Nature lovers spreading the word

2010-11-26 00:00

WHEN Bring Nature Back To Your Garden by Charles and Julia Botha was first published in 1996, it became a surprise bestseller. It was reprinted twice and has now come out in an enlarged second edition, in fact two editions — one for the eastern and northern regions of South Africa and another devoted to the western region.

What has now become a bible for environment-friendly gardeners started out as a few photocopied pages stapled together into a rudimentary pamphlet.

“I was selling indigenous plants at the time and found that I was selling more pamphlets than plants,” recalls Charles.

The core of the Bothas’ message is that when it comes to gardening indigenous is best and to get the best results it’s advisable to work with nature­ rather than against it. Gardening with indigenous plants is about far more than just the plants — as the book’s title indicates, by going the indigenous route you not only make a place in your garden for what should naturally grow there, you also send out an invitation to all the insects, birds and mammals that are equally at home with such plants.

When their early pamphlets were quickly snapped up, the Bothas took heed and began work on providing information to gardeners in a more permanent form.

“We realised there was a crying need for something like this book,” says Charles. “Something written in simple gardening language. When we are writing we continually ask ourselves: ‘would a gardener understand these terms?’”

Botanical jargon has been avoided. “But it is scientifically accurate,” notes Julia. “There’s also a light-hearted element to the book — both in the text and visually.”

Written with an infectious enthusiasm, Bring Nature Back To Your Garden­ is packed with information on everything from the basics — how to convert to indigenous — to practical advice on planting and propagating, as well as chapters on insects, birds, butterflies, plant varieties, in fact just about everything you are likely to encounter in a garden.

Neither of the Bothas come to their subject matter wearing professional hats — which is possibly why they are able to get across their message in such an uncomplicated way — Charles is a semi-retired businessperson with a lifelong interest in plants and wildlife and a former chairperson of the KwaZulu-Natal region of the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) while Julia is professor and head of Therapeutics and Medicines Management at the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She is also chair of the university’s environmental committee.

They received the President’s Special­ Award from the Wildlife and Environment Society in 2003 and the first edition of Bring Nature Back To Your Garden won a University of KwaZulu-Natal Book Prize in 1999 for popularising science.

The first book dealt with the eastern area of the country mainly because they live there, in Durban. “But then we got questions from people in the Western Cape asking where they could get hold of a fever tree,” says Charles. “Fever trees are not indigenous to the Cape and don’t naturally grow there. This made us realise we had better do an edition for the western section of the country as well.”

There is also an edition, Buyisela Imvelo Engadini, for Zulu speakers.

In 2006 they took a more specialised focus with Bring Butterflies Back To Your Garden featuring more than 500 indigenous plants which attract butterflies. This book was published by the Botanical­ Society of South Africa and the profits went to the Botanical Education Trust which they founded, while the Flora and Fauna Trust published the latest edition of Bring Nature­ Back To Your Garden. “Profits go to both trusts,” says Julia. “We don’t benefit financially from the books. But, obviously, this is something we are passionate about. And if there is one thing we want to get across it’s that local is lekker and that if you are interested in getting birds and butterflies into your garden they go better with local plants.”

Planting the right indigenous plants will first see insects come back to your garden, says Charles. “They are quick to find the indigenous plants they depend on, and once the insects return, the birds that eat them come back too.”

Don’t plant exotics is Julia’s advice. “If you want to keep exotics because you really like them, okay, but don’t plant alien invaders because they go beyond the borders of your garden, and if you really must plant exotics don’t use insecticides to keep them alive.”

Much has changed in the gardening world since that first edition of the Bothas’ book in 1996 — indigenous gardening is no longer a fringe activity and many commercial nurseries now have indigenous sections.

Respected environmentalist John Ledger, writing in his foreword to the new edition of Bring Nature Back to Your Garden, says the Bothas have “provided us with a blueprint for making our country a better place”.

Make that greenprint.

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