by Dick Handscombe
I am just back from an interesting lecture tour giving talks the Costa Blanca Gardening Circle, the Amanzora Valley Gardening Club and the Axarquia Gardening Club in just one week.
During my travels it was very evident that many expats were living in properties with steeply sloping gardens, in part or totally and were concerned about what to plant to reduce, or hopefully totally stop, soil erosion during heavy rains, especially gota frias.
At the first two talks we naturally discussed repairing or building terrace walls, stabilising earth walls, planting deep rooted ground cover plants, heavy mulching, developing a system of sloping paths with inner earth walls held back with one two or three thick tree trunks or straight branches, but with no really cost-effective solutions. Then, by chance, keen gardeners Anne and David Olson kindly picked me up from Malaga airport to drive to Competa for the third talk. Quickly we were discussing a ‘wonder plant’ that they had used to solve severe access and corrosion problems on their steeply sloping plot of land.This sounded interested so en-route we visited their garden to see the benefits of the plant Vetiver, Chrysopogon Zizanioidea variety Monto, in their own and surrounding gardens and the way they were now growing and harvesting young plantlets or slips for sale. I was amazed and wished that someone had many years ago introduced the plant to Spain. They had only done so some five years before.
I discovered that Vetiver is originally from India and is related to lemon grass. It is an attractive green and grows in clumps up to 1.5 metres high and with vertical roots going down to 2 or 3 metres into the ground – hence its stabilising properties and need for little watering after the first three or four months. Little fertilizing is required, but a dilute grass-type liquid fertilizer and fire ashes are of benefit. Its upper growth with a grass-like tuft turns an attractive purple colour. Once you have two year plants, plantlets can be harvested from the outside of the clumps to expand your plantings.
(The two photographs illustrate what a just planted row of rooted slips on a steep slope would look like and the same row just four months later.)
Being highly drought-resistant once its roots start to grow, Vetiver therefore has the potential for a wide variety of uses beyond just preventing soil erosion as outlined below.
14 practical ways to use Vetiver plants in gardens:
To prevent further erosion of steep slopes.
To prevent the constant erosion of the outer edge of plateaux created to provide a level area on which to build a house and surrounding terrace on sloping sites.
To create terrace walls on sloping sites as a less expensive alternative to stone or block walls.
To repair the banks of unlined agricultural water channels.
As a backdrop to a garden pond. Not just good to look at, but could attract birds that like reeds in which to rest and nest.
In containers to provide greenery on eating terraces.
To hide an unattractive concrete block dividing wall.
To provide internal windbreaks in windy gardens.
To provide low maintenance green hedges on either side of the drive from the entrance gates or in front of the garage.
To provide a wind break around a vegetable garden.
To hide away the compost heap or perhaps experiment with an eco-natural compost heap with three sides provided by mature Veltiver plants.
If cut a couple of times a year, in addition to the above uses, the cuttings can be dried as a feed for horses and rabbits.
If you have a small vegetable plot or orchard in the agricultural countryside with imprecise boundaries between yours and others, surround yours with a boundary of Vetiver plants.
As one of the plants used to create a natural water-cleaning system for a swimming pool or koi carp pond.
That list was just a quick thoughtful brain dump at 6am! I am sure that there are others.
I came home with a few plants to use in my garden and gardens of friends with immediate needs. My plants are being used to hide the green painted back wall of my paella kitchen, as a decorative feature on my largest raised terrace and as a feature in a new water garden that I am developing. Two friends are planting them to block out an unattractive view beyond the garden and stabilise an earth bank surrounding two sides of a horse paddock.
Anne and David are the only suppliers of Vetiver plants in Spain and are contactable via www.vetiverspain.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. They supply the inexpensive plant in two forms; young cuttings or slips and potted cuttings with larger root balls. The former are the least expensive and easiest for postal or courier delivery if you do not live near enough to collect grown-on cuttings/slips in containers of various sizes and age.
© Dick Handscombe