Memorial Park is a hugely popular park in Kloof and is well know as a gathering place and one of the very few open spaces where you can safely walk your dog.
Prior to 2005 Memorial Park was an open space with grass, trees and many invasive alien plants. Residents made limited use of the park, the presence of birds was minimal and other wildlife non-existent. The two streams in the park were seriously clogged with invasive aliens and water flow was erratic. The most common invasive plants were Ginger Lilies (Hedychium spp.), Creeping Inch Plant (Callisia repens), Wandering Jew (Tradescantia fluminensis), Elephants Ear (Colocasia spp.), Camphor trees (Cinnamomum camphora), Litsea (Litsea glutinosa), Ageratum (Ageratum spp.) and Ink-berry (Cestrum laevigatum).
The two streams that flow through the park combine into one near Alamein Avenue and then flows into Krantzkloof Nature Reserve at Ronald’s Kloof, situated approximately 600m downstream of Memorial Park. The stream was a constant source of invasive alien plant contamination for the reserve which then resulted in high level of expenses to remove these invaders inside the reserve.
In 2005, Kloof Conservancy decided to initiate a rehabilitation project to convert the park into an indigenous habitat which would take into account the bio-diversity of the area and provide the community with a natural asset they could enjoy. A Kloof Conservancy team was set up, headed by Helen Terblanche, and it was decided to work in phases over a number of years. Although the drive was towards indigenous vegetation it was decided to retain many of the non-invasive non-indigenous trees. Prior to 2005 the Municipality under the guidance of the then Municipality’s environmental officer, the late Greg Bosch, had started a grassland section in the south-western part of the park and it was decided to retain this feature and to restore the wetlands in the central and north-eastern part of the park.
The overall aim was to create a natural habitat where residents would have open spaces for children to play on as well as wetland and grassland areas where indigenous plants, birds and animals could thrive and also provide attractive indigenous vegetation and points of biodiversity interest for residents who walk in the park.
One of the first steps was to appoint a private company to eradicate the “elephant ears” which had reduced the streams to mere trickles of water. These plants were slashed, dug out and carted away, a huge and expensive task. The Conservancy then appointed environmental specialist, Richard Winn, to tackle the rehabilitation of the wetlands.
When Richard started his work the wetlands had hardly any moisture and invasive plants were everywhere. The swamp forest was so overgrown that one could not even get into it. The wetlands were staked out to prevent mowing on the banks and trenches were dug to spread the moisture back to its outer limits (the reverse of herringbone drainage). A large variety of indigenous species were planted, one of the main species being the bulrushes, in the sunny wetland area.
This is fertile land and as the land was cleared new alien invasive species readily established themselves. Visitors to the park were initially both sceptical and concerned but good communication and a permanent display in the park, explaining the process, allayed most fears.
Once the wetland work was settled focus shifted to removing all the other invasive aliens. This included clearing the streams of a large number of attractive but very invasive species of Australian tree-fern and countless invasive creepers.
The grassland has been “control-burnt” burnt twice to encourage natural species propagation such as Disa woodii and Watsonia spp.
The results of the hard work have been beyond all expectations and today it is heartening to see that the park is used right throughout the day by all age groups. It is wonderful to see the children playing and grandparents taking puppies for a walk. A very popular green community facility has been created.
A suitable environment had been created in the park for wildlife and so animals and birds started moving in. The Park now boasts an interesting array of permanent residents such as a nesting pair of hamerkop, a water monitor, genet, thick billed weavers, variety of bats, snakes, eels, fish, crabs, toads (look in the arum lily blooms for the beautifully coloured Natal Tree Frog – Leptopelis natalensis) and numerous insects such as butterflies, moths, dragonflies etc.
Community involvement is increasing as community groups increasingly utilise the park and Kloof Conservancy hold an annual Happy Hounds Day. In addition a local resident paid for labeling of the main indigenous trees and another donated R3000 for trees and shrubs for the stream nearest to Buckingham Road.
