Building fences… with a difference.

Creating barriers with recycled stuff! ~ by Ginny Stone

After a quick brush with cancer a couple of years ago, the gardening bug really bit me. When we moved into our house in August 2017, the back garden was a leafy green oasis, but the front was a sea of red earth. Literally. Single handedly I converted that bare earth to the picture below. In those months, I gardened myself back to sanity. 

My social media gardening process was a bit like a remote TV series for friends and family around the world. They were quick to tag me on any interesting things that they thought I could incorporate. Some were quite challenging – but I’d change things around – make them my own and stash them in some little niche in the garden.  More on that here.

My lovely husband was checking Facebook one evening-he pounced on a YouTube video and called me over to watch it. It was a fountain for a fish pond that involved cement and polystyrene blocks that were covered with a sort of calico cloth.

Oooh! I exclaimed I can do that. I dashed off to the hardware store and bought 1kg of cement. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to make, but sure as hell, it was going to be something a lot cooler and less square.

Around about that time my step-son came home with a box of disposable mop caps – the type they use at the hospital when operating. He’s in 4th-year vet school and helps out at a clinic nearby. The hats had expired and were being chucked out. He knows me well.

Our little garden fence that hides the heaps of composting leaves looked like this. It had a lovely archway but the fence – eish!

We have trees in our garden. Lots and lots of trees which dump literally millions of leaves each year. It’s a never-ending job gathering them up but the end result compost is awesome. Figured I would fill the hats with leaves, pile them on top of each other and cover the whole lot with cement. The video said that the cement should be a wet sludgy consistency that you painted liberally onto the cloth.

Never being one to try things on the small scale first, I decided to make a new fence.

Filled up the hats with leaves and piled them precariously on top of each other. Then slopped on the wet cement. I sloshed some water into a bucket and added cement until the mixture looked sloppy enough. Note: no sand needed in this mixture.

At this point I should tell you that washing up gloves are rather useless, they break very easily, and those heavy-duty black ones only seem to come in XL and XXL. My hands are small. I went through several pairs of gloves.

I quickly realised that I did not have enough hats, and the amount of cement I’d bought was totally ridiculous. Tootled off to the hardware store and got a 50kg bag. Of course, that posed a problem too (a) how to get it out of my car when it weighed the same as me, and (b) where to store it so that it stayed dry – this was October and we were approaching our rainy season. We made space in one of the wendy houses.

I used bricks that were lying around and incorporated some plant pot-type things into the fence. Big coffee tins are useful, too.

I’d left the horizontal rail on the fence, and quickly realised that it would take forever to build it up to that level, so decided to get creative.

My daughter makes the most divine dream catchers and often uses ivy vines for the base. I did the same and covered them with calico. I dipped the calico-wrapped circles in the cement and hung them up to dry. Quickly discovered the material was not absorbant enough and all the cement simply (and sadly) crumbled off. I think the material I had was not pure cotton – more nylon-based.

Remembered I had metres and metres of weed cloth (Bidim) that I’d given up using in the front yard (involved way too much planning for my pantser gardener soul).

Discovered that the weed cloth covered in cement hardened to an almost fibreglass consistency when it dried.

I cut a supply of strips and squares of various lengths and sizes. (Somehow, no matter how many you cut, you never have enough.)

To begin with, I layered the strips onto the base and painted them with cement. This was laborious, and I quickly realised I could soak them in the cement mixture and then either wrap the skinny bits or apply the same technique as papier-mache for the larger bottom bits. You do need to do a couple of layers for strength.

I filled in the gaps with boxes and plastic bottles, stuffed bits of cardboard in-between and taped it up where necessary so it did not fall to pieces. (Sorry – I forgot to take photos after a while – it’s a messy business).

I’d ripped out most of the old fence. A mistake, I discovered, because having a few supporting structures, albeit termite-chewed ones, would have been rather useful. I didn’t make the same mistake on the other side. Wrapping them with cement soaked cloth restored them to their former glory.

As you can see, Jack, our rescue cat, did quality control every step of the way.

Because I’m compulsive and could not wait to see the end result, the first side of the fence took about three days to complete, allowing for drying time in between.

