Go Local: Grow an indigenous forest in your garden

When I finally got to go Birding with Pompie
March 6, 2019
Welcome to Serondela
March 6, 2019

2 month old baby Hoodia plants begin their long lives.

Text and Photographs Annabelle Venter 

‘Indigenous’ seems to be a word which I’m hearing more and more these days. And what a refreshing and welcome change after the thirsty exotic gardens of our youth, when little or no  thought was given to water use, and  ‘population’ was something only statisticians were concerned about! So of course I was thrilled to hear that a couple of environmentally-aware folk were starting to sell indigenous trees two years ago. It seemed too good to be true, having this service in Windhoek at last! Previously, any indigenous Namibian trees such as a mopane or a sausage tree had to be brought back from the State Forestry nursery at Grootfontein or Okahandja. I arranged to meet with the founders of Namib Trees on a chilly winter’s morning to find out how it all started. 

The story of Namib Trees began just over two years ago when Ivor Powell and Carol Steenkamp met at a Botanical Society meeting in March 2016. Ivor was looking for an outlet to expand his passion of growing indigenous plants by establishing a nursery, while Carol was germinating seeds at her home and needed a bigger place to grow them. She had already moved her baby trees to Krumhuk but frost, amongst other issues, was proving a major problem there. Carol and Ivor joined forces and together were able to rent a large enough space from Ramblers Sports Club in Pioneerspark. By the end of June that year they had issued their first invoice!

Carol had been involved in environmental impact studies at the time and struggled to find indigenous trees for rehabilitating building sites. Reasons included the fact that the National Botanical Research Institute ceased their Plant Sales Days, the Wilde Eend nursery had closed and the Department of Forestry was selling increasing numbers of fruit trees and alien species. But the increasingly long drought periods were not kind to exotic plants. The time was ripe for an indigenous nursery to be established, and Carol’s first landscaping project with indigenous plants was the Namibian Oncology Centre in Windhoek. 

Namib Trees has a good relationship with the National Botanical Research Institute and often has clients referred by them. Namib Trees is also keen to encourage government to support community-based projects, where local people can be trained to sell indigenous plants in their areas. 

Future plans include setting up a branch in the north of Namibia. Carol would also like to start plant rescue and rehabilitation of denuded areas across the country, involving local people to regenerate the vegetation. 

Hoodia species budding in the succulent nursery.
Daniel Ekandja pots Cyphostemma cuttings in the winter sun.
Namib Trees’ nursery recommends planting in clay pots as their drainage is good and the clay keeps the plants cooler.

In February this year Carol and Ivor enlisted the services of botanist Silke Rugheimer. Formally a taxonomist at the National Botanical Research Institute, with a special interest in lilies and succulents, Silke has come to ease the workload as the landscaping side of the business continues to grow and demand Carol and Ivor’s attention. Propagation of plants is Silke’s main role at Namib Trees, along with other nursery duties.

The nursery and landscaping business employs eight full-time and casual staff. In addition they have two full-time interns for five months each this year, who are studying natural resource management at NUST (Namibian University of Science and Technology).

Currently Namib Trees is enjoying some success in converting lodge owners to plant indigenous, which of course has a direct impact on how tourists experience our natural flora. Namib Trees is being approached by more and more lodges which are now realising that indigenous plants are more sustainable and drought resistant. Planting species specific to the area also avoids frost damage in the winter. It simply makes sense to grow what occurs naturally in the area so that tourists can experience our local flora first-hand. They come to see Namibia in its entirety and plants are an integral part of that experience.

Driving around Windhoek you can find beautiful examples of the work that Carol and Ivor have accomplished so far. The Burmeister offices in Olympia, the gardens of the Eros Manor Retirement Village and a few private gardens in Heliodor Street all boast their work and the list is growing weekly.

Carol is very keen to raise awareness for indigenous gardens amongst the architectural profession in Namibia and she and Ivor would like to see a greater commitment to using our local vegetation for new developments instead of yet another (exotic) palm tree. This is something more architects and developers need to embrace, as trees take many years to establish and provide the shade we so desperately need in Namibia. One option would be to map existing trees on a site and make every effort to build around them, incorporating them into the design.

DID YOU KNOW?

BENEFITS OF PLANTING AN INDIGENOUS GARDEN

  • Indigenous plants require much less water, needing watering once a week only
  • Succulents need much less water than once a week
  • They attract local birds with fruit, seeds and insects
  • Provide shade for wild creatures
  • Provide nesting opportunities for local wild birds
  • Indigenous plants are well adapted to the environment and once established won’t mind skipping a watering session if you are away for two weeks
Ivor tends his beloved succulents.

Namib Trees is open every weekday from 8:00-16:00 and Saturdays from 9:00-13:00.

Twice a year, in February and October, there is a wonderful Plant Sale Day at the nursery with stalls selling plant-related art and books and a host of like-minded indigenous gardeners.

I would like to challenge you to plant your own indigenous garden, no matter how small, wherever you live and allow yourself and your patch of earth to breathe easier.

As Carol says, she’s planting a forest at her home, and I, too, have a mini ‘forest’ of six small to medium-sized trees in a townhouse garden. No garden is too small to enjoy the bounty of local vegetation and reduced water bills with the bonus of birdlife that it brings. Go on, give it a try and you’ll be hooked!

SAY NO TO ILLEGAL HARVESTING OF PLANTS!

  • Almost all local plants are protected by law and may not be removed from their natural habitat for your garden. Succulents are an especially protected group.
  • NBRI supplies a list of protected plants on their website.
  • The Ministry of Environment is responsible for the rules and may issue permits for seed collection on request.

WHY NOT CACTI?

  • No cactus is indigenous to Africa. 
  • Almost all cacti originated in central and southern America and have invaded all corners of the world, causing harm to animals and even death. 
  • The spines on the cacti fruit get lodged in the throats of livestock. 
  • The recent death of six elephants in Kenya has been positively linked to cacti. 
  • Cacti propagate easily and displace local plants, altering the eco system.
  • Intermittent good rainy seasons in Namibia cause them to flourish again.
Grewia flava is a wonderful, hardy shrub for gardens.
Euphorbia virosa is an ideal replacement for cacti, and is seen here in its natural habitat in the desert.
Owners Carol Steenkamp, Ivor Powell and resident botanist Silke Rugheimer

How can we help?

  • Bio-agents to control and destroy invasive cacti have been tested and finalisation of the paperwork is pending.
  • Remove them by the roots. 
  • Leave them to dry out on a flat cement surface.
  • Then BURN them.
  • Donate funds to the cactus removal programme in Windhoek and be part of the solution in eradicating them (contact Gunhilde Voigts at 0812985747).
  • Don’t plant ANY cacti!
  • PLANT Euphorbias or Hoodias instead! They look similar but are indigenous!

To keep up to date with plant specials or interesting species, visit Namib Trees’ Facebook page.

www.facebook.com/namibtrees

This article was first published in the Summer 2018/19 issue of Travel News Namibia

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Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia is a high-quality glossy Namibia travel and lifestyle magazine tasked with promoting Namibia to the world. With riveting stories, first-hand encounters and magnificent photographs showcasing tourism, travel, nature, adventure and conservation, TNN is the ultimate and most comprehensive guide to exploring Namibia. Travel News Namibia is published in five different editions per year. These include four English- language editions and one German. Travel News Namibia is for sale in Namibia and South Africa.

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