At the same time as the rehabilitation of the park was started, Kloof Conservancy also supported a similar project (known as the Ronald’s Kloof Stream Rehabilitation Project) downstream, on private land between Memorial Park and the Krantzkloof Nature Reserve. The aim of this was to ensure a healthy indigenous “corridor” along the stream to protect the nature reserve from invasive alien plants.
The combined results of the two projects have provided Krantzkloof Nature Reserve significantly improved protection from invasive alien plants.
Mother Nature knows no voids and soon after the invasive aliens were eradicated, relatively uncommon indigenous plant species started appearing. The South African National Bio-diversity Institute (SANBI) were called in to assist in their identification.
Memorial Park is fortunate to have two relatively rare large ferns which are growing in the swamp forest. The botanical name for these ferns is Todea barbara sometimes also known as the King Fern. It is indigenous to South Africa but is also found in Australia and New Zealand. They have a short stumpy base and can grow to three meters tall although they are not true tree ferns. The spore remains viable for only a few days after collecting, which makes it difficult to distribute. Plants of this size are relatively rare in our area.
The Floating Heart plant (Nymphoides thunbergiana) recently appeared in the wetland. This is a pretty, fast-growing, perennial water plant. It has flat, rounded, floating leaves, and delicate white and yellow flowers appearing in summer. It makes a useful addition to ornamental ponds and dams, especially for gardeners who may be searching for indigenous alternatives to exotic (and now often outlawed) water plants. It looks best in a pond where it is in combination with true water lilies and perhaps a spike-leaved accent plant.
A member of the aster family (Cotula anthemoides) was also recently identified by SANBI. This pretty plant is an annual herb growing to about 30 cm. Flowers are small, yellow or pale yellow. It is found in moist places such as by a river and stream banks and on the dried-up margins of dams and lakes. The leaves and roots are taken in Lesotho for colic. In South Africa it is a remedy for head and chest-colds and is said to have been much used in the worldwide flu epidemic of 1919.
The Blue Soldier Salvia (Pycnostachys reticulata) is a beautiful perennial with spikes of two-tone, pale blue and mauve flowerheads in late summer to autumn, a good choice for the mixed border. The genus name Pycnostachys is derived from the Greek pyknos meaning dense, and stachys actually an ear of corn but in botany a spike, referring to the inflorescence, which is a spike of many flowers densely crowded together. The species name reticulata means a fish net, or netted or a network in Latin, and refers to the veins, which are clearly visible on the underside of the leaf.
Long-leaved Barleria (Hygrophila auriculata) is a very pretty compact plant growing to between 60-120cm tall with purple-blue flowers. The seeds are reputed to be useful against arthritis as well as being an aphrodisiac.
Invasive alien plant invaders remain an ongoing problem. Diplocyclos palmatus, a pretty creeper that escaped from neighbouring properties recently spread over much of the park in double quick time and had to be removed manually at great cost. This happens on an ongoing basis mainly because many neighbouring gardens contain many Category 1 invasive alien plants so the team has to monitor and act on a regular basis. It is hoped that in the future more park neighbours will move to indigenous gardening or as a minimum will remove Category 1 invasive alien plants from their gardens thus helping to protect the park.
Included in future plans is the need to add more wetland plants into the emerging wet spots and increase the understory in the river on the Buckingham road side.
An area of concern is the amount of fouling of the park from the many dogs that visit daily. Whilst it is lovely to have such excellent access for dogs to the park, the public health concerns are real and a way of eliminating this problem will have to be found.
The responsibility for the upkeep of the park rests with eThekwini Parks Department who have done and continue to do an outstanding job by regularly mowing the grass, installing essential signage and doing general upkeep tasks.
Kloof Conservancy continues to support and partly fund the ongoing maintenance and beautification of the park.
The re-habilitation project funded and managed by Kloof Conservancy in conjunction with the eThekwini Parks Department has finally enabled the park to achieve the original intention of the generous donation from the Johnson and Hickman families who donated most of the land in memory of their sons who were killed in World War II.