Once it was dry, I painted it all with a sloppy mixture of dark brown grout and tile bond to make sure that it was totally waterproof. Not sure that you need to do this – but the grey cement colour was ugly, and grout comes in nice colours. You can mix up different coloured grout to get different effects.

Must also say – it was a tad scary working down in this area of the garden. There are loads of spiders, bugs and other creepy crawlies that regularly came to see what I was doing. One afternoon, a large, long-legged bright green spider scuttled out of the section I’d made the previous day, whizzed straight over my foot and dashed to safety. My heart nearly attacked me.

We had some tree branches stashed from when one of our Japanese Stinkwoods had come crashing down earlier that year, and I used those on the other side, wrapping them completely in a couple of layers of cement weed cloth. Then filled in the gaps with more curly stuff. It is easier to make these first and then attach them when they are dry – also using cement cloth. Those big flat bits at the bottom were pizza boxes.

The end result is rather effective. It’s now six months old and still rock hard, has been rained on, bird-pooped on and the summer sun has beat upon it fiercely. The plants have grown in their pots and all manner of creatures hang out on it. (We just need to get the grass to grow under that tree now.)

By the way – that fence probably cost less than R500 (excluding my time).

Just to show you the versatility of this method – I then went on to make this birdbath and flower bed for the Easter Lillies that needed some space. This took a day to make. One to dry and a few hours to paint with grout. My lovely husband moaned because the bottom edges were not neat – I just covered those with soil later.

My mom bought some gorgeous purple lilies for my birthday last August and they desperately needed a pot – with all the trees, everything gets root-bound, except the irises and clivias. When I planted them early Feb 2020, they were darn near dead and down to one or two leaves. Look at them now!

This little fairy garden took an afternoon to make.

Below is an example of a pot before you slap the cloth on – junk taped together. Those tins will become separate little pots on the side with their own soil. Just remember to make holes in the bottoms.

Built the little gnome homes into the tin – toilet roll inners covered with weed cloth and dipped in cement. The roof is just a semi-circle of cementy cloth.

Covering tins is a great way to start out. Simply cut several strips double the length of the tin (not too wide) soak them in cement and work your way around the tin. (You don’t have to do the bottom. If you do – make the holes while the cement is still wet, otherwise… get your drill out!) Gives a sort of log-like effect. Mosaiced on some stones and stuff for added interest.

This was a store-bought pot that had broken. I simply fixed it with a few layers of cloth. The fire-stick had fallen over, so I thought I’d take a chance, lop it off and see if it would grow. It’s doing great.

Got gifted this palm earlier this year and it needed a pot – so I made him one. It’s doing really nicely and has new leaves already. As you can see, I built in two separate pots on the corners, so as not to steal the palm’s space but to make the pot look more interesting. We are lucky enough to have succulents galore in our garden, so I just break bits off and stick them into the soil.

Sorry if I got carried away with this blog – the hazards of being a gardener who writes, or is it a writer who gardens?

You are welcome to ask questions.

Eat your greens… you dangerous little dude!

Clearly this is a very healthy little dude – he’s having greens for lunch.

Shame though… the green beetle is no longer quite so healthy. Was totally amazed to see the lovely patterns on this little beastie when I zoomed in (after I had taken the pic – several actually – took a while to get a nice clear shot because the spider was most intent on making damn sure his dinner did not get away).

The spider has a very clear orange spot on his belly – but was not a very accommodating model and scurried under the chair with his snack before I could get a decent shot.

Know I’m always posting pics of spiders and other crazy beasties… did I ever mention that I am poop scared of spiders? (Not these pisswilly little ones – the big hairy ones that jump….)Aaaarggghhhh!!!  I just googled…. I AM SCARED OF THIS PISSWILLY LITTLE ONE AFTER ALL  

According to Seamus’s Photo Blog

“Button Spiders or Latrodectus Geometricus are some of the most dangerous spiders of Southern Africa. They have neurotoxic venom which affects the heart as well as the respiratory system. It is a very painful bite and one will usually see symptoms within half an hour. At the site of the bite will be red and swollen and often one will get a rash. Strangely enough no deaths have yet been recorded in South Africa.”

