Over the years, the University of Pretoria has worked towards creating sustainable and eco-friendly areas across all campuses. Their projects have won many awards, including three double gold awards from the South African Landscapers Institute (SALI). These were awarded for the Hillcrest campus’s Hartbeestspruit and Strubenkop projects for environmental rehabilitation and restoration, and another award for the Javett Art Centre at the University of Pretoria. UP has also received the President’s Special Award from the Institute of Landscape Architecture South Africa (ILASA) for its mining industry study centre.
Jason Sampson, the Curator of the Manie van der Schijff Botanical Garden, a division of the Plant and Soil Sciences Department at UP, spoke to PDBY about some of the sustainability initiatives that UP has adopted.
UP has one of the biggest xeriscapes in South Africa, and Sampson defines xeriscaping as landscapes of indigenous, water-minimal plants that can survive only with what natural climate provides. Examples of plants in UP’s xeriscape include aloes that are nectar feeding, bird feeding, bee-friendly, and very low maintenance. Sampson describes that, prior to the inclusion of xeriscaping at the prow of the Administration Building, the area used to be a rose garden – which reflected outdated, westernised ideas of gardening, and included water-heavy, non-sustainable gardening. Sampson reflects that the move to xeriscaping “matched UP’s change overall”.
“UP has one of the biggest xeriscapes in South Africa…“
Benefits of xeriscaping include no need for fertilising, reducing pesticide use, and helping local wildlife – even in urban Pretoria, as Sampson comments that it is an “ecological resource for urban wildlife”. Aloes, specifically, also perform the same ecological functions in a garden as other species would in the wild, such as feeding sunbirds and insects.
However, most noticeably, the collection of species and hybrids collectively have a flowering season that stretches from March to November in the Southern Hemisphere, allowing for nine months of “multi-coloured display”, therefore creating a vibrant display of eco-friendly plants. The blooming aloes can be seen on all campuses, and re-blooming cultivars are planted around the Administration Building. UP’s Sports Campus also holds the single biggest concentration of different cultivars and species, with the Sunbird Lane being at its best between June and July.
Besides xeriscaping, UP has numerous sustainability initiatives as part of its ten-year plan in creating sustainable and eco-friendly campuses. The ponds one would have seen at the Mining Engineering Study centre function as rainwater harvesting tanks. The tanks collect rainwater and are topped up with borehole water during dry periods with an automatic controller that irrigates the entire landscaped area and surroundings. Therefore, the botanical garden is almost entirely irrigated by rainwater during the summer months. Water saving techniques can also be seen in the proposal for the Aula grass, that will have a water collection tank built under it, and when watered, the remainder of the water that irrigates through the grass will be stored back into the tank. Other water harvesting projects at UP include the attenuation pond at the Future Africa Campus, and the Engineering 4 water-harvesting dam. This means that UP functions almost exclusively on rainwater and “recycled” water, with the only potted water being in toilets and that used for drinking.
“Benefits of xeriscaping include no need for fertilising, reducing pesticide use, and helping local wildlife – even in urban Pretoria“
UP’s recycling initiatives are also an important step in their ten-year plan. The leaves and lawn clippings get recycled and composted to add to the gardens – thus reducing the plastic needed to bag and send to a landfill. A further step is taken with the recycling bins that are situated around campus, most noticeably in the student centre. Sampson comments that these recycling bins have the most impact in the student centre. However, he adds that “the success of these bins depends entirely on students”, and that consideration is needed for the initiative to work.
Sampson ascertains that, with all initiatives, it is vital that students work together with the university to create sustainable campuses. It is also important to remember that simple measures like conserving water when on campus can make a big impact. The xeriscapes at the Administration Building, that can be seen from the roadside, serve as a colourful reminder to students and the public alike of UP’s ever-advancing progress in becoming eco-friendly.
Photo: Jason Sampson