Garden Genes


Grounded. Green shoots. Gratitude.

Winter has almost thrown her coat off. She may just give us one last frosty nip but I know green shoots are ready to burst forth and I’m grateful to be springing forward. Here in Christchurch, New Zealand our post-earthquake re-build has just been completed (and I’m back now from lengthy time spent with my parents in South Africa).

So I’ll bee digging and planting for a more ‘sustainable lifestyle’ – the buzz word of our time. My intention is to extract as much goodness from these ideas as I’m able and to share the nectar with family, friends and others. The soil grounds me in the present; gives purpose for the future and helps me reflect on my heritage which has not been attached to any one property because we’ve moved around so much. I’m grateful though to have been taught to respect, enjoy and stamp my personality on whichever patch I live on.

Gardening is in my genes (I nearly said greens!). In Africa our properties were planted mainly for shelter from the sun and beauty because much of social life was lived outdoors. But for my Dad – growing up between world wars – gardening, and thrift were essential to survival. I’m choosing sustainable now, not just to fill bellies but to attract bees and local birds because we now understand the environmental and mental health benefits of doing so.


Aged 9 (Zambia)

I’m building a lakeside city with my siblings
Sharing this land with black mambas, puff adders and scorpions
The milky sap of the frangipani flowers burns our eyes – but we pick them anyway because of their velvety texture and heavenly scent
We’re familiar with drought and army ants which destroy everything in their path
We bear the scars of encounters with bougainvillaea thorns and hairy caterpillars
But happily we play
Fingernails gouge a grid of roads in the dirt
Matchbox cars speed along them …
And stop to allow a spider to cross
Lady, the old mongrel, sleeps alongside – her torso a mountainous backdrop with toy animals wedged between her ribs
We gather plant bits to decorate our miniature gardens …
And are proud of our accomplishments
Then a tsunami of a Great-Dane rushes through the pond and drenches our city
Roads awash
Spider afloat
Next our LEGO buildings are destroyed by an 8 Richter scale of paws
We screech with disappointment
But nothing is life-threatening and fortunately a nice warm bath heals the grime and our woes.

Dad, aged 9 (England)

“I helped my father in the garden, an allotment on the railway bank where we grew all our own vegetables. I cooked the Sunday lunch, bottled fruit, made jam and did any repairs necessary around the house. Supermarket produce does not taste the same. I also repaired everyone’s shoes. In those days we had few clothes and had to take good care of those we had.”

How vastly different, the gardening experiences of two generations.



Back in South Africa recently it was a privilege to help Dad set up a manageable veggie spot and a few fruit trees in their new home. He’s going blind but I want him to touch and smell homegrown produce again. My hope is that his last suppers reconnect him with the tastes of his childhood.  And, as I harvest my own foods here in New Zealand, I  share a sense of unity with my extended family, despite us being in different lands.


Plot 148 – page 150

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