Lovely green medicine chest in a pot

Pork Bush or as it is more commonly known by its Afrikaans name, Spekboom (Portulacaria afra), is simply fabulous stuff. Not only is it Proudly South African but it is also a water-wise plant that can manage on less than a liter of water a year. Not that I’d want to test this out – and thankfully in Pretoria we have pretty good rains at this time of the year (summer).

Another claim to fame is the fact that it helps fight air pollution by absorbing carbon out of the air. Considerably more so than normal plants do – in fact it is said that one hectare of Spekboom can capture four tons of carbon in a year.

Pretty darn amazing!

Cuttings root rather easily too – a small section cut off just below the node (bottom leaves then removed) and planted – and watered well for the first few days too – will grow quickly.

This video I found on the internet carefully shows how to go about growing a cutting. Although I must mention that I’ve rescued many a broken-off bit and have unceremoniously plonked them in pots and receptacles all over our garden. These are all growing perfectly well despite their casual introduction to a different spot of earth.

Whilst our teensy garden might get the occasional drink of fertiliser – I do admit – to the mirth of my family – to chatting to our plants on a very regular basis. The results are rewarding.

This amazing plant can reach anywhere from 2.5 to 4.5 metres in height (hence being called a “boom” which means tree in English).

The one we have growing the garden is currently only a metre high. It has taken a few years to reach this height, but that’s probably because it got lost under a runaway daisy bush for a year or so!

Whilst elephants in the Eastern Cape consider this little succulent a scrumptious snack – it is perfectly edible for humans too. The tangy leaves can be used in soups and salads.

Because it has great thirst quenching characteristics, the fat juicy leaves can be sucked to deal with over-exhaustion and dehydration if you get caught short out on a hike.

There are also tales about chewing the leaves to promote the flow of breast milk – but I’m done with having babies so cannot say whether this is true or not.

Poultices made out of the leaves can be applied to acne, blisters, corns, insect bites, sore feet and sunburn.

It has also been said that chewing Spekboom leaves several times a day can successfully treat high blood sugar levels.

All in all – a lovely green medicine chest in a pot.

Medicinal info garnered from The Herb Nursery.

Prequel to the new house – eye shopping!

We recently bought a house… after living in a complex for almost 8 years.

So… this cold winter morning we took ourselves off to Safari Garden Centre, one of the local nurseries in Pretoria East, for a lovely sunny breakfast. We were the only clever people doing this at 09h40 and had the place to ourselves.

Afterwards, we went shopping for plants for our new garden… with our eyes… seeing as we only move at the beginning of August.

My lovely man was looking for nice thorny things to plant around the fence, to stop people from popping in and doing some affirmative shopping. I am not so worried about this because the current house-owners assure us that they have not had one single incident in their street (soon to be “our” street) for the last five years, yet alone in their home. 

I vetoed this prickly dude – looks just nasty – the top bit was not even vaguely attractive either.

I checked out the flowers, the veggies, the fruit and nut trees. The house has THE most awesome pecan nut tree already – about 5 or 6 meters tall. It was what sold us on the house, to begin with. That and the fact that we can fit in the whole damn fandamily, including my mom, and still have space to breathe.

Oh… did I mention that we got a free doglet with the house?

A little pecan-nut eating-dachshund named Gemma.  When we found out that she was not moving to New Zealand with the rest of the family, we had our own speedy family conference and decided that we’d happily let her adopt us.

Psst… who has played snap-snap with snapdragons before?

The Move – shredded fingers

If I can give one piece of advice when it comes to moving – get yourself a decent pair of gloves – ones that fits nicely and give you some level of protection.

I had a fat bitch on Facebook (including some graphics) about my poor damaged fingers during and after the move. Before we even started I nicked my thumb on a box whilst packing books. It was just a teensy cut but it stung like hell. Normally these things last a day, two at the most and then they heal up.

But not if you are in the process of moving.

My teensy thumb cut turned into a slightly larger one which seemed to stretch as the days passed. My other fingers joined in the party after scrubbing the complex house to a state of pristine perfection (yes – I know this is what rubber gloves were invented for but somehow I have never owned a pair).

Yes – I do have gloves – but they are fingerless ones – so are totally useless. My gardening gloves were deep in the depths of an unknown box.

