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Landscaping Rocky Outcrops at Wild Fig Business Park

Sustainable landscaping for office parks

Sustainable development of the built environment (particularly office parks) seems to be successfully achieved where areas between buildings are managed with an environmentally inclusive attitude towards landscaping.

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Retaining natural whole rock outcrops within housing or office developments for their invaluable ecosystems is becoming more meaningful to owners, developers and designers in the built environment, even though their retention is usually a requirement of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)....or in most cases should be. The understanding of the value of wildlife corridors incorporating rocky belts and grassland is an aspect that developers with integrity seem to have gained.

Wild Fig Business Park – Creating a Physical connection with the Natural World

Indigenous Plant Nursery Johannesburg

At the time of landscaping, the owners of the Wild Fig Business Park in Honeydew, Gauteng, were Swartland Boudienste.  In conjunction with architect Paul Cawood, landscaper Chantel Dance of Natural Reflections and locally indigenous plant specialist and production manager, Jeffery Mapila of Random Harvest Indigenous Nursery, they took a great deal of care ‘revegetating’ several rock outcrops that were retained between the buildings.

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The largest of the outcrops protects six Red-leaved Rock Figs (Ficus ingens) with their magnificent bright crimson to purple-red or coppery new leaves in early spring and the sustenance they provide for so many bird and other faunal species.

Jeffery Mapila was asked by Chantel Dance, who is both a landscape designer and contractor, to assist with the choice and positioning of locally indigenous plants for the ‘revegetation’ of the rock outcrops and other areas of landscaping.

Mapila made careful observations of plants in the wild and their habitats over many years, particularly on the Highveld or even specifically the Bankenveld. He also made suggestions of appropriate indigenous species from one or two other areas of South Africa...but the planting on the rock outcrops was almost entirely from areas in close proximity.

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The low budget landscaping at Wild Fig could, however, not be called strictly purist, as features such as colour and ease of maintenance had to be taken into account.

Dance particularly wanted succulent species and hence some of the aloes, such as Aloe aristata, are from places further afield. The plants have grown well even though the soil is often thinly spread and is clayey. This, of course, demonstrated that the selected species are habituated to rocky areas.

Random Harvest Nursery Supplies Indigenous plants for Wild Fig Office Park.

All the plants in the intriguing natural mix were grown or supplied by Random Harvest....or came back naturally to their rocky habitats...and some, of course, were there before the planting started.

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Existing trees, aside from the figs, that were on or adjacent to the larger of the rocky sites were carefully retained. Trees in the original bush clump were Celtis africana (White Stinkwood), Ziziphus mucronata (Buffalo Thorn), Zanthoxylum capense (Small Knobwood) with little scented flowers and Diospyros lycioides (Bloubos). The last mentioned which has berries which turn from yellow to red (with the calyx and shape making the fruit look like small tomatoes) grew rapidly after the irrigation had been installed. Leonotis microphylla (Rock Dagga) with its typical hairy tubular orange flowers was there prior to the revegetation – a plant typical of rocky grassland favoured by nectar-sucking birds.

A lot of the existing plants were dwarfed when they were out in the open on the rocks. Now, a sheltered microclimate has been created for them by the adjacent building, taller fuller trees, and the irrigation.

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In the scattered shade of the existing trees, Red Paintbrushes (Scadoxus puniceus), some of which were growing there originally, have flourished with the revegetation work that was done, producing their glorious large red flowerheads in early spring.

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Commelina africana and Asparagus transvaalensis came back naturally to this habitat, along with several other species. Mapila says when he goes to visit, there is always something new and interesting that has come in of its own accord.   

A whole cluster of Afrocanthium gilfillanii (Velvet Rock Alder) makes a soft, typical feature on the outcrop. These typical Highveld trees were chosen by Mapila, who knew their habitat, and they grew quickly after planting with the irrigation in operation. A couple of years later, these small trees, characteristic of rock outcrops, produce lovely velvety apple-green leaves in spring.

Mapila also chose the well-known Stamvrug (Englerophytum magalismontanum) with its dark green foliage. The edible fruit (Stemfruit) grows on older branches and is still used by farmers to make jelly, syrup, and wine.

landscaping with indigenous plant

Other plantings were done in the crevices of the large sheets of rock, after Mapila had done a survey of the sites. He chose the locally indigenous succulent Crassula swaziensis which he knew would grow in exposed positions in the crevices; and the plants have done well with their perfect rosettes of leaves. Locally indigenous and prolific on Suikerbosrand and the nearby Melville Koppies Nature Reserves, Haemanthus humulis (Rabbits Ears or Velskoenblaar) with their white to pale pink paintbrush flowers were planted in the shade of the figs.

Mapila also selected and placed the evergreen scrambler Ancylobotrys capensis (Wild Apricot) which grows on rock outcrops in very little soil (see Melville Koppies Nature Reserve and the natural ridge at Pretoria National Botanical Gardens). It has beautiful creamy white flowers with the lower outer part of the corolla tube tinged with orange. The flowers have a particularly special strong fragrance that can be detected from a distance.

landscaping with indigenous plants

One of the most unusual plants that was grown at Random Harvest and has flourished in fissures of the rock outcrops is the strange Bell Stapelia (Stapelia leendertziae) which is rare in the wild but easy to grow. It has a putrid smell and two of its other common names are Leendertz’s Carrion Flower and Aasklok. Its foul smell attracts flies which are believed to be its pollinators. Its flowers are large bell-shaped tubes, shiny smooth on the outside and wrinkled and velvety with a deeper colour inside. The flowers are maroon to blackish purple, also the colour of carrion. It favours crevices in rocks often underneath woody vegetation. Its succulent stems are erect with 4-angled ridges and soft teeth; they are leafless.

landscaping with indigenous plants

A perennial shrublet which is extremely attractive and was grown at Random Harvest is Plumbago zeylanica (Wild White Plumbago) which is believed to prefer shade, but at Wild Fig it is on the edges of the sheets of rock in the full sun. It is a scrambling shrublet (with sticky hairs on its calex, like the ornamental variety) but its white flowers are much smaller and more delicate. The rock outcrop serves as a marvelous backdrop for this lovely plant, selected by Mapila, the flowers of which are lightly scented and close at night, re-opening the next day and attracting butterflies. It flowers over a six-month period from spring to summer on the Highveld.

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There were aloes on the rocky outcrops before they started the revegetating and Aloe greatheadii, which could be the local Aloe davyana, (there are several aloes that have similar forms) has seeded itself. Another succulent that was planted is Sanseveria pearsonii (Spiky Mother-in-laws-tongue).  Several other species of aloes have been planted in the rock fissures. In summer there is no need to water the rock outcrops and the drainage is good.   

There is abundant wildlife on these rock outcrops including lizards, colourful butterflies and other insects, and a large Rain Spider nest in one of the wild figs. A large moth populations also inhabits the sites.

Adapted from original article and photographs by Carol Knoll

Random Harvest Indigenous Nursery

For more information on the plants featured, please visit our plant catalogue.  Locally adapted plants support a wide variety of organisms and benefit the local ecosystem. Random Harvest provides an extensive range of indigenous (including locally indigenous) plants to help landscapers create sustainable environmental solutions for office parks and other urban developments. Contact us on 082 553 0791 or [email protected] for more information.

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