Eight enthusiastic gardeners who'll inspire you to get growing

These green-fingered South Africans are keen to share the joys of gardening — and their harvests — with others

04 October 2020 - 00:02 By
Josephine Katumba.
Josephine Katumba.
Image: Supplied

It's no wonder gardens are synonymous with paradise.

The Garden of Eden is the first place described in the Book of Genesis. There our forebears, Adam and Eve, lived in plenty before desire ruined everything and humankind was condemned to pay the price.

In Greek mythology, the Garden of Hesperides was the sacred place where the gods received immortality.

Arcadia was a Utopian garden where bountiful nature reigned supreme in splendid harmony.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were classified by Herodotus in his Seven Wonders of the World and had floating terraces, cascading streams and lush exotic greenery.

Tír na nÓg from Celtic mythology is the supernatural land where people live among lush gardens filled with trees and flowers.

In the realm of Arthurian legend and Celtic myth, Avalon — "Isle of Apples" — was considered the ultimate safe haven, where wild apple trees and vineyards grew.

And if you're not convinced by myths, there's Kenroku-en in Kanazawa, Japan, which has an entrance lined with an avenue of cherry blossom trees. They shed their petals like a pink-tinged snowfall as you walk beneath them.

The Keukenhof garden in the town of Lisse in the Netherlands covers 32ha and contains 7-million flower bulbs that burst into tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, lilies and irises from March to May each year, and the garden has roses and carnations, too.

The Nong Nooch Tropical Garden in Thailand is famous for its cycads, cacti, succulents and palms, and the gardens of Versailles near Paris are 809ha designed by gardener André le Nôtre, by appointment to Louis XIV in 1661.

Other famous gardens are the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in the UK, the Jardin Majorellein in Marrakech, Morocco, bought by designer Yves Saint Laurent in 1980, and the Villa d'Este in Tivoli, Italy, with its 51 fountains.

Of course, there's also our own Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Cape Town on the slopes of Table Mountain.

But gardens don't need to be grandiose to be a refuge from urban mayhem. No matter how small the space, gardens offer a connection to the natural world for which we hanker. Wild and unkempt or trimmed and cultivated, gardens are a place of respite. They combat anxiety and cabin fever. They're a place to plant seeds and watch them grow.

Garden Day next Sunday is especially poignant this year. During lockdown, many South Africans turned to their green spaces — in luxuriant rolling gardens or in simple windowsill pots — to find solace and balance.

These eight amateur gardeners found their zen in the garden:

1. JOSEPHINE KATUMBA 

The 24-year-old urban gardening advocate from Joburg thinks South Africans should learn from the way people in the US responded to critical food shortages during World War 2.

In those tough times, the US government promoted "victory gardens", encouraging families to grow their own food for nourishment and to boost morale. The US department of agriculture estimates more than 20-million victory gardens were planted in back yards, empty lots and on rooftops. Neighbours pooled resources, planted different kinds of foods and formed co-operatives.

I want to be involved in reconnecting people with their food and the environment through urban agriculture
Josephine Katumba, urban gardening advocate

Josephine (pictured above) says Covid-19 added urgency to an idea she's promoted since late last year, when she launched Biakudia Urban Farming Solutions (BUFS), which aims to support corporations, restaurants, schools, communities and individuals to start their own food gardens.

She joined forces with her mother, Theresa, an avid food gardener who inspired her interest in urban food gardens. "My mother always maintained a beautiful garden at our home in Hurlingham," she says.

Residents of sprawling industrial and commercial cities become detached from where their food comes from and how it's produced. Says Josephine: "I want to be involved in reconnecting people with their food and the environment through urban agriculture."

Mama Refiloe Molefe.
Mama Refiloe Molefe.
Image: Supplied

2. MAMA REFILOE MOLEFE 

Since 2007, she's developed an expansive food garden on abandoned bowling greens, and gives free fresh produce to needy people, especially children in her inner-city community of Bertrams, Joburg. She's built up a loyal customer base and won many accolades, including cash prizes that paid for infrastructure like her greenhouses.

Mama Refiloe has overcome many obstacles — even the Covid-19 lockdown hasn't intimidated her.

"I couldn't sell produce or my vegetable juices at markets and to restaurants because they were closed. My customers couldn't buy from me for three months, but we managed to run a soup kitchen and deliver food parcels to underprivileged people in the area," she says.

Now in her 60s, Mama Refiloe says: "This garden means everything to me. I'm passionate about farming and I love sharing with people, especially underprivileged people like me. Even if we don't have much money, we have food, that makes me happy."

She estimates she provides food to at least 250 children every week. She's also training a new generation of gardeners and teaching young people to cultivate the land. Thirteen of them have completed courses at the Agriculture Sector Education and Training Authority (AgriSeta). "They learn the theory at the AgriSeta and I give them the practical training," she says.

Seven of them now work with her in her food garden and some have started their own food gardens or are managing gardens for companies or individuals. She's particularly proud that one of them now runs a food garden at a school in Limpopo.

3. NHLANHLA MAKWE 

Describing himself as a "creative entrepreneur", this 25-year-old from Orlando West, Soweto, has been encouraging residents of the area to become more self-sufficient by growing their own food through his Ubuntu Joint project.

