As we all know, certain projects require massive volumes of plant material, but there is a lack of sustained demand for large volumes of plants in SA.
Nurseries carry standard ‘batch sizes’ to limit risk. This means that there is a limit to what can be obtained on ‘spec’ from any one grower at a given time. The larger the planned landscaping project, the more important planning of supply becomes.
Landscape architects and designers are often faced with the landscaping of environmentally sensitive areas. The landscaping may involve planting of unusual material or even site specific genotypes.
Even in urban spaces, the demand for indigenous landscaping is on the increase. The skills needed to produce effective indigenous designs are certainly out there – the challenging part has become the sourcing of the plants.
It’s true that certain common plants could be sourced from a number of suppliers in order to make up specified quantities, but this results in complicated, labour intensive purchasing practices and plant material that is not uniformly grown and fails to give uniform performance once planted out.
In the case of plant specifications that include unusual species, the material is often simply not available in the trade, and an excellent plant palette gets diluted as contractors have to make do with what they can find available.
‘Contract grow’ deals simplify the plant procurement process allowing contractors to focus on the site itself. The drawback is this: by the time a project is awarded to a landscaping contractor, time frames become too short for ‘contract growing’ slower species (fast-growing plants can be grown to spec given as little as three months.)
It therefore makes sense that Landscape Architects should already begin to contemplate procurement during the design phase, thereby ensuring that sufficient material of uniform quality is already in the process of being grown prior to the awarding of a contract for execution of the plan.
If the grower is involved when plant lists are being generated, a consultative process can be entered into whereby the general availability and practicality of growing species for a site can be determined. The aim is to ensure that the architect’s plans are not spoiled by limitations in supply.
There are many examples of projects where such a collaboration has proved extremely successful, notably in David Davidson’s ‘living wall’ construction at Kirstenbosch where large volumes of specialised plants (15 000 of them) had to be produced in recycled soft drink bottles!
The spectacular ‘Singapore by the Bay’ project which includes gardens representing South African flora not only required large volumes of specific plants including Ericas and other unusual species to be ready in time for planting, but also a knowledge of the logistics involved in shipping plants by sea-container. The more ambitious the project, the more important co-ordination becomes!
Landscape architect, Byron Douglas says: ‘As a Landscape Architect, the ability to have an order for project grown plants provides me with the confidence that the landscape will mature at the same rate, realizing the vision that was portrayed to my client.’
Stephen Steyn, from award-winning Landscape contractors, Cape Contours has this to say: ‘The first and most obvious advantage of early ordering is price. If plants are ordered in advance, it is often possible to negotiate a competitive price, which is particularly important when it comes to tenders, where the lowest price is invariably accepted.
For the success of any project it is important to have quality plants. If the plants are ordered in advance or contract grown, they can be ‘groomed’ in order to arrive in peak condition.
As landscapers, we often have to price a product up to a year in advance. By the time the installation date eventually arrives, the plants are no longer available or the price has increased. By ordering them in advance, one has the opportunity to fix the price and one will have ensured that the specified plants are available when required.
Often, plants specified on projects that are not commercially available. By ordering in advance, these plants can be grown specifically for a particular project.’
Cape Contours recently completed the massive ‘Blue Route Mall’ project with phenomenal success. Steven says that the plants were contract-grown by New Plant Nursery to a high quality standard and this was possible as they were ordered a year in advance.
Among the plants that are commonly used in large volumes are standbys like Carissas, Agpanthus, Gazanias and Dietes – no surprises there – but lately we are seeing massive volumes of Agathosmas, Acmadenias, Phylicas and other slower-growing, more specialized plants being specified in tenders.
There is also a trend towards using ‘veld’ grasses like Melinus nerviglumus which also has considerable ornamental value. There is an increasing demand for site-specific species – even site specific genotypes. This calls for very early establishment of a gene pool for propagation and even earlier planning. The up side of this, apart from environmentally appropriate results, is the introduction of some interesting species into commercial horticulture.
Among the ‘new’ plants that we have obtained in this way are attractive succulents like Delosperma virens and Drosantemum lavisii. Stachys aethiopica is good for coastal rehabilitation, but is also very attractive and Maytenus procumbens, which occurs right on the sea-front, produces a very similar effect to Carissa while growing in conditions Noem noems would not tolerate.
Rehabilitation projects often involve species that are not of high ornamental value, and therefore advance planning for bulk supply of plants such as Prionium serratum (used in the rehabilitation of waterways) is essential as ornamental growers would not otherwise consider growing such species.
As environmental legislation and ethics develop, plant lists for developments, particularly in pristine areas, become more complicated and less likely to contain commonly produced species. This is a challenge for the green industry as a whole to take up and will certainly lead to more creative and diverse landscapes.
In the meantime, we can look forward to increased co-operation and communication between various players in the green industry that ensures the success of projects.