My Father’s Garden - an Oasis – Part 1
Cherry blossoms in full bloom.
Mulberry Tree with unripened fruit
I was walking about the apartment property today. The sun is shining and it’s rather windy outside. The flora is in full bloom and I drank it all in. Around the corner from my apartment is a small Mulberry tree. I am making sure that each day I walk past it to see whether any of the mulberries have ripened for me to eat, but I think someone is beating me to them.
It reminds me of the days when I was a child. I lived in the same house until I was an adult and spread my wings and left the nest. It was a lovely house and my parents bought it when the area was newly developed. There was not a blade of grass or any growing thing, and you could see all the way down to the bottom of the road, through several fenced properties. My Dad created a most beautiful garden over the years. It was an oasis.
The house next door had a huge mulberry tree behind a wall. Thankfully, it grew large enough so that a number of limbs reached over to our side of the wall and beckoned with its fruity purple treats. I would either climb that wall or nip around and get into the tree and eat mulberries to my heart’s content. It was never a secret though, as my hands, feet and mouth bore the incriminating evidence of bright purple stains that showed exactly what I had been up to!
South African Melting Pot
The Rainbow Nation
Growing up in South Africa was a rather strange affair and very confusing. The country, at the Southern tip of the African continent, is a melting pot, with the same influx of peoples that sailed across the Atlantic to the United States and elsewhere around the globe – Europeans. The main difference between the groups that populate North America and those that populate South Africa is the difference in the ratio of various population groups. In America, Native Americans were displaced; in South Africa it was the San and the Khoikhoi, otherwise known as the Bushman. Jan Van Riebeeck, a Dutch commander, landed at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652. Under instructions from the Dutch East India Company, he developed vegetable gardens (and a fort) for the benefit of ships on the Eastern trade route.
Not only were Europeans arriving in Southern Africa at that time, but Bantu-speaking peoples were moving in from the North to the North-East and Eastern regions of South Africa. The Europeans were mostly from Dutch, German and French Huguenot stock, and the British took over the Cape from the Dutch in 1795. Today, according to the 2010 census, the population is layered thus: Black African at 79.4%, Caucasian at 9.2%, Colored (mixed-race) at 8.8%, and Indian (from India) or Asian at 2.6%. The first census in South Africa in 1911 showed that Caucasians made up 22% of the population; it declined to 16% in 1980. Among the African groups, there are 9 different cultural or linguistic groups: Zulu, Xhosa, Basotho (South Sotho), Bapedi (North Sotho), Venda, Tswana, Tsonga, Swazi and Ndebele, all of which speak Bantu languages. There are 11 official languages in South Africa today representing all the cultural groups, English and Afrikaans (from Dutch) included.
Racial Transformation - University of Cape Town
As a result of this rich mixture of peoples and the unjust Apartheid laws enforced through legislation by the National Party government which ruled from 1948 to 1994, where the system of racial segregation separated people, cultural groups usually stuck together. I found it extremely confusing and upsetting. There was not only racism between people of different races, but also different languages and religions. I have a Mediterranean complexion with dark hair and dark eyes, as do the rest of my family. Both my parents’ families fled Europe at the start of the Second World War, and they settled in South Africa. My father was born in the Free State (farm country) and my brothers and I became second generation South Africans. When I was a young child, I recall that one of my brothers became the target of a racial slur by the vice-principal of the primary school we attended. I didn’t get off lightly either, but it was much more subtle. I didn’t understand it then and I don’t understand it now. As a teenager, I went to Cape Town on holiday and tanned beautifully at the beach. When I went to the post office one day, I was told to enter through the “other” door. How could such ugly laws exist?
I have never understood this intolerance of people different to ourselves. I have always viewed humans as part of the same human race, despite differences in culture, language, skin color or religion. My motto is “Live and Let Live.” There were many tensions and stresses in this society. I don’t think I ever made sense of it. Personally, I would rather have peace, tolerance and love in my heart than to walk around hating anyone for any reason!
Mason Jar with Jam
Growing up in the suburbs of Johannesburg, a large sprawling metropolis, my place of comfort and beauty was in my Dad’s garden. It was beautiful and quiet, and I would enjoy the sun, the breezes and the birdsong. As a young child, I would make mud cakes. I still remember sitting on the verdant grass one day. I was in the backyard with my mother. She had a big, white, enamel bowl in her lap. Neither of us was talking, we were just enjoying the sunshine and shelling peas. As fast as she would shell them, I would put fistfuls into my mouth. They were sweet and crunchy and fresh and juicy. That is a special memory of mine. My Mom had a vegetable garden and would pick fresh veggies to make delectable salads.