Everything you do involves your fingers… the simple things like pulling your zip up is excruciating when the metal cuts into flesh, turning on light switches, flushing the loo (it’s one of those jobbies that you have to press), the microwave button to open the door (it’s got little studs on it), the stove knobs, drawer handles… the list is endless. There is always some meanie little spikey bastard lurking around waiting to inflict pain.

I bought plasters. Normal ones – which I figured would work. Nope. In a Facebook rant I wished for innovative plasters that would actually do the job of covering, protecting and staying on for more than 10 minutes, but still allow your fingers to do their normal jobs. My friend Cathy pointed out that such magical things did actually exist so I dashed off and bought some immediately.

But it was a bit like trying to wrap a nappy on a pole. 

That wretched Emma fell around laughing when she saw what my digits looked like. Haphazard deluxe. It’s not that easy slapping Betadine onto fingers with plastered fingers – and trying to keep that shit off the sticky bits. I suppose I could have asked Chris but I think he thought I was being a bit of a wuz, so I went the independent route.

Emma offered to do them again for me – and did a marginally better job. They still easily unwrapped and fell off and I felt as clumsy as hell.

Of course it did not help that I had agreed to do four recycling workshops for groups of 30 kids for National Science Week either – had to make 120 packs of beads, sharp bits of plastic and tiger wire that bit. If it did not wedge in broken bits (through the plaster) it poked them. I won’t even go into the logistics of actually doing the workshops and having to tie those little suckers off so the kids key-rings stayed together.

True – the special finger plasters are a bit better than the conventionally shaped ones – but they are clearly not made for little fingers. A couple of times I caught cashiers looking at my hands in horror. It’s relatively impossible to pay with your hands clasped under your armpits.

Not to mention the fact that I was dying to get stuck into the garden, amongst all the unpacking and shoving furniture around. I also wanted to bake – we’ve got a fabulous oven in our new house, but kneading rusks with plastered fingers is not what I’d call sanitary.

I wanted to blog too – but it was too freaking sore to type. Seriously.

Today – 17 days after we moved – my fingers are now almost fine (although they still feel like sandpaper) but the original cut on my thumb has grown in depth and size and still attracts all manner of sharp objects. I took my last Elastoplast plaster – a 90 x 60 mm one (that I had previously been cutting in half – worked better than the special ones) and cut in half – but diagonally this time.

Thought if I screw it up – too bad.

Put my thumb in the middle of the gauze. Wrapped the left side over, wrapped the top bit over, wrapped the right side over and… hot damn… had the neatest plaster ever!

And I can still type with it too.

And it only took 2 boxes of plasters to figure this out!

The Move – the garden II

So there we were, three weeks later… grovelling around in the garden one Sunday afternoon, snipping a bit here, digging a bit there… we had walked passed the same spot probably a hundred times already.

Holy Shite!” My lovely husband exclaimed. “Gin! Come and check this out.”

Dropped what I was doing and ran to where he was standing at the corner of the house, staring gobsmacked at the wall. I expected some sort of weird plant or another crazy plastic animal, but no…

There, nestled behind a sort of rather ugly shed-type thing, covered with ivy, was a lovely blue door.

Sadly – not leading to a secret garden, but to the neighbours yard!

We bandied about some conjecture about secret portals to outer space or just previous residents having sneaky love affairs and slipping backwards and forwards in the dead of night. But then we figured that maybe, back in some old day, they were just friends and the one house (not ours) had a lovely huge pool which they were happy to share.

Not sure how we’d missed it all the time, but we had.

Our lovely garden continues to amaze us.


So… we discovered some teensy beasties in the garden too. Very busy ones. They were frantically gathering up bits of leaves and twigs and were then stuffing them down little holes in the ground. The next day they were gone. But I found evidence that they had been there. Ambitious little termites! They had arranged these bits and pieces in this pattern around their hole.

The Move – the garden

One of the things that we really loved about the house when we first saw it was the garden. And the pecan nut tree of course. It’s got several tall trees, some covered with ivy, little nooks and crannies and a teensy pool. It’s also got four – yes FOUR – wendy houses! In the back yard. Then there is still the front yard which is not that tiny either. After being incarcerated in the complex with 5 square meters of garden – this is total heaven.

The third time, several weeks later, when we took mom to see the house, the garden was still lovely but that much drier, as it gets in Pretoria in the winter. We laughed a bit and said that perhaps we would not have been quite so smitten had we seen it at this time of year. Of course, by that time we had already signed papers and there was no turning back.

