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The How to Green Your Garden Manual

Updated on October 4, 2010

Gardens Of My Father

When I grew up we always live in High Rise Flats or Apartment buildings, and we did not have to bother about gardens.

My father, who was the Superintendent for the most part, in these blocks of flats that we stayed in, there was not much of a garden. A couple of them had some long outside containers, in which my father could satisfy his gardening urges, these containers were always a roit of colour, and immaculately trimmed, fed, nurtured and watered on a daily basis. He would spend at least a couple of hours every day tending to the 2 of these 30 yards long by at the most 3 yards wide containers.

When he finally moved into a house of his own, there were at least 30 rose bushes on aboyut 3/4 of an acre of garden, however the pool and BBQ area took up at least 1/4 of that garden. The beds both on the pavements and against the walls of the house, were a blaze of colour, all year round.

Strangers would drive past and stop to look at his garden.

My mother once made the mistake of picking some of the flowers for the house, and was promptly told, that if you want flowers inside then we buy them, those are for the garden!

My Attempts At Gardening

When my late wife and I saw the house that we finally chose, the one that would be our ideal home, with a garden that firstly well established, as well as neatly maintained, a tidy 1/2 acre property with a lot of natural rocks in the back, the property was on a ridge. Well established trees, shrubs with ground cover and a fair amount of plants in flower that added colour.

When we eventually moved in, 3 months later than planned, due to technicalities with the outgoing owners, they had a problem, as there new house was not ready.

The garden when we finally moved in, was a disaster area, they had not watered the garden, trimmed the dead branches on the shrubs, weeded, then to cap it all, the grass had not even been mowed the lawn for that period. That was just the front garden.

The previous owner who was a freelance builder by trade, during those three months for several months prior to that, used the one side of the house as well as the back garden as dumping ground for the general half bricks, chipped off plaster, bits of rafters, and other items, that needed to be removed from his customers sites, saving himself the money for using the correct dumping areas. All of this was disgissed under long African grass, a nasty weed we call blackjacks, as well as sundry other wild plants.

I suppose we should have guessed as his daughters playroom was built out all sorts of discarded building material, although from the outside it was adorable, the inside had never even had a layer of plaster applied to it.

We will not go into a discription of the inside of the house, that is another hub of its own.

I forgot to mention that my late wife was, also eighth months pregnant with our firstborn.

There was a long weekend whic fell about three or four weekends after we had finally taken occupancy of our first home. So we now we had a beautiful winters weekend, all of three days, ahead of us, to try and sort out the disaster of a garden before the birth of our first eldest son, although we did not know it was to be a boy. The wife, in her pregnant state, had managed to sort out the layers of grunge and grime caused by the general lack routine and proper cleaning.

So we went through to her parents and my parents to borrow all the paraphanalia required to tame, this African wildereness, including a couple of shotguns and a hunting rifle, just in case. These trips were very specifically done the during interviening Saturday visits over spread out over two weekends We gave them an outline of our intended work program.This was, so that they understood that we needed all of that long weekend to work on our problem garden, also so that we did not have to visit them, or have them come over to us for a visit.

Our Normal Weekend

As a normal weekend was not really long enough Saturdays after a bit of shopping in the mornings, the customary visits to the parents, as well as to brother and sister in law This did not leave much of a Saturday over, so we would tidy up inside the house, lifting what seemed to be the dust of ages from a variety of nooks and crannies.

Sundays, after an early church service, we were back by nine for a very quick breakfast, I would venture into that vast jungle of a back yard, while the wife worked on the front. After a couple of hours work with short water and coffee breaks inbetween we would stop for lunch. After lunch, back for another stint.

By the end of the afternoon we would look at the several bags of weeds, dead branches, and hand clipped strands of grass, and look at where we working like slaves, to see that we had not even cleared all that much of an area. Most disheartening.

Fortunatly for us, our cats and dogs had, in the interim, flushed out the snakes and larger of the rats that were lurking in the undergrowth of our back and side ";Into Africa";

No Pictures were taken as i was too disheartened to even record this for later.

The Planned Long Weekend

The long week end dawned and we ventured out into the that wilderness early that Friday morning, we slaved away till lunchtime, only stopping for what was essential, back breaking slave labour.

