Cape Town residents digging up their lawns

26 October 2017 - 10:49 By Aisha Hauser
In order to remain in business‚ local nurseries and garden centres have been pushed to completely change their business model.
In order to remain in business‚ local nurseries and garden centres have been pushed to completely change their business model.
Image: welcomia/123RF.com

Capetonians are digging up their lawns and turning to water-wise gardening as the drought starts to hit home.

“We have seen a 100% growth in indigenous plants and succulents‚” said Justin Emrich‚ senior operations manager for Stodels Garden Centres and national chairman of the Garden Centre Association.

Despite an industry-wide yearly sales decrease of 40%‚ consumers are still spending money on their gardens. However‚ they are drastically changing their purchasing habits.

“Consumers are no longer taking risks‚” said Emrich. “They are buying things that are cheaper”.

Richard Morris‚ retail manager of Stark Ayres Garden Centre‚ has also noticed a recent change in buying habits.

“There has been a 300% uptick in purchases of indoor plants‚” he said.

For many‚ a perfect lawn is no longer a priority.

“The first thing on the mind of a Cape Town resident is having drinking water‚” Morris said.

According to Emrich‚ there has been a big move towards stones and pavements.

“We have seen a massive decrease in some of the products that sell for lawns‚ we just can’t sell the products‚” he said.

The shift has been “catastrophic” for the industry‚ Morris said. In the past eight months alone‚ four local garden centres have closed down and many suppliers have been forced to drastically reduce production.

In order to remain in business‚ local nurseries and garden centres have been pushed to completely change their business model.

As retail manager of Starke Ayres‚ which specialises in vegetable‚ lawn and flower seeds‚ Morris has overseen a complete change in inventory. Approximately 82% of their current stock is water-wise. This figure is up from 67% last year‚ and only 35% in prior years.

Many believe that a shift towards environmentally friendly gardening is imperative.

Namib Garden proprietor Tom Kinniburgh said Capetonians needed to get rid of their lawns.

“People have too much lawn and 80% of them are never used. People don’t sit on them or walk on them. Anyone with lawns on their pavement need their heads read‚” Kinniburgh said.

He believes lawns should be regulated and incentives offered to remove them.

“When I lived in Arizona‚ the state government incentivised people to take out lawn‚ up to $38 per square metre‚ in tax rebates or coupons.”

Kinniburgh said he had a 50-50 mix of indigenous and exotic succulents‚ like cacti‚ which were permitted in South Africa.

“Aloes are popular and they are the fastest-growing succulents‚” he said.

Trish Hutton-Spuire from the Kirstenbosch Garden Centre said they had seen a huge swing to succulents.

She said they were discouraging customers from planting lawns and had very little buffalo grass.

“The days when you can flick a switch to water your garden and walk away are over‚” said Hutton-Spuire.

Stressing the importance of water-wise education‚ she said: “People don’t know you can take a water-wise plant and turn it into a water-dependent plant by watering it.”

- Additional reporting Claire Keeton

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