Beat the drought: practical tips for a beautiful garden

By Hedda Inderthal, WRRA exco member for conservation and the environment

Collage of pics of the garden at Engen Garage

The garden at the Engen garage on Car Hill is an excellent example of a waterwise garden.

Dear Wynbergers

For those of us with great fondness of gardens and their plants, I have a few ideas that may help carry you over the summer without much of your garden turning into a sorry desert, whilst retaining a clean conscience.

Rainwater harvesting

This is a great practice, but in a Mediterranean climate with most precipitation in winter and no rain fall for six months of summer, it is not the most effective source of year-round additional water. Most of us also don’t have the space to store enough water accumulated during the winter months to last all the way through summer.

Devising your own grey-water system

There is, however, a steady supply of surplus water that  is yet to be exploited by most. It is our grey water. We can make use of it cleverly, without expensive investments into filtration or distribution system, and risks associated with spreading unsafe water around our environment.

Shower outlet: Do some scouting around the sides of your house and find out where your waste water pipes from your washing machine and shower come out of the wall and go underground. I have opened the outlet from my shower and piped it into my garden with a cheap, thick black irrigation hose with some holes in it along the way. This was what saved the garden on the south side of my house last year and none of the plants (mostly indigenous) suffered any ill effects. I use normal shampoo and soap in the shower and had no problems or smells.

Washing machine: This year, in addition, I did the same thing on my washing machine. Here I will switch my washing powder to a blend of (forbiddingly expensive) Earthsap powder and some normal washing powder to see whether the garden can handle the detergent. In my case, the outlet hose from the washing machine can be either stuck into the pipe leading to the garden, or pulled out and laid into the bathtub, which drains normally to the underground waste water system. This allows me to switch the destination for the water from different loads. When I want to use some bleach or stronger detergents for dirty loads, I just change the pipe to the bathtub. This way the garden only gets the loads with the benign detergents, and I can still use the “strong stuff” when I need it.

Pics of washing machine outlets

The setup for my washing machine. LEFT: One will need a fitting for the machine so that water doesn’t squirt back out, and then you can take it off and put it in the bath if you want to wash with bleach or something the garden can’t handle. RIGHT: The washing machine outlet into the garden.

Kitchen sink: Another great opportunity for saving water is in the kitchen. We don’t really want to use the general kitchen sink water because the food residue causes nasty smells, and it is usually classified as black water together with the sewerage. You can, however, save a lot of water separately from the dirty washing-up and waste water by simply using a big bowl in one of the basins of your sink. Rinse the dishes clear in this water, which is subsequently still safe and clean enough to go into the flower bed or plant pots.

Picture of bucket in second sink

Harvesting tap water: The same applies for several liters of water that are wasted every time you have to run your tap waiting for the water to get hot, or in summer also to get cold enough for drinking after sitting in the pipes and heating up. Collect all this water in a bowl and put it straight into a watering can, bucket or jerry can sitting in the corner of the kitchen somewhere. You’ll be surprised how often it is full and you can use this perfectly safe water for other purposes. If you don’t have a garden, use it to fill up the toilet cistern for flushing the toilet.It requires a little effort, but once you have streamlined the process, perhaps using two large buckets you can alternate between the bathroom and the kitchen, it will become a habit. It will not only save you money and educate your children about the value of this precious resource, but will benefit our environment and the whole Cape Town community.

Green tank in garden

I also use a 60 L tank for the storage of grey water.

Other ways to save water in and around the house

  • Turn off the tap while brushing teeth or shaving
  • Put a brick in the toilet cistern
  • Sweep hard surfaces instead of hosing them down


I was quite surprised to see that domestic water usage is actually the largest portion of all water consumption, as one would perhaps expect industry or commercial enterprises like golf course, hotels, etc. to use much more. But as can be seen from the stats on the City of Cape Town website, this is not the case.

Besides the personal sadness we feel for our beloved gardens, there is a greater worry about the changing climate and the sustainability of the water supply of Cape Town or the Western Cape as a whole. Water levels in the dams have been declining steadily over the last few years and I remember that a few years ago, a town in the Karoo entirely ran out of water. The people had to be supplied with potable water using trucks. That to me is pretty scary.

On one hand, the water supply is shrinking, while the population is expanding, both by additional births as well as many people settling in Cape Town from other areas, for the hope of better employment opportunities or just to enjoy our fantastic environment and weather.

Simple common sense tells us that this cannot continue much longer before we will simply run out. Unlike basic services like electricity where additional capacity can be created, water supply depends on something entirely beyond our control, the climate. If there’s no water, even with the most sophisticated technology, we can’t MAKE more. We could perhaps desalinate, technology that is expensive and again requires power, the limited supply of which we have already experienced.

So how will the city consolidate the policies of densification, making Cape Town an attractive place for people to move to and visit with the fact that the water supply is not keeping up with increasing demands? I don’t know. Experts on the subject are welcome to comment.


All watering has to be done manually using watering cans/buckets etc.

This also applies to sprinkler, dripper or soaker systems. Use of all automatic irrigation for gardens is prohibited.

Use of automatic top-up systems for swimming pools is prohibited.

No one is allowed porta-pools.

Cars or boats may only be washed with buckets.

Read more: Full explanation of Cape Town water restrictions




  1. Hello there,

    Thanks very much for this and the prior mail re Aliwal Road – and a very happy new year for you and Wynand.

    Hope all is well there, Darron

    On Tue, Jan 10, 2017 at 8:12 AM, Wynberg Residents and Ratepayers Associati

  2. Hi, I’m in Durbs and we are also needing to cut down on our water use.
    We have 2 rainwater tanks at the moment – 2500l and 500l – and ideally could do with another one.
    We use most of this for topping up the swimming pool in the summer, but also tap some off for the garden.

    We have been letting the washing machine drain out into the garden for several years, using regular washing powder with no ill effects. If anything, the weeds love it … LOL!
    We have a long hose attached to the outlet which we can move around the back garden as needed. This has been great for the banana trees as well as the salad patch and umsobo bushes.

    We need to up our game with the shower water!

    Thanks for the tips 🙂

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