In the six weeks that passed between then and the date we got the keys, the previous owners managed to turn that lovely garden into a bit of a droopy wilderness. Crunchy brown grass, sad looking plants, and oh my goodness – piles and piles of dead leaves stacked up against the wall.

See what I mean! Both Chris and I had visions of snakes and rats…

The soil is red and plenty of it was visible too. But we were totally undaunted. A poke around the property yielded a treasure trove of stuff, garden tools, hanging baskets of all shapes, sizes and variations of loveliness – full of dead or scanty plants of course – but just waiting to be filled again.

Emma found all sorts of hanging things that tingled and jangled. She retrieved them and hung them from the bougainvillea that rambles between their flatlet and mom’s granny flat.

There’s a divine bird feeder and a bird-poop covered old wooden bench.

Then there are an assorted collection of pots and statues of various oddness. Some will stay, some will be buried in the ivy.

The first weekend we were so busy moving there was no time to do anything in the garden. Then we were so busy settling into the house all I did was unearth the garden hose (they left those too, although we did have a piss-willy little one ourselves that would have been most inadequate) and unleash jets of water on the wasteland.

There was peculiar black dust on many of the plants – we are not sure if it’s from one of the trees or if maybe somebody tried to make a bonfire out of the leaves and it was a sooty residue. It washed off rather easily – so we’ll see if it comes back next year.(It turned out to be black mould-from aphids)

We were loathe to dig up any bits of the garden at that stage because we’re sure it is full of bulbs and all sorts of other exciting stuff that will start growing when the rains come (although I am watering and the grass is starting to turn green again). Luckily Pretoria does not have water restrictions at this stage.

The second weekend came around – the Saturday was Em’s birthday and she had invited some friends over for a braai in the evening. Chris was on a mission to just clear all the stuff that was lying around outside. Most of it came from our double garage. This house does not have a garage. It has two large car ports and the four wendy houses. Originally we thought we might remove one or two of them. I mean – we are not running a campsite for heaven’s sake! But then I’d started thinking that I could possibly run workshops out of the newest one in the middle, and the scary ramshackley one with covered ivy next to the veggie garden could house the garden tools. Chris could have the one nearest to the house as a sort of work shed and the one in the furthest corner could be used to store arb stuff. Em shunned having a wendy as a studio and opted to snag the laundry area instead.

Problem was – they were all scary and needed to be cleaned, painted or fixed up a bit and sorted out. The previous owners had left lovely shelving in two of them, but the shelves had all sorts of stuff on them too. Chris did not want to pack anything away before taking ownership of the wendies.

He’d been busy at work and taking odd bits and pieces of leave during that first week – a few hours here and there – but there was just so much to do. He, with the help of Luan, managed to get them more or less sorted, so that he was happy to pack things into them by the Saturday.

The back courtyard was finally cleared and Ems was able to have her birthday braai.

My hands were a tad destroyed from the moving. I had fingers covered with plasters that kept falling off and they were too sore to do anything, but of course, I persisted doing ridiculous things and the little nicks turned into full blown cuts. Garden gloves were scant protection – but I managed to prune the roses on the Sunday, once again messing up my arm that I had hurt moving initially.

It’s a bugger getting older! Hanging curtains, shifting boxes and moving things into places that you actually want them takes its toll. Moving is not for sissies.

By the end of the second week the house was almost straight (not quite – and that’s when you get to the lazy stage and leave the odd box for later… which is a long time in coming).

The second Saturday we leapt up early. By 10h00 we had gone grocery shopping, hardware shopping, wine shopping and had also hit the mall to buy some gizmo that Chris needed for the TV.

We were ready to get stuck into the garden.

Must say – I sort of envisaged some gentle pottering around. But Chris had other plans. We were going to make a compost heap. He’d bought some compost activator at the hardware store and had it all planned out. We’d dig up part of the veggie bed. The square in the corner next to my going-to-be-fabulous once it is summer again grenadilla vine.

I thought not. No ways. Hell no!

So we agreed to make it in the other section closest to the garden instead. We needed to dig out a square – 1.5m x 1.5m and it had to be about 20cm deep. The soil taken out would then be used to cover the heap – when we were finished. Chris had come up with the clever plan of using the lawnmower to mash up the leaves – which would make them decompose more easily.

