The Office 'Do
The opportunity to revamp the Africa Geographic office garden
provided a perfect opportunity to utilise locally indigenous, water-wise plants. It’s been a work in progress for the past year or so, but
in spring 2009 the garden finally revealed itself in a blaze of glory.
When our company outgrew our previous premises, a quaint, shambling Victorian house in a residential suburb of Cape Town, none of us was particularly thrilled at the thought of moving. Our new, more spacious building was a small, quadrangular office block, with little obvious charm.
‘You’ll like it,’ said Peter Borchert, Africa Geographic’s founder, confidently. ‘It’s Got a Garden.’
And, yes, it did indeed have a garden, and in time we did grow to like it, somewhat overgrown and sprawling but a cool, green refuge from overheated deadlines and the demands of the day. We duly settled in and when after a couple of years, our landlord, Roselaar Property Investments, decided to renovate the building we nailed our conservation colours to the mast and asked if we could institute some ‘green’ changes to our offices.
Already diligent recyclers, we proposed eco-friendly air-conditioning and insulation, and were delighted when our ideas were accepted and executed. Encouraged by this, when Erna
Nissen, a member of the landlord’s family, began a garden makeover, we tentatively
suggested a water-wise, indigenous alternative to the exotics in situ, with the primary idea of attracting birds. Once again our ideas were met with open-minded enthusiasm and it turned out that Erna had been thinking along similar lines, having had success with her indigenous garden in Gordon’s Bay.
So began our conversion in the summer of 2007. Out went the bulk of the exotics, leaving only a ‘skeleton crew’ to lend some height; in came aloes, leucadendrons and other fynbos endemics, mesembs, restios and clivias. A made-to-order water feature was installed to further encourage the birds, and a bench and stepping stones were added and strategically positioned for office workers in the complex to enjoy the garden while being sheltered from the sun. The garden is organic to encourage as much insect life as possible, and so no poisons are used.
It’s taken two years for the garden to start becoming established – fynbos is notoriously slow to find its feet – but we thought we’d show you what can be done. The birds have indeed arrived in their numbers, mainly Southern Double-collared Sunbirds, Cape White-eyes and Red-winged Starlings, all species which seem fairly impervious to the comings and goings at a busy office block. The really interesting reaction has been that of our co-workers and visitors – the garden has become a talking point and a source of great pride and pleasure as we watch it grow and change through the seasons.
The hard landscaping features added to the garden have made it significantly more appealing. The water feature not only attracts birds to the garden, but the sound of running water provides a soothing background to the office environment. Stepping stones invite office workers to stroll through the garden, and the bench has been strategically positioned to be in shade during the hottest part of the day. A creeper will eventually cover the trellis and provide an element of privacy for anyone resting on the bench.
Cordyline and wild iris were removed and replaced with local leucospermums and mesembs, seen here at the height of their spring exuberance.
The importance of good basic design and planning came to the fore in the garden makeover. Compost and mulch were generously applied in the early stages, and no chemicals are currently used in the maintenance of the garden. The healthy bed of lavender, seen in the background, was an indulgence: even though it’s not indigenous, we justified its inclusion on the basis that its flowerheads would attract both bees and birds. Thankfully, that has proved abundantly true!
This article first appeared in Africa - Birds & Birding, December 2009/January 2010 (Vol. 14, No.06)