A greener city of aloes and in­dige­nous suc­cu­lents?

Grocott's Mail - - OUTSIDE - CHI­RAG PA­TEL

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.

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