Gardening, once the preserve of white- haired ladies in dungarees and thick floral gloves, has become an occupation to be envied and admired.
Sunday is South Africa’s first national Garden Day, a day set aside to celebrate the mulching, weeding, planting and composting we’ve done all year and to reap the benefits of that pleasant exertion.
The gardeners of Babylonstoren – a 20ha oasis in the shadow of the Du Toitskloof and Franschhoek mountains in the Cape – came up with the idea to share their love of gardening and launched the Garden Day movement, supported by the SA Nursery Association.
The movement is supported by Alwijn Burger – aka “Blomboy”, Constance Stuurman – head gardener at Babylonstoren, and Xolisa Bangani – who’s encouraging township youth to garden.
Which is your favourite garden in South Africa?
I grew up in Bedford. You can find the most beautiful variety of gardens there. My favourite is the garden on the farm Maasström – developed over 30 years by George and Charlotte van der Watt.
What do you love most about gardens?
Plants have the ability to transform an environment. Plants and gardens ”transport” you to a space dreamt up by the gardener.
Any epiphanies while working with plants?
Flowers have taught me about patience, about elegance, about trust.
What’s the most unusual way you’ve used plants or flowers?
As a floral stylist, flowers become my medium, my clay, my canvas. I’ve dipped them in paint, I’ve suspended them, I’ve frozen them, I’ve put them in a microwave – but nothing ever beats a flower cut from my garden and put in a glass vase with water.
I’m into white pansies at the moment – the cutest little things around.
What are the positive effects of working with flowers?
Flowers don’t have any ideas about what they should be other than beautiful.
How does one get over the disappointment of flowers dying on you?
Don’t force your ideas of longevity onto flowers. Flowers are beautiful at every stage of their life. Love them as they open, adore them in full bloom and admire them as they gracefully wilt, age and drop.
- Experiment with texture – an all green posy made up of leaves, mosses and sticks is as special as any floral composition.
- Pick foliage from your garden.
- Keep the stems below water level. The bouquet will last longer.
- Size is not everything – the tiniest posy is as special as a giant bunch of blooms.
How do you get kids interested in gardening?
We create a scoreboard – the kids with the most points from gardening get an opportunity to go to Table Mountain, Robben Island or Cape Point . We plant vegetables with them, showing them that food comes from the soil. They usually think food comes from supermarket shelves.
What’s the “magic” of gardening for you?
Gardens connect living things. We feel the power of nature when we communicate with the soil and the soil responds.
The most unusual plant you’ve encountered?
Spekboom. It’s an edible plant, full of calcium. It doesn’t need attention – it’s self-sustaining.
Benefits of gardening?
Gardens calm stress, give you time to meditate and stimulate good moods.
Best plant gift you’ve received?
In 2014 I received a gift of an aloe after I did a talk in District Six.
How do we help bring the importance of gardening to city and township dwellers?
We need to reverse their psychology, remind them that gardening is not slave labour nor an old-fashion pastime.
Tips for creating an urban garden space.
- Observe your surroundings to assess what you have and how you can use it.
- Be creative by using old buckets and tyres. You can also think of vertical gardens, but start small.
- Open your mind to study nature and expose yourself to garden design.
What initiated your interest in gardens?
I was born with green fingers. In my culture you work in the garden before you can walk.
How do you know you have green fingers?
When every plant that you touch turns into a fantastic life form that you can eat or drink or smell.
The difference between city gardens and organic gardens?
Organic gardening means no synthetic fertilisers or pesticides. We focus on using other methods of taking care of pests and disease like companion planting or making homemade pesticides to keep the natural micro-elements in the garden alive.
My office, Babylonstoren.
Benefits of spending time in the garden?
It recharges batteries with its smell and beauty. Gardening is hard work so you get a full body workout.
I love all types of herbs.
How can you use the medicinal properties of plants?
There are a range of teas you can make to alleviate ailments.
Tips for starting a vegetable garden.
- Start small and with good soil.
- Choose a sunny spot. Vegetables need a lot of sun.
- Make use of good quality seeds and space them correctly.
- Mulch well, especially with summer on its way. It will keep your soil moist and will serve as an extra source of food.
Written By the Times Live, read more here