After school, between 20 and 30 children converge on his home, which he shares with his mother, his siblings, an uncle, and his grandmother and grandfather. There, they learn to grow their own vegetables in containers they make from discarded materials recovered from a local dump site.

Nhlanhla Makwe.
Nhlanhla Makwe.
Image: Supplied

He has a certificate in finance from a technical college but says gardening is his passion.

"I started my project after looking at my environment. I saw a lot of black people suffering," he says.

"Instead of them buying food from the shops, they should become self-sufficient by growing their own."

Nhlanhla knew little about gardening but developed his interest after his sister gave him an assortment of vegetable seeds in 2017. "I planted the seeds — spinach, carrots, parsley, cauliflower — and as my garden began to grow it gave me inspiration."

4. LIZZ PATHER

She works as an attorney and runs a women's empowerment electrical business but between these occupations Lizz has challenged herself to grow something different in her tiny garden in Sunninghill, Joburg.

"My first challenge was to grow as much as possible in a small space, but I also wanted to grow something unusual," she says.

Lizz Pather.
Lizz Pather.
Image: Supplied

Alongside the usual food crops she cultivates in a 2m x 1m vegetable patch and also grows romanesco, Buddha's hand and heirloom tomatoes.

Lizz plants seeds in trays that she places on the bonnet of her car. The heat from the engine heats up the trays, speeding up germination.

5. MOKGADI ITSWENG 

She's a chef who's established two food businesses, sourcing her fresh fruit and veg from small urban farmers while maintaining her own garden in Norwood, Joburg.

Her passion for gardening was enhanced when her father, a medical doctor, bought a farm in Walkerville, south of Joburg, and grew vegetables to sell at markets and fruit and vegetable retailers.

Mokgadi Itsweng.
Mokgadi Itsweng.
Image: Supplied

While living on the farm and working as a chef in Rosebank, Mokgadi transported produce to markets early in the morning. She's committed herself to sourcing from urban farmers as much as possible for the fresh produce she needs as a chef and for her food businesses, the Ujuspice condiment and relish manufacturing company, and Lotsha Home Foods, a catering and food demo venture.

6. LAURA FLINT 

Rider Laura came down to earth when she fell off her horse. Recovering from severe head injuries, she rediscovered her childhood appreciation for gardening to escape boredom.

"I was always an outdoor, tomboy kind of girl," says the 26-year-old software designer who lives on a smallholding in Hout Bay, Cape Town. "I started collecting succulents but my real obsession with plants and gardening started with the fall off that horse in 2018."

Laura Flint.
Laura Flint.
Image: Dwayne Senior

She started propagating her succulents. "Then I started collecting house plants — I've got about 50 in my bedroom alone — and planning a vegetable garden."

She focuses on growing air-purifying plants like the spider plant, Chlorophytum comosum. "They help calm my anxiety and enable me to sleep better," she says.

"Millennials have grown up with technology and spend so much time on screens," Laura says. "We need to spend more time outdoors and in nature."

7. KAYLYN VAN AS 

Kaylyn, from Table View in Cape Town, was concerned about the environment when she started her garden.

"Growing my own food without pesticides and avoiding having to buy food wrapped in plastic is my way of reducing my environmental impact and being socially responsible," she says.

"I also found that gardening is a form of free therapy that helps your mental health when you're a bit down. So I threw myself into gardening and discovered that it taught me patience, to slow down, to look at things more closely, to be more observant."

Kaylyn van As.
Kaylyn van As.
Image: Dwayne Senior

She focuses on growing bee-friendly plants — boegoe and proteas, borage, sunflowers and purple cone flowers. "I attract not only bees but birds and butterflies, and this makes my garden more colourful and rewarding," she says.

8. BEAUTY KUME 

Beauty tells her friends on Facebook to pop around to pick up spinach whenever she has excess. Those who can't get there still benefit from the advice she gives them to grow their own vegetables and herbs, even in limited space.

She took to gardening after deciding to stop buying vegetables from the supermarkets. "I wanted to cook my food using my own naturally grown vegetables and herbs," she says.

Beauty learned to grow her own vegetables from her mother, who maintained an expansive food garden at her home in Gugulethu, Cape Town. Beauty's husband, Harrison, had learnt to grow his own vegetables at school. Together they've started their own food garden in Mandalay in Mitchells Plain.

Beauty Kume.
Beauty Kume.
Image: Supplied

Harrison had worked as a fisherman on trawlers and found that gardening provided him with the relaxation he needed from his stressful life at sea. He also developed gout, which became so severe that he had to give up his job. The exercise he gained from gardening helped relieve his gout by lowering the high blood pressure that contributed to contracting this painful arthritic condition.

CELEBRATE GARDEN DAY 2020

Visit Gardenday.co.za/GetInvolved for a handy toolkit to help you plan the perfect virtual celebration, including recipe ideas, downloadable invitations for your virtual celebration
and things to do and make with children in the garden.

See the programme for the Virtual Garden Gathering on Gardenday.co.za/Events.

Catch news, updates, and inspiration at @GardenDaySA on Candide, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter. Tag your posts with @GardenDaySA and #GardenDaySA to share your green celebration with friends, family, and fellow plant lovers online.