A greener city of aloes and indigenous succulents?
It’s funny how life goes. For the last couple of months, I’ve been feeling quite down about gardening.
Aside from the usual winter lull, I made the difficult decision to stop pursuing the park project on the old dump, which had become my focus in terms of garden activity. The community support I received was fantastic, and I’m sure will lead to strong things in future, but the project hit something of a wall with an administrative process that was never very clear to me. In the end, I realised my energies could be better spent elsewhere, where it is more likely that progress can be made.
Where that elsewhere was, I wasn’t sure. The project to revamp the Old Gaol is a worthy one, but it will be more of a market and event space, as there isn’t much scope for greening the space. It’s defi- nitely a project worth keeping an eye on, and they had a very successful festival of events, but the whole thing seems to require more paperwork and municipal sign-offs than I’m entirely happy with at present.
The problem resolved itself during a walk, as it often does. I ran into a fellow who lives down the road from me. I’ve been meaning to have a proper chat with him for a while, since he has a fantastic garden – all indigenous, pretty much waterless, and sturdy enough to survive even the long droughts and poor weather.
As it turns out, he knows all of these things because he’s Mike Powell, a specialist in environmental restoration at Rhodes. Restoration using indigenous plants like spekbloem and aloes to bring life and some verdancy back to barren areas.
This is particularly important in the Eastern Cape, where trying to grow sustainable vegetable or English-style gardens is often doomed to failure, or requires a very careful hand.
On a side note, the terrain isn’t like this because of overgrazing – you can see from sketches the early settlers made that it was basically the same scrubland pretty much from 200 years ago. It’s just that in the meantime we’ve added lots of stuff that won’t survive, or reduces the amount of native plants. With a little bit of a boost, Grahamstown could become flooded with life and colour from focused indigenous planting.
Mike’s been hatching a plan for a while to turn Grahamstown into a city of aloes, where along all our verges and unused ground we have indigenous succulents and other plants that will require little maintenance and will hugely increase the wildlife and ecology of the currently quite barren city.
Step one in the plan is building a sort of Eastern Cape botanic gardens, probably in the grounds of a school. This would use only indigenous plants, creating the kind of lo- cal wildlife haven I wanted to create with the old park project.
It would also be an accidental act of decolonisation, since botanic gardens exist to show how much of the world England owned, and an Eastern Cape version is the perfect complement.
Then we’d get schoolchildren and organisations around town to gather aloes when they’re being chopped down or thrown away, and find places for them, starting with verges and on organisational properties.
It’s a great idea, and I suspect I’ll be throwing a lot of energy towards it. It also links in with other notable projects in town, like the Kowie Catchment Campaign’s adopt-a-spot project and the need to eliminate alien invaders.
What really attracts me about it is a lesson I gave some people a while ago and entirely forgot about (there’s probably a lesson in there about taking my own advice). I’d been asked to speak to a community group, and I went to tell them that they had to stop relying on official structures or support being accessible or functional – instead, they needed to make a plan that didn’t need signoff or action from anyone else.
Here’s to hoping we can carry on making Grahamstown greener.
* Do you have a project you’d like to see featured in Gardening in G’town, or a gardening question? Please contact chirag.patel@ feedingtheself.org or 073 557 8909. Feeding The Self is a cross-NGO project focused around building gardens and using them for teaching and community building.