Digging that soil was a bitch but we did it. Then I raked the leaves that were scattered around the grass into piles to be mowed. Chris broke out our trusty mower machine that had been in exile for 8 years. Okay I lie, it had been used two or three times whilst we lived in the complex – when the blue dudes were on Xmas break.

Between Chris and the lawnmower they mashed and gobbled those leaves like a hungry monster. I shuttled wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow off to the fast growing compost heap. Somehow, I had heard that there would be two layers. 20cm of leafy mulch, a sprinkle of activator, then another 20cm of mulchy stuff – then the soil.

Hmmm…. Turned out I also have defective hearing. There were, in fact to be four layers.


Halfway through, the job ceased to be fun and became a mindless drudge of snorting leaf dust and aching arms. But the pile of leaves banked up against the wall diminished considerably and the compost heap grew. Em and Charl went off to have a braai – with nary an offer of help. Luan took a break from studying to see what we were doing. Said he’s help for a bit, then cavorted around the place digging out all the musty pecan nuts that he could find. Think he might have ferried one wheelbarrow full of leaf smoosh. Once he’d exhausted all the manky nuts – he took himself back to his room like a squirrel with his haul of nuts to study.

Eventually… much much later… we got to the stage where we could cover the heap with the soil that we had removed several hours earlier.

It was exhausting but also exhilarating, and knowing that we are going to have a fat pile of lovely compost to lavish on our garden at some stage in the future is simply fabulous.

Slaying Dragons

Yesterday Emma and I were sitting in the garden in the early morning sunshine, having a cup of coffee and discussing the launch of our new book.

Suddenly she leapt up yelling WTF!

She backed off a bit, and then cautiously inched up to the base of one of the largish trees we have growing in the garden. 

She’d near as dammit been sitting under it.

I went to look too – I mean there are all sorts of weird and wonderful things in this new garden of ours. Some of the trees are covered with ivy and so are large sections of the ground (it’s not going to stay – soon as I get my fingers back into shape I am planning on tackling it).

There is odd stuff that lurks in nookies and crannies.

Once I finally saw what she was gasping and spluttering at, I leapt back – almost over the neighbours fence. It appeared to be some type of lizard. We could only see a bit of its back, the rest was covered with ivy.

Closer, very cautious inspection, showed that it was indeed huge. But was it alive?

Emma decreed we should give it a gentle poke to see if it moved.

“We” I scoffed. Not on your Nelly! Feel free to poke away, child.

I backed up a little more.

Let’s be honest – I have a reputation with some people on Facebook as “The Dragon Slayer” but it refers to fighting fires and getting shitty work done – not freaking slaying actual dragons.

I know you are thinking that we were probably overreacting a fair bit and that it was probably a scaly bit of bark pretending to be a lizard – but you should know that the previous owner’s younger daughter was dubbed by us as “dragon lady” because she had one of those bearded dragon type things in her bedroom. So it was not totally unrealistic to think that they might have “lost” one in the rather large garden!

Em went rooting around at the bottom of the garden and returned with a stick. A long one. Breaths were collectively held as she gingerly, ever-so-gently poked the critter. Nothing happened. She poked a little harder.

Something moved. We both leapt shrieking into the air waiting for it to turn and gobble us up.

A leaf fluttered to the ground.

Breathes were taken. It was, after all, not alive.

But was it plastic or was it some sort of stuffed beastie.

 Em – a feisty little creature – was determined to uncover the truth. Literally.

Poking, prodding and grunting – she managed to wrestle the creature out of the ivy until it fell with a thud to the ground. (More shrieking and squealing from both of us.)

She hooked the stick under its tail and dragged it out of the bed of ivy (see – I told you we have too much ivy). Then she flipped it over on the paving.

It looked incredibly lifelike but we finally figured out it was indeed plastic when we saw the seams along the sides and a trademark on its belly!

Em carted it off to stash in her room so that she could scare the pants off Charl later. (Turned out Charl, upon spotting the creature, grew incredibly excited and wanted to catch it a keep it as a pet – so the joke fell a wee bit flat.)

Wonder what else will turn up in this garden?