I’ve just moved house from the outskirts of Cape Town’s central business district to the Cape Flats. When I saw my new garden, a windblown, sun-baked sandy wasteland, tears welled up in my eyes. Not out of disappointment you understand, but out of pure excitement. Cape Flats Fynbos is coming back to town.
For people living in Cape Town the phrase ‘Cape Flats’ is a loaded one. On the one hand, it is a geographical term referring to the sandy flats that separate the mountains of the Cape Peninsula from those of the Winelands and Overberg districts. On the other hand, it may also conjure images of poverty-riddled townships and gangsters; it’s where the bulk of Cape Town’s four million people live and it’s pretty desperate in places.
But there are gentler parts of the Cape Flats, and it wasn’t that long ago that the land was covered not by housing and roads but by Cape Flats Fynbos, a type of lowland fynbos rich in proteas and heathers as well as irises and sweet-smelling buchus.
Today there is less than 1% of Cape Flats Fynbos remaining, scattered across the flats like a dropped breakfast tray but luckily there are local plant nurseries devoted to its conservation, supplying fynbos plants to the public at a far cheaper price than exotic plants. But when it comes to growing the stuff back home in the garden, the trick is to be ruthless.
The plants go straight into the sand after a couple of bags of bark chips have been dug into it. No fertilizer, no compost, and try and get them in as much full, blinding sun as possible. Don’t worry about plant-eating pests either; fynbos plants are tough and chewy and have been working on their chemical defences for a few hundred thousand years – they are pretty much inedible to most things.
Water the plants well for the first few weeks to help the plants get established, add a top layer of mulch or bark chips to retain moisture and then stand back: a floral extravaganza is on its way.