Renosterveld is a little known and critically endangered vegetation type. There is only 5% remaining, with many plants on the verge of extinction. Unlike fynbos, Renosterveld needs fertile soils which occur on flat plains, which are also ideally suited for farming and urban development. As a result, only a few fragmented pockets remain, typically rocky outcrops or wetlands commercially unavailable.

The ugly sister of fynbos

One can be forgiven for overlooking this vegetation type as it can look quite dull and scrubby from the outside. It is devoid of the showy proteas and ericas occurring in fynbos, and for this reason, has been nicknamed ‘the ugly sister of fynbos’. But, of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Renosterveld is so incredibly rich and diverse, as seen in the first and only field guide recently published by Dr Odette Curtis: ‘Renosterveld of The Overberg’. It is known for its bounty of bulbs that burst into life in spring.

Joostenberg is an ancient farming area and has been ploughed for over 250 years. Unfortunately, this means we have no pristine regions left. Still, in line with our organic winemaking philosophy, we focus on reintroducing and restoring the natural vegetation.

Remove the grass and replace it with Rynosterveld

The returning soldiers from the war had been exposed to the green rolling hills of Europe and aspired to the ‘English Country Garden Look’. As a result, we inherited a large lawn area that is not water-wise and requires maintenance.  In the gardens, we are slowly taking up this grass and replacing it with endemic Renosterveld. We fall in the Swartland shale and granite Renosterveld area, and just as the terroir determines the wines, it also supports a particular kind of vegetation.

To create a species list and with the help of the nature app ‘iNaturalist’, we are currently identifying and mapping plants on nearby reference sites within a 10km radius of the farm. This requires research and time in the field, and we have to date found a few rare, red-listed species. In addition, replantings are challenging as these are not the kinds of plants you generally buy at nurseries. To this end, we are collecting seeds and taking cuttings for propagation.

It is also important not to strip away everything that has gone before as it is part of the layers of history and part of our story. The heritage roses, for example, represent and remind us of the previous generation.


Time makes room for what is needed

Time influences what we do and how we see things. What our needs are,  determine our priorities. When the first farmers settled on the farm and planted trees in the wetland, they desperately needed wood and thought of survival, not conservation. Clearing the alien poplars currently soaking up and choking the natural wetland is an ongoing project. Joostenberg lies on the urban edge, which means we are always threatened by encroaching development. Getting neighbours educated and involved is important and challenging as one cannot work in an isolated capsule. The ultimate aim is to join the fragmented pieces with ‘corridors’ to sustain insects and birdlife. These nature strips are very beneficial to farmers, as the natural balance is restored, which helps control diseases and makes farming more sustainable.

Every little bit we do is better than doing nothing

As custodians of Joostenberg, we have many challenges. As a private landowner, assistance and information are difficult to find and can sometimes be overwhelming when one is also trying to farm and make a living. However, every little bit we do is better than doing nothing. We aim to try and protect what is left, restore what we can and hopefully hand the land over to the next generation in better condition than we inherited it.

Go home, open your eyes, scour the verges of the road, edges of parks and golf courses; you may be surprised what you will find; a kalkoentjie, a snotblom, a moederkappie or a pop rosie.  The wonders of nature are on your doorstep.

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