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Creating a Garden from Scratch on the Cheap in Cape Agulhas

For those of you who know me well, you will understand I cannot live in a place for longer than a few weeks without feeling the need to garden. Even when Graham and I have been in the bush camping in order to get the proverbial perfect photo or sketch for our paintings, I end up with a collection of ?wonderful finds? carefully arranged in a corner of our camp and insist on carting them home for my garden. In fact, I have become rather suspicious of my family over the years, as when I suggest a walk, they seem to insist on finding out exactly where I intend going?just in case it is in the direction of a large piece of driftwood, unusually shaped rock or something equally fascinating that they would be enlisted on hauling back in the direction of home grounds. They have also gained the ability to look the other way when I see a plant that I do not possess, as I have a slight tendency to nip off a small piece and pop it in my pocket, bag and sometimes even my bra. In fact one of their favourite stories they enjoy retelling with great mirth is when we were having tea in Meikles Hotel and I saw a lush green creeper growing in a large pot which was cascading over a cleverly wrought frame in the lobby. As I had noticed that the plant had numerous babies nestling up closely to the mother plant just crying out to come home with me, I decided that I just had to adopt one of them and take it with me in my handbag?Kerry and Taryn looked at their Dad and whispered, ?Oh no, guess what The Mother is thinking of doing?? They had read my mind well. My hand had already darted into the pot and salvaged the biggest baby plant I could find and with a quick flick of wrist it was in my bag in an instant. Pretending to not know me in the slightest, my family had fallen back behind me in a close-knit group as I walked innocently out the lobby, totally unaware that my newly acquired plant was not as small as I had thought and there was a long and healthy vine undulating slowly over the carpet out of my bag like an exotic leafy tail behind me. The doorman smiled and stopped me saying, ?Oh Madam, it appears you have something falling out of your handbag,? and with that he most courteously rolled up my plant and helped me to carefully tuck it into the cavernous depths of my bag. Thinking of how absolutely charming and polite the smiling doorman had been, I happily walked towards our car. Looking around for my family I saw them standing on the hotel steps doubled up with laughter and pointing at me?I wondered what on earth was so funny.   Now that those of you who do not know me so well have some insight on my passion for plants, I shall now proceed to tell you of my wonderful day spent gardening this Wednesday:   Chris-Jon, the local gardener was highly recommended to me last week by the lady who runs a popular Bed and Breakfast establishment across the road from our house. She said, ?Hire Chris-Jon to work for you once a week. He?s not clever and does not ask too many questions, does not always turn up at work drunk and I think is younger than he looks. Besides, he has a bicycle, so you do not have to fetch and carry him to and from his house on the other side of town.? I thought he sounded like an ideal candidate for my employ, so arranged to interview him that evening. At five thirty Chris-Jon banged loudly on my front door shouting, ?Missus, Missus?I am here!? The thing I noticed when I first set eyes on Chris-Jon was that he had no front teeth and a great deal of exposed pink gums on show as he smiled at me over the open stable door. He also had a rasping cough that didn?t sound too healthy, but he seemed willing and very keen to work for me, on the condition that I pay him in cash, provide early morning sandwiches and coffee, lunch and coffee and definitely not to forget he liked to have afternoon coffee at three o?clock. As this is more or less the norm in South Africa, I agreed to his conditions of employment. Promising he would be at my house by 8 am Wednesdays, he clambered onto his bicycle and wobbled off into the wind as it was a blustery day. I watched him disappear down the road and wondered how such a skinny little guy with a possible touch of T.B. and large exposed gums with a gap in them where his front teeth should have been lodged was going to cope with what I had in mind for my newly planned garden.   As promised, Chris-Jon arrived on this last Wednesday. Later than 8 am, as he explained his bicycle had a puncture on his way to work. Disregarding his excuse, I set him to work digging a new flower bed. Grateful that he had arrived, as the last gardener had run away saying I gave him too much work digging holes. He just liked to mow, weed the lawn and drink coffee by the gallon. Much to my surprise, Chris-Jon completed his task in good time and then asked me, ?En nou?die blomme Missus?where are they?? I told him I couldn?t afford plants and we were going into the bush to get them for free.  Whilst he loaded a spade and pick into the boot of the car I could hear him muttering that no Missus he had ever worked for in his life had asked him to dig blomme out of die veld. As the car passed though our gate my intrepid passenger obviously thought he had me figured, ?Missus?is it because you used to be a Zimbabwe farmer?s wife that you get plants this way?? I told him he was very clever to come to this conclusion and he seemed satisfied.   I never travel far without my camera in case of getting the perfect shot, so as we drove along the costal drive I screeched to a halt and stopped the car? I had seen a clump of arum lilies on the side of the road that I thought would make an attractive and hopefully saleable photograph, ?I want to snap those flowers Chris-Jon,? pointing at the arum?s. ?Oh vaark-lillies Missus,? said Chris-Jon as he clambered out the car to see what I was up to. So engrossed in what I was doing, I did not notice that Chris-Jon had got the spade out of the boot and was leaning on it. He must have thought I liked the arum?s so much that I had to take a record on camera of the before and after of its transplantation. Looking at the arums, I asked Chris-Jon who was nonchalantly reclining on the spade behind me why they were called vaark-lillies in Afrikaans?they didn?t look like pigs at all. My musing was abruptly brought to a halt as the man and his wife in the house across the road started to yell and scream at me in aggressive voices, ?Hey, get the hell