only too glad to take what you don’t want. Its people like this that give me so much hope for this country and its future.

If you’re ever in Hout Bay, or if you need to get rid of your garden waste, go give them a visit and see the unbelievable work they have done. The hand painted logo as you enter is ‘Hout Bay cares’, and they obviously do.

We all know of at least a handful of plants that we are able to grow that have more use other than to make our gardens look good.

The lemon tree is probably the first that comes to mind. Just think for a second about the various ways that a lemon can come in handy on a daily basis! Truth is if you go out into your garden and look around, you will find a lot more plants that will have at least one use in the home. Lavender, rosemary and bay trees are just some of the millions of plants around the world that people use in their homes every day.

Even common old ivy has a use – when was the last time you were at a wedding? What was wrapped around the table centre piece? Ivy, of course – because of its colour and the way the leaves hold their shape it’s one of the best plants to use for a table dressing.

I recently also found out that even dandelion is great when it’s used in a smoothie, its green leaves are supposedly very good at helping our bodies to detox. In fact, a lot of over the counter medication we buy is based on commonly found plant extract. Of course, you can grow your own medicine if you like, and many people do, but that’s a whole other blog.

For the most part, we use our common garden plants in our everyday lives and don’t even realise it. So the next time you sit down at your garden table with your dandelion smoothie, the one you’re using to wash down your hangover cure, stop and think of the trees and plants it took for that moment to happen!

    For those of you who would really like to try a dandelion smoothie, or even smoothies made with other weeds, have a look at this website

Ok so I know we want to attract more wildlife to our gardens – but let’s be honest, slugs are not our friends. They chomp their way through our beautifully tended foliage, leaving their slimy horrible trails. Occasionally someone accidentally stomps on one that has happened to slink across the path way, leaving a gory mess that has to be navigated for days.

You can, of course, purchase slug repellent from most hardware stores and garden centres, but for those of you that are interested in a non-chemical approach, there are alternatives (some really messy ones though!).


Physical barriers can be useful when a plant is still young and relatively vulnerable. An easy approach is to use a cut up plastic soda bottle – cut off the top and bottom to form a cylinder that is placed around the plant. If there are many plants grouped together, place clear plastic edging around them, with at least 20 cm above ground and 10 cm below. This won’t of course halt all slugs but it will form a formidable barrier, just make sure that there are no slugs in the earth that you are cordoning off.

It’s also possible to spread material that makes it difficult for slugs to move – things like sand, ashes, broken eggshells and soot are great for drying up the mucous glands that ease their movement. These materials need replacing frequently though as they tend to blow away in the wind or become water-logged, which of course defeats the purpose.

Beer or milk traps

This is a great method for a smallish garden, it would take a lot of work in a large area. Dig a hole for a smooth glass bottle, make sure that the neck protrudes by 1 or 2 cm from the ground, and pour in some beer or milk. Then sit back and wait. The liquid has to be replenished every few days, and it’s really important to make sure that the bottle protrudes, otherwise you’ll inadvertently drown some really lovely ground beetles that do a lot of hard work in pest control in your garden. Perhaps this is a more useful method of protecting vulnerable plants by placing the bottle right next to the plant.

Night time by torch light

Eeeeuw this is the yucky one, not for the faint hearted and you’ve really got to love your plants. Take your torch and go a-hunting at night for slugs that have come out to play. You’ll need a needle or hat pin (told you this is going to be yucky, if you’re squeamish STOP reading now!) and use it to spear the slugs, then dispose of them as you will. Comfort yourself with the knowledge that death is quick, that they didn’t feel a thing and that it’s preferable to a slow drowning or poisoning. (I know, that doesn’t help me either yuck yuck yuck)

Soil conditioning

This is a great method for a larger plot – turn over the soil using a rotovator and this will reduce the slug population by about 75%. It should only be done in early spring though and the earth needs to be dry. Not only does rotovation kill slugs it also exposes their eggs to the environment. Using a spade can also be of benefit but obviously not to the same scale as a rotovator.

Get rid of weeds that they like too, like dandelions.

Controlled refuges

Encourage the population growth of ground-living insect predators with artificial refuges like old wooden boards, small bits of carpets, big stones and so on. Bugs love to hide under these and then come out at night looking for a bit of dinner.

While none of these methods are failsafe, they will at least assist in keeping down the slug numbers without the use of chemicals.

Happy hunting (yuck!)

PS with grateful acknowledgement to Professor William O C Symondson at the Cardiff School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, thanks for a great read.

So I have eaten all the raspberries except one!

Apart from that, I decided that the best way forward from here was to dissect the last remaining raspberry and separate the seeds.

I was quite surprised to find no less than 45 seeds! Once I had all 45 juicy pods separated I squashed the juice out of them and could feel the seeds under the spoon. This was quite a messy job and now I see why rasberry juice can stain so badly! My fingers changed to a reddish colour as I tried to separate the seeds from the mush I had made from the squashing process.

