Presentation by Clare Burgess: How to make the green industry more resilient

Government institutions and the Greening industry started promoting Waterwise gardening techniques over 20 years ago and the 2007 drought focussed our minds on these methods with some success. But the intervening wet years have eased our vigilance and standard have begun to slip again.

It is now very clear that global warming and climate change are impacting severely on our lifestyles in urban areas. To survive WE need to be more robust and resilient and so do the spaces that we live in, so we need to create landscapes that respond to these changing conditions.

Critical thinking and complex integrated systems will be the hallmark of resilient landscape design going forward.

We need to recognise the need for behavioural change, better plant species choice, water conservation and awareness at all times, not just when we have shortages. Gardens designed with xerophytic zoning and an increased use of inert materials such as stone chip and paving and artificial turf will be part of the future landscape of cities.

This will require a big shift and a concentrated effort on the part of everyone in the industry.

‘’Adapt or die’’ is a well know term to South Africans – made famous by Pieter Dirk Uys – and just as we have had to change our thinking politically and socially since the last century, we need to change the way we landscape our city.

Some plants are renowned for being adaptable especially those from the Eastern Cape which experiences both winter and summer rainfall, and maybe we will need to look to these areas for new species to introduce to our gardens. When faced with extinction, plants either adapt or become extinct and we are already seeing the impact of climate change on iconic species such as the Koekeboom forests of Aloe dichotoma (Quiver tree) in Namaqualand.

Ecologists such as Fred Pearce are writing about ‘A New Wild’ where previously reviled alien invasive species are recognised for the valuable job they can do by providing bio-mass, timber, wood for fires, and growing under the harshest conditions. They are true survivors and could become extremely important in urban areas.

It has taken many years of persuasion, but finally plants and specifically trees are now recognised as important elements in an urban area which provide ecological functions to a City free of charge on a daily basis; cleaning the air, absorbing pollution, generating oxygen, sequestering CO2, creating biomass, building soils, providing wildlife habitats.

The connections between plants and animals will change over time, and there could be more pests and diseases, so plants will need to be more robust and generalists will survive the best.

Rainfall will become heavier and tree canopies will be more important for softening the blow of downpours, protecting soils from washing away, and slowing run off.

Tougher economic conditions will require tougher urban landscapes to survive and resilient landscape design will become an imperative, not just a dream.


Resilient landscaping slide show

  1. Water restrictions help to increase general awareness and appre­ciation for water – some slides of empty dams.
  2. Explain resilience:
    1. Where sustainability aims to put the world back into balance, resilience looks for ways to manage in an imbalanced world
    2. Resilience is the capacity of a system to survive, adapt, and grow in the face of unforeseen changes, even catastrophic incidents – adaptable and flexible public places are required to accommodate change over time.
  3. Current world trends around resiliencefocus on issues related to rural and agricultural practice /poverty relief, etc. but urban areas are now largest density of population and need to be focussed on.
  4. What is best practice on urban forests, food security/ urban agriculture/food gardens, SUDS, nature reserves to conserve bio diversity, etc.?
  5. Refer to Green Cape slides and graphs showing water resources.
  6. Water scarcity has created opportunities in the industry and possible new businesses. It’s a chance to reflect on what we’ve always done and think creatively, do things differently. An opportunity to discuss and debate, and make collective decisions. Knowledge sharing and close collaboration between people in the industry and the City will benefit everyone.
  7. Design thinking needs to focus on ecologically functional systems not aesthetics. Refer toPermaculture techniques are all good practice.
  8. Create spaces that include design that can bounce back after extreme conditions such as fire, storms, drought and natural disasters such as flooding, earthquakes, etc. Refer to


  • Drive down water usage to avoid incorrect use of potable water
  • Allow for use of other water sources – legalities
  • Water storage tanks
  • Borehole or well points
  • Grey water recycling
  • Brown water recycling
  • Refer to City Recreation and Parks approach focus on hard landscaping and tree care and maintenance instead of tree planting
  1. Allow for adaptions and reduce control of landscape by man allowing for opportunistic events and growth patterns
  2. Landscape contracting – relevance of not planting in summer season and need to wait till winter – how to include and incorporate into JBCC etc.?
  3. Recognise movement of populations to Cities and urban growth and create new urban ‘plant communities’ which can tolerate pollution, lack of fire, low or no maintenance, etc.
  4. Include broader view of landscapes and the companies that work in this Green industry – water features, cleaning of paving, service organisations, etc.
  5. Recognise the value of getting humans to reconnect with Nature in cities – health of a City – requires critical thinking skills.

To see Clare’s slide’s of the presentation click below:

Workshop on Resilient landscaping & Waterwise gardening for CGF Aug 2017 CBLA

Clare Burgess is the principal landscape architect of Clare Burgess Landscape Architects. Clare also lectures part-time in the Master in Landscape Architecture programme at UCT and the Diploma in Landscape Architecture at CPUT.

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