As you can see by what effort we were going through, those hidden costs that a buyer has to go through had left u a bit strapped for cash, and we could not hire any casual labourers, although they were there for the asking.

A lunch time break, we had both been working in the back garden area so that, as we thought it would make the clearing go quicker. We again were a bit disenchanted with the size of the relativly small area that we had cleared.

So our labours continued throughout the afternoon, hot and sticky, dusty and disillusioned we packed it in for the night. We still had not made any major inroads into the clearing up.

Saturday morning, stiff and a little sore I manage to get out of bed and after a quick breakfast, toast and coffee, I again tackled that wild patch of weeds, grass and thistles, yes a patch of them had sprung up. Sweating, with back and shoulder muscles tired of lifting and driving the garden fork down, into the hard packed sand, stone, bricks and bits of cut galvanised iron pipes, so as to break up the roots of another clump of tall grass, blacjacks or weeds, so that they could uprouted and bagged for later disposal.

Time for another break, a cigarette while waiting for the kettle to boil, so that we could have a cup of tea and a sandwich. We sat ont the steps hot and dishevelled, even though it was a normal highveld winters day with the temperature being only a high of 18 degrees Celsius. The phone rang

Dispite our going through to the parents and explaining the situation of our garden, and that we needed to do it now, and we would not be doing our normal visits.

You guessed it, my parents ma to be exact, no they thought that this was next weekend that we were going to do this minor cleanup, after all how long does it take to etc. etc.

To cut a long story short we were expected there at our usual time an dad had already taken out all the meat for a late braai (BBQ). Besides which, one or other of mom's family were over hear from, the then Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and they had not seen us inn ages.

Well WWIII broke out as I put my foot down and stated that it would take over an hour to wash the grime off our bodies, feed the animals, then a further hour to drive across town to get to them. No we were not going.

Well our name was mud!

Back to work, the dull ache was now settling in as the afternoon dragged on as we sweated and slaved in that elephant grass, the weeds seem to spring back up once we had dug up a patch and moved on.

The daunting task seemed to look as if it would take the entire winter to remove, let alone what was left of the weekend, which was now nearly two thirds gone. I went to make another cup of coffee and a quiet cigarette, when it dawned on me.

Arson, the Solution

I will torch the yard, I will burn those weeds to the ground, the elephant grass will be no more.

Quietly I put this plan into operation, armed with buckets of water straregically placed, to protect boundery fences and our house, garden hose at the ready. I waited for the wind to shift.

A single match applied to a thick clump of tall grass,the small flame slowly grew and as the wind fanned at it, it rose climbed up the stalks of the dry weeds and started to spread as it was carried on from clump to clump gaining in heat and momentum. Those yellow, orange and red tongues of heat and destruction was driven forward by the wind scorching and igniting the next patch of undergrowth which burst into flame and was destroyed, in a matter of fiveteen minutes.

The entire back yard was then a smouldering blackened ash laden waste land, the skeletons of a broken roof rack, a broken wheelbarrow, sundry discarded and singularly useless bits and pieces of builders equipement. The only 'useful' item was four pieces of a scaffold, which when built up formed a single level.

This revealled that the amount of builders rubble and junk which had been left behind, as fate would have it, our new next door neighbours that moved in next door, the following week was also a builder, who took the scaffold sections, and cleared the rubble from our yard, as he needed backfill for a foundation that was being laid that week.

As To Laying It Out

This took many years and a lot of changes, we built it up slowly, me doing the physical and the late wife the actual planting.

Some years after the arson we were given 3 loads of top soil, delivered and dumped on our front lawn. This leveled the back garden into well structured terraces.

Again when coming hoime from work, I would slip into a pair of shorts, a pair of running shoes. Then do the barrow shuffle for an hour, my record was 13 loads in an hour.

The Barrow Shuffle

As I had said at the beginning of the hub, the property was built on a ridge. the back garden was some six feet higher than the front, we had a passageway running up past the side of the house, this we had built up with some scaffold planks, and a further set of scaffold planks lead to the area where we were laying out the terrace. This was a distance of 150 yards or so,

So the Modus Operandi was,

  1. Load a barrow full of sand
  2. Push it up into the backyard
  3. Push it up the final ramp and tip it over
  4. Level the sand
  5. Adjust or the scaffold plank
  6. Run down the ramps to the start

Then you would repeat this procedure.