Next, I guessed that it would be best to dry the seeds to get them ready for planting and what better way than a single square of toilet paper to soak up the juice. The seeds are very small and I realized that the only way I was going to transplant them to the toilet paper was with tweezers. I spaced them far enough apart so that once dry I can cut the toilet paper up and have 45 neatly wrapped seeds that can be planted as is, inside the toilet paper. The toilet paper will also help to absorb water in the beginning and will break down to nothing.

This past weekend I was with my family and some friends walking through a farm that grows all types of berries, like strawberries, blackberries and raspberries. We were able to pick the last remaining raspberries on the vines and take them home.

As you do when you’re on your holidays, I thought I would bring home our pickings and try to replicate the plant. I wondered how easy or difficult it would be to grow my own raspberry vines using the raspberries that we picked.

    The first thing I noticed is that the raspberry is made up of loads of little juicy pods and inside each pod is a seed. The way I see it, each seed represented the potential for a new plant. Or does it? So this is step one in my little experiment in trying to find out how easy or difficult it is to grow raspberries from seeds.

    I’ll dry out the juicy pods and get the seeds ready for planting, and let you know.

    I found this article in today’s online edition of The Guardian, In Praise of Butterflies.

    The article mentions that a UK butterfly conservation group has seen its membership grow by 48%. If you follow the link you’ll find a great resource on attracting butterflies to your garden.

    Did you know that there are more than 670 species of butterflies in South Africa, and at least 10 times more as many species of moth?

      That’s according to “Bring Nature Back To Your Garden”, a really great reference book for South African gardeners. It’s written by a Durban couple, Charles & Julia Botha, who have years of experience between them. The book is full of great tips for people who enjoy their outdoor space. There is a chapter in this book about attracting butterflies and moths to your garden, but the couple have also published a separate title on the subject – “Bring Butterflies Back to your Garden”

        A garden populated with butterflies is a garden full of light and moving colour. Unfortunately, with the spread of urbanization, natural areas are being bricked over and gardens are becoming smaller, leaving less space for butterflies and moths to flourish. Females need lots of sticky leaves on which to lay their eggs and the larvae won’t survive without an abundance of good food around them when they eventually eat through their shell.

          Indigenous gardeners who wish to turn their gardens into own mini nature reserves will be rewarded with a beautiful show of pretty butterflies.

          What to do to attract butterflies:

            Give up on having the perfect foliage

              Accept that leaves are meant to have holes in them, and not be the perfect shape. In their natural state, leaves and plants are propagated by visiting insects and there’s a really good reason for this – it’s what they eat! Larvae will eat holes in your leaves as soon as they can, but the good news is that they are growing and will soon transform into the most beautiful butterflies, so be patient.

                Give them lots to drink

                  If your garden is the equivalent of the Sahara Desert for butterflies, they won’t be interested. While some butterflies don’t eat in their adult stage, they all like to drink. They’ll look for nectar, but some will also be attracted to fruit juice and fermenting tree sap.

                    There are lots of good indigenous plants that are a really good source of nectar. Small white to pink, mauve or blue flowers are really attractive to butterflies.

                      Give them camouflage

                        Camouflage is a vital survival mechanism, and often the underside of the wing closely resembles dead leaves, so much so that the butterfly disappears when it settles in the garden. So don’t always clear out your garden beds, allow natural decay to occur, it doesn’t have to overwhelm your garden, just enough to add that texture on which butterflies thrive.

                        Vertical garden

                        For all the city dwellers out there who are frustrated gardeners, who think that they can’t garden because of a lack of space, take heart from an interesting gardening trend that has become popular in some European centres.

                        Known as metro-horticultural or vertical allotments, people challenged by their square footage are building gardens on their walls and growing their own vegetables and herbs for harvesting.

                        With the rising interest in using local produce, vertical gardening looks set to be an increasingly popular trend of the future as newly built homes become even smaller and more eco-friendly and urban populations around the world become denser.

                        The trend is not limited to homes – a chic new restaurant in Spain, for example, uses some of the produce from its ‘green’ wall. Green walls are also being used in new shopping centres, offices and London’s Olympic village to soften hard architectural lines and increase the ambience.

                        Building a green wall can add great value to your home. They’re useful for creating a feature of a wall or fence or disguising an ugly wall or corner. They can add texture, light and interest to any size of home and of course there’s the added bonus of being able to grow your own dinner.

                        Some companies in the UK are selling wall garden kits like the MiniGarden system, made up of modules that can be assembled as a free standing garden or can be screwed to a wall or fence. Unfortunately I don’t know if anyone is offering these garden wall modules locally, if I hear of any outlets I’ll post the details here. To be really eco-friendly, of course, it’s smarter to build your own.

                        Interesting news from the UK, it seems that the popularity of lawns in London is waning, which could have disastrous results for the city in terms of its wildlife and environment.

                        London has always been known for its beautifully maintained public gardens, but private gardens are taking a knock. People are paving and decking over their lawns because of cost and maintenance issues, as well as the rise in popularity of programmes like Ground Force, a gardening magazine programme that tends to treat gardens as outside rooms.

                        Read more about the issue here

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