My Dad planted many fruit trees in the garden at the back of the house. Springtime was especially pretty with all the fruit trees bursting into blossom. There was a pear tree; plums (the dark purple variety); cherries (which the birds usually got to first); peaches; nectarines - and a lemon tree at the front of the house. There was a low wall behind which the lemon tree tried to hide. The primary school was right across the road. The only protection the lemon tree had from school kids sneaking over to pick the lemons, were the nasty thorns it grew to protect its fruit. I loved the fruit trees. The plum tree would drop plums which littered the lawn when they were ripe. My Mom would collect the fruit and preserve it or make jam and store it in glass mason jars with glass lids and a rubber seal all held in place by a metal ring that would be screwed down and held firm. My Mom was a good cook. The trick was to get to the fruit before the birds did, and it was advisable to cut it and not bite into it, because sometimes, there would be worms inside! I was always scared I would bite into a worm. Ewwww!
Magnolia at my Apartment Complex
A Passion for Magnolias
In the back garden, a fence separated our house from each next door neighbor. A granadilla vine (Passiflora) climbed the fence and grew the most delicious granadillas, known here as passion fruit. I loved picking and eating those! This is an especially tasty ingredient in fruit salad, and one which I miss because it is not easily acquired here in Texas. Needless to say, we did not go hungry when fruit was abundant in the summer and the vegetable garden was a wonderful resource for healthy eating.
There were a number of trees which became firm favorites of mine. My Dad planted an exquisite Magnolia tree on a bank sloping down from the garden at the back to a strip of garden flanking the side of the house. My brothers and I would go running down and around this part of the garden, ride our bikes or be wheeled in the wheelbarrow followed by our waggling dock-tailed barking shaggy dog, Butch! These are very fond memories. This tree grew huge. I loved the large, shiny, oval, dark green leaves – Magnolia Grandiflora – and the huge, white, fragrant flowers that almost glow in the dark. I just discovered that the Magnolia is an ancient genus which evolved even before bees appeared! Beetles would pollinate these flowers, which are therefore tough. Fossils of these plants have been found dating 20 million years ago! From my own point of view, I would enjoy the beautiful flowers and interesting seed pods which had bright orange seeds. My Dad would proudly present visitors with some of these magnificent flowers when they took their leave. One of my friends brought her mother-in-law to visit from Greece. She told me recently that her mother-in-law, now departed, had always spoken with much praise about being given a gorgeous Magnolia to take home with her.
Masked Weaver bird building its nest
Flowering shrubs and big trees
Dad also planted a Magnolia, different genus, in the front garden, the purple Magnolia – Lilliflora, which flowers quite early in the spring, before the leaves open. The tree is covered with purple Magnolia blossoms and then the leaves emerge. There were many flowering shrubs in Dad’s garden too. One that is worthy of mention is the Lemon Scented Verbena. Dad would always rub the leaves between his hands and hold them up so guests could get a whiff of their scent. When I was unlucky enough to get an upset stomach, Mom would boil the leaves and try to get me to drink it as it was supposed to settle the stomach – it wasn’t pleasant and I always objected.
In another corner of the garden was a huge Pin Oak tree which would turn beautiful colors in the fall. Yet another Oak tree nearby was a favorite of masked weaver birds, with wooly yellow heads and black faces. They would go to work at building a nest hanging from the end of a branch – only using their beak and hanging upside down. Many a fussy female would undo all their hard work by ripping the nest apart if she was not happy, and the male would have to start all over again. This tree had a colony of nests hanging from it and the birds were happy. An industrious and lively corner of the garden.
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
In yet another part of the garden, near the driveway, was the Oleander Nerium, toxic in all its parts. Ours had white flowers, but there are varieties that have various shades of pink. I was always told not to touch this shrub and avoided it conscientiously. Interestingly enough to me, there are many of these shrubs planted as screens around this apartment building I live in currently. It is a showy plant and grows quite big so it is useful to screen buildings. I have seen many of these on roadways too!
Near the verandah, grew a beautiful “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” or Brunfelsia, with flowers that change color from white to mauve to purple…. Or is it the other way around? I recently discovered that this, too, contains toxins! It is a very showy shrub and the heady fragrance of the flowers hangs in the air. I would always admire this shrub as it is very showy and I can recall it's scent, while sitting in my living room and typing this! Smells, sights and sounds from our childhood are incredibly powerful and alive in our memories if we just choose to recall them.