On Sundays we sped things up by having one of us at the top racking the soil level, so that it was a dump and go trip.

The wife also did her share of the barrow shuffle.

The Greening

The wife was a dab hand at cultivating and propogating of plants, wherever we we went visiting, we would invariable end coming home with slips, cuttings and roots.

So after a few years you would not have said that it was the same garden.

Well we are all here
Well we are all here
Having a hubbing good time
Having a hubbing good time


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    • Just_Rodney profile imageAUTHOR

      Rodney Fagan 

      9 years ago from Johannesberg South Africa, The Gold Mine City

      Equealla, when my dad finally bought his house, which was a standard 1000sq m site, he had planted 36 rose bushes mainly in the front, plus 4 fruit trees in the back. The garden always had flowers in bloom all year round, his grass always green.

      As you say, we have to move, some 10 years later we had to move out and leave that shaded Eden.

      Life thanges, happen as we grow and develop.

    • equealla profile image


      9 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

      I can just imagine the joy of your dad when he had his own garden, and could understand his anoyance when his flowers were plucked.

      I bet you loved the new neighbour, who could use the rubble. This is indeed a headache to have such rubble in your property. Ai, party mense darem!

      The sad part is, after all the work and effort, and finally observing the fruit of your labour, we have to say goodbye to such a place as we move on. Are you still in this house?

      I enjoyed reading your experience and could empathise with the hard work done in the heat and rough terrain of Africa.

    • Just_Rodney profile imageAUTHOR

      Rodney Fagan 

      10 years ago from Johannesberg South Africa, The Gold Mine City

      Yes was a lot of work, but needed to be done. Yes it is Spring, but we have only this week had our first rains, very late, so we can look forward to either a drought or severe floods as the rain tries to meet the average rainfall. It happens, and when it does we have a spate hail storms that destroy a good deal of our plants, and more importantly the crops.

    • Karen Ellis profile image

      Karen Ellis 

      10 years ago from Central Oregon

      Lot's of work, but worth it. Don't you love a garden? I realize it's your Spring now (is that right?) so you are just beginning to enjoy all of the new sprouts comming out of the ground. We are now in our Fall, my favorite season. And, for once, here in Oregon we are having a nice one. Usually it seems as though we only have two seasons, Summer and Winter with Spring and Fall lasting only a week or two. So, I am truely loving the Fall this year.

    • Just_Rodney profile imageAUTHOR

      Rodney Fagan 

      11 years ago from Johannesberg South Africa, The Gold Mine City

      Sixty, i had read your efforts and it was your hub that sparked off the writing of my hub, and the Labours of Hercules from my distant past. Thanks for the comments.

      Crys, I apologise, my familiarity in calling you Cys, I will have to cut off my little finger for that slip.

    • sixtyorso profile image

      Clive Fagan 

      11 years ago from South Africa

      Great Hub Ouch somethimg like my efforts but nothing quite so time consuming or Herculean!

    • Just_Rodney profile imageAUTHOR

      Rodney Fagan 

      11 years ago from Johannesberg South Africa, The Gold Mine City

      Cys, It was just the case of, the garden was a mess, it had to be done. I wore very much a younger mans clothes, and had to supply the muscle.

      Anna, when needs must the devil drives, and what a task master he turned out to be.

      Many thanks for the comments.

    • Anna Marie Bowman profile image

      Anna Marie Bowman 

      11 years ago from Florida

      Wow!! I don't even know what to say! I could not imagine doing all of that.

    • profile image

      Crys Raffa 

      11 years ago

      Despite being a very cat like person by birth, I've always been more of the "chew on plants" type of cat. I've never had a "green paw" as it were...

      Sounds like your gardening passions paid off tho. You should take great pride in that.

    • Just_Rodney profile imageAUTHOR

      Rodney Fagan 

      11 years ago from Johannesberg South Africa, The Gold Mine City

      Yes Misty, it was a lot of work however the results as you say were rewarding as it did look fantastic.

    • mistyhorizon2003 profile image

      Cindy Lawson 

      11 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

      Hard work, but I bet the end result was worth the effort :)


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