Colour tips for a water wise landscape

With the current water shortage in the Western Cape, Contours Landscapes offer solutions focused squarely on incorporating Water Wise plants and principles into every landscape we create. 

So to help the water-conscious gardener, we have added to our list of our best water wise plants.

In the Cape, now is a good time to get the planning done for your garden before the long anticipated rains arrive and planting can finally begin.

Decide which plants are too water intensive to survive down the line and with the help of gardening books or a professional Landscape Designer, re-evaluate problem areas in your garden. 

In this blog, Contours Landscapes looks at more of our favourite hardy species and why our Garden Design team love them.

Sedum ‘Autumn joy’ is waterwise, adding bright colours to those drab Autumn months

Small or Needle-like leaves

Confetti bush – a very common indigenous, buchu-like medium to large shrub covered with tiny white or light pink flowers for most of spring and summer. "We still love them for the soft limey-green texture that their fine leaves add amongst darker leaved plants like Carissa macrocarpa or structural Strelitzia species and Aloes." – Lucy Schnell

Asparagus ferns – Great filler plants for shady to semi-shaded areas, these hardy indigenous plants store their water in bulblets along their roots, making them seriously tough. We especially love 'Asparagus densiflorus 'Meyersii' for its bushy cat's tails that add form in a shady garden of groundcovers. Also Asparagus densiflorus 'Sprengeri' for its fluffy effect which looks great mass-planted in shady retaining walls or amongst sculptural Cycas and Arum species. – Julia Budden

Acacia trees – still a firm favorite amongst gardeners and landscapers alike, these umbrella shaped trees give a typically African flavour to any garden. Water wise with their small leaves amongst their thorns, these are good trees in larger gardens where their stately canopies can have room to show off. Excellent too amongst rocks and decorative gravels to show off their attractive bark. – Ronel Cockett

Asparagus ‘Cat’s Tails’ and ‘Confetti Bush’ with their small leaves are tough and beautiful.
Succulent leaves

Bulbine species - (Bulbine frutescens, B. latifolia) – bright pops of yellow and orange borne on wispy flower stems with neat succulent leaves giving a 'grass-like' effect, these hardy indigenous plants look great paired with small growing grasses like Carex 'frosted curls' or 'bronze curls'. Latifolia has taller stems with canary yellow flowers held above bigger strappy, succulent leaves. "Great en masse for a striking colour display, we used them at our Cape Town Flower Show 2016 stand." – Bridget Fogarty

Sedum species – beautiful Autumn-flowering succulent perennials that add a splash of limey green to off-white, pink and bronze maroon when not much else is flowering. Very tough and water wise to boot, these look beautiful planted in large bands with softer grasses and Salvia species to show off their flat-topped flower heads. – Cara Smith

Senecio species – with many different succulent senecio succulents to choose from, these hardy succulents add cool blue to silvery tones to the landscape with their fleshy, needle-like leaves. "We love them for the textural interest their leaves create and they look beautiful paired up with purple and white flowering perennials to show off their cool tones." Favorites are Senecio vitalis and S. ficoides with its fatter finger-shaped leaves. – Sasha Schaeffer

Cool blues and greens of Senecio vitalis and the striking yellow flowers of Bulbine latifolia

Grey foliage

Tulbaghia violacea – dependable and tough, these colourful pink-flowered perennials make an excellent groundcover plant and look fantastic planted in large bands amongst other perennials like Felicias and Gaura. Suited for full sun, they also seem to do well and even flower in semi-shade. Beautiful for adding to the Cottage style garden or the West Coast garden style. – Stephen Steyn

Pelargonium reniforme – one of the toughest of the Pelargoniums, with slightly silvery leaves, these bright magenta flowered plants seem to thrive in hot and dry conditions. Useful for North facing pots and beds, they add colour and interest all year round. Cut them back after flowering to promote new green growth. – Julia Budden

Helichrysum petiolare – Another smaller and more compact growing Helichrysum that is water wise and very good as a filler plant adding splashes of bright grey foliage amongst other grasses and structural shrubs and perennials. "We used them extensively at Valkenberg hospital gardens beds amongst a mix of Hypoestes and Agapanthus that can grow in the shade too. – Stephen Steyn

Helichrysum petiolare at Valkenberg hospital and bright pink Tulbaghia en masse
Hairy foliage

Carex grasses – Grasses add a special softness to the landscape and when planted in bands with other flowering perennials, really add interest and textural contrast. We use a lot of Carex in our gardens because it is water wise and tough, hardy to wind and can look good all year round. Good for the low foreground of beds with taller flowering perennials or sculptural plants amongst and behind them. – Cara Smith

Geranium incanum – a firm favourite for using in embankments or slopes where their soft foliage can spill over the edges to soften retaining walls and paving. Bright pink and purple, yet delicate flower heads, bob on thin stems just above their fluffy and hairy textured leaves. – Lucy Schnell

Aristida junciformis – a beautiful grass giving a blonde to light green effect with seasonal variation throughout the year. Excellent plant for adding an airy texture to the garden and to simulate a feeling of water or savannah grassland. Beautiful en masse under water wise Olive trees. – Sasha Schaeffer

Carex grasses with carpet geraniums

Waxy leaves

Cycas revoluta – these striking and sculptural plants are astonishingly hardy as well. Their thick trunks and waxy coated leaves store water and keep them looking lush for long periods. Great for pots as striking specimen plants or in the shady garden, we love these sculptural, yet slow-growing plants that look great near water. – Ronel Cockett

Plectranthus verticillatus – a great Plectranthus for those tough, dry-shaded areas where not much else will grow. Semi-succulent leaves are small, bright green and shiny and it spreads very easily from cuttings. Good groundcover for shaded to semi-shaded areas and will even do well in some sun. – Julia Budden

Pavetta lanceolata – the 'Brides bush' is a beautiful addition to the garden, making a medium to large sized shrub with beautiful lush green foliage and masses of white sprays of flowers in Spring. Hardy in periods of drought, these beautiful plants look good as specimen shrubs amongst the structural evergreen plants of the garden. – Bridget Fogarty
Glossy leaves of Pavetta lanceolate and the striking Cycas revoluta add drama to the water wise garden

A little tip, group your plants according to their water needs and after planting add a thick layer of organic mulch. Use compost at the bottom of the planting holes to encourage deep rooting and water less frequently and more deeply to encourage plant resilience.

Happy landscaping!


    • Cape Contours Landscape Solutions
    • Rand Water Water Wise Guide to Landscaping
    • Marijke Honig Water Wise Gardening talk (Feb 2017)

Image credits:

    • Seeds for Africa
    • Flikr
    • Plantzafrica
    • Contours Landscapes
    • Water-Wise Gardening Fresno Region
    • Random Harvest Nursery
    • Siyakula Nursery
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