The UN Decade of Ecosystems Restoration starts next year, making me immensely grateful for my wetland water garden. I spent an hour in it yesterday just grounding myself. And dreaming: Is it possible to establish a seasonal wetland conservancy in the suburbs that form part of the Paterson Park seasonal wetland? Can I persuade enough people to explore this as a potential life-giving and economic boost for the well-being of all who live within this degraded ecosystem?


A conservancy in Paterson Park?

In Orange Grove we are in the midst of development plans that I think negate best conservation practice. These include ailing infrastructure and proposals for densification that do not meet the needs of current residents, nor the needs of potential future residents. Nor of our natural ecosystem. A conservancy would bring residents together to work with nature to improve and maintain environmental health by working with the seasonal wetland we inhabit.

Although we are more organized now that the CPF has been established, we still don’t have sufficient compliance regarding litter and refuse removal. We also have far to go in our care of the vulnerable members of our community. In addition, a serious housing deficit adds to our woes, for while densification is a national goal, does so much of it have to happen here? What would be our fair share of meeting the national housing goal? Can we meet it without tearing down well-built houses and avoid chaotic residential builds? And finally, are there not more constructive ways to increase human density while complying with environmental by-laws? I think there are.


Coronavirus and Ecosystem Restoration

The advent of coronavirus suggests that our old way of life is drawing to an end. After this more residents will pay closer attention to where they live and how everything that happens within their living and working spaces affects the quality of their lives. There will be a more active participation in ensuring compliance with environmental protection.

Care of the earth can start even in the smallest of spaces. In my original vision for my garden I worked with a view that my property is a piece of the larger suburban jigsaw puzzle. This is one way for just transitions to take root at grassroots level. Solutions taken on by individuals, as a buffer against hard times, have the capacity to rebuild the economy while simultaneously encouraging simpler lifestyles, self-sufficiency and inter-dependency. 

Working with what I have has enabled me to grow some of what I consume. It also provides an example to share of a simpler, more nature-sensitive way of living. I find it soul-fulfilling. And nurturing. And cost-effective in the long term. Even in built up areas like Orange Grove.


Urban Farming

Before moving here, I envisaged vertical urban farming happening in the poorest of our human settlements, including Alexandra. Each home had a fruit tree or vine, culinary and medicinal herbs and plants, green leafy vegetables. Larger properties added squashes of various kinds. Surpluses could be sold or bartered. Urban food sustainability is what I had in mind. For the urban homeless poor, I imagined the same, with indigenous fruits growing along embankments and in otherwise discarded places…


Each Home an Ecosystem Restoration Site?

On my semi-detached site I dreamt of fruit and herbs and vegetables cascading down from containers. And water in terracotta pots along the wall. In retrospect, it was too much. I am grateful that I listened to the earth and put in the layer she was asking for: the wetland water garden. Besides providing me with a natural water recycling system that reduces water-table pollution it also feeds cleaner water into the Paterson Park seasonal wetland. This I would like to see replicated, using diverse designs, materials and plants… Provided the goal of purifying water is attained, the rest can be left to personal taste and preference.

It appears that my wetland water garden is an enclosed retreat space. Not an urban farming area. It is a place in which to mediate, to dream, to pray. And exercise, for the gravel is displaced during storms and needs resetting; I have learnt to enjoy doing this zen-like exercise in thick woolen socks – a foot massage thus an unexpected additional benefit. How wonderful it has been to discover that when I am in spiritual integrity, Source works with the earth and with me. Provides me with a personal benefit I had not factored in.

It is hard to believe that this wetland water garden installation, and others like it, are the potential seedbed of successful ecosystem restoration. If one is consistent in following the ecosystem integrity rules, they are… for every success story begins with one action, that over time gathers momentum. Like a spring in a desert. Each subsequent drop of water adding to the first until a puddle is formed. Then a stream begins to flow. Each river into ocean flows…


The Challenge of Right Design and Measure

The challenge for me in relation to earth sustainability is to balance the conservationist with the farmer within me. The dreamer with the builder…I find that I procrastinate a great deal. This is the conservationist holding me back from being destructive in my actions. Imagine my relief last week when I finally understood the difference between deserts as biomes and desertification as a process of degradation of once fertile landscapes, not just forests. Elementary, now that I see it. Confusion, when I didn’t.

Biomes must be protected, including desert biomes. Where arable land has been overgrazed or over farmed, we can do with sound design that restores agricultural abundance…The best way I now think to achieve this is through the application of the Ethics and Principles of Permaculture within an ecosystem restoration framework. Some might think I am being tautologous for surely the two go hand in hand. I thought they did. They don’t necessarily, for permaculture is about maximizing food yields by mimicking forests. Sometimes with no regard for the endemic or the indigenous ecosystems used as sites for food sustainability…My ideal scenario is to restore the natural ecosystems before adding resources, including plants, from across the world.

I am confident about this work of restoration. I panic when I forget where I left my keys. I panic when my children don’t answer their phones. I panic when I am late for shul… I am very calm when it comes to designing for a post-coronavirus world, for an almost-post-industrial world. Where these are found, sustainable design must integrate into natural ecosystems. (I have become aware that the word ‘sustainable’ is now contaminated, yet for me it means integrity that supports biological systems’ longevity. It makes no sense, for example, to destroy the Amazon forest while promising to mimic its systems elsewhere! That’s far too clever. That’s scientific education wasted on an ignoramus…That’s a false application of the system that Bill Mollison designed.)


Abundance creating post-COVID-19 

It seems to me that the work waiting for us on the other side of coronavirus might best be understood within the framework of ecosystem restoration. As the economic system implodes across the globe, destroying livelihoods as we have known them, my hope is that we will seize the opportunities this will open up for us to value what we have at local level: our people, our diverse cultures, our diverse indigenous knowledge systems, our land, its resources and infrastructure. I am assuming that we are waking up to our common humanity. And that enough of us are now ready to share our knowledge of the earth as one living interconnected and responsive organism. That when she speaks, we pay attention. No need to seek a psychiatrist, unless what you hear her say makes you scared, threatens to make you mad. Makes you a danger to yourself or to others…

At a practical level, the earth is our mother.  On her we depend for the provision of our material needs. She communicates, not through words, for words are a human specialty. It is just that words are one way in which we earth-whisperers communicate our knowing. Others do it through sound or movement or paint… Or engineering. Or advocacy.

In this vein, I am grateful that three wealthy South Africans have offered a billion rand each to rescue small enterprises. May they follow through on their commitment… And may others follow suit, each according to own ability. Including me. And you…

Perhaps a centralized fund is needed to meet national relief initiatives and provincial ones for each province…and in Orange Grove a sector fund or a residential fund. Even a street or block fund. These don’t all have to be formal for it might include circulating local wealth into local benefits. To sustain ourselves, we might need to identify and use talents we never thought we had… Or applying them to ecosystem restoration ends… Exchanges of various kinds that will no doubt call upon SARS to put on creative hats.

Due to these thoughts, part of the spiritual work I am doing during this lockdown is reviewing my assumptions. And my prejudices. And my beliefs. I have experienced that growing what I can for myself reduced my COVID-19 related stress somewhat, while connecting me to the earth. Certainly, I find a sense of comfort having access to herbs from my garden. And green leafy vegetables. And the serenity that comes with the beauty in my wetland water garden…

My prayer is that Source, seeing our efforts at correcting our mistakes, might forgive us our arrogance and ignorance and provide us respite from harsh biological and financial judgements.

Resources for a Larger Perspective


UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration website:

National Association of Conservancies:

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