away from those plants!? Looking down the hill on the other side of the road I saw their rotund son who had been fishing in the sea, was clambering up the rocks toting his rod and kit in one hand, a deck chair in the other and sporting a large floppy hat that made him look like a toadstool. Breathing heavily, he brandished his fishing gear at me threateningly. Wondering what on earth I could have done to upset these people I had never met in my life, I turned around to see Chris-Jon with the spade and realised what sort of tableau we must have created?obviously we looked as if we were digging up the protected plants! ?No Chris-Jon!? I muttered at him under my breath, ?The only plants I wanted to capture from here were on film!? By now the apoplectic son was moving in fast and I could see the sweat of excursion glistening on his brow. ?We better go now Missus, that boss does not look friendly,? said Chris-Jon who had already deposited the spade back in the boot and was sitting in the passenger seat ready for a quick get-away. So I jumped into the car and made a hasty retreat with the nature lovers bellowing in the fumes of the car?s exhaust. I had no idea the area in which we had stopped was a Nature Reserve and thought it would not be prudent to try and explain to these angry people that in all innocence I was only taking pictures of these coveted indigenous plants. ?Oh dear Chris-Jon, what will we do when I drive back past them later on?? I moaned. Chris-Jon placated me by telling me not to worry as there were plenty of white cars that passed along the road and they would never recognise me again. I really hoped he was right.   By then Chris-Jon was sorry for me and wanted to help me get free plants, so he said he knew exactly where we could go to get them and took charge by barking directions while I steered the car round corners, over road humps, through a residential area that led to an exit down the main road out of town. Totally mystified, I meekly turned left down a dirt road when Chris-Jon told me to and noticed seagulls screeching and swooping down onto something obscured by the bend ahead in the road. Then this dreadful smell wafted over the car and through our open windows, ?Ohhh, what is that smell and where on earth are we going?? I questioned my travel companion, trying not to breath in the prevailing obnoxious odour. Chris-Jon did not answer and my eyes widened as I saw what lay ahead?the town garbage dump! Very proudly, with his gummy smile, Chris-Jon announced, ?We are here now Missus. This is where we will get you free plants.? He must have seen the look of amazement on my face because he very slowly and patiently explained to me that this is where the plants that people thinned from their gardens were brought by the Municipality on their garbage truck each week. Seeing the logic behind his thinking, it didn?t take me long to clamber out the car and follow him to a pile of reeking debris and burst garbage bags. There were quite a few local people from the near-by fishing village digging and poking amongst the bags and for some reason their rummaging came to a total stand-still when they saw me, - I can?t for a minute think why. Calling out to Chris-Jon, they asked why we were on their turf and after much explaining and laughter; I was welcomed into their fold like an old friend. An old crone led us to a show of greenery and we all dug amongst the piles of refuse for my ?free flowers.? It appeared the old crone was the matriarch of the tip and bossed her younger members into carting the slightly wilted plants down to the car where they were carefully deposited into the boot. Eventually I decided it was time to leave, mainly because the smell of all the rotting waste had lodged itself up my nose, in my hair and clothes and besides, the boot was almost full, so I called to Chris-Jon who was inspecting a rather nice looking travel-bag that had lost its zip and said it was time to go. Overhearing me, the old crone asked me if I wouldn?t mind taking her back to the fishing village. As she had been so helpful I said I would. With a huge cry she shouted to someone on one of the piles of rubbish and the next thing I saw six children of ages ranging between six and sixteen scurry down to the car with boxes, bags and two huge rolls of linoleum that had at one stage of its life been fitted on a kitchen floor. There was absolutely no way I was going to fit all of the old crone?s fly-ridden treasures into the car, let alone the six children, the old crone and by now a large cross-breed dog who obviously was a fond family pet. I rushed down the side of my pile of rubbish and sadly explained to the old crone, (well actually with Chris-Jon importantly translating my English into Afrikaans,) that if she looked at the size of my car, which certainly was not a pick-up truck or anything like one, that I simply could not fit her goods, family and dog in. Besides?where was I to sit? After all I was the driver! She thought things over and very graciously told her troopers to put their goods on their heads and they all marched off down the road in single file with the dog reluctantly trailing behind as he had been sniffing an interesting bag with a sardine can in it. Relieved at diverting a possibly unpleasant scene, I suggested to Chris-Jon to leave behind the hat he had now found which had something nasty smeared on its brim and get in the car.   On our way through the village Chris-Jon shouted, ?Stop!? Concerned, I slowed down and pulled up on the side of the road, praying that he hadn?t changed his mind about the awful hat and was going to ask me to go back to the dump to get it. The next thing I knew was Chris-Jon had leapt out the passenger seat and was hailing a wizened old man with a scraggly grey beard wearing a brightly crocheted beanie on his large head. ?Come Donkey, come for a lift,? called Chris-Jon. Donkey ambled over and got into the back of the car and cheerily said ?Hullo Missus, how are you today? My name is Donkey.? He leant over the driver?s seat, took my hand in his and shook it with great aplomb. By now I really thought things had gone too far and demanded to know what was going on. Chris-Jon looked hurt and told me Donkey was his brother-in-law and they were taking me to his boss? house which had been sold. Donkey and his wife, (who is Chris-Jon?s sister), had been asked to stay on as caretaker until the new owner arrived for the holidays in December. Apparently Donkey had a thriving plant nursery at the back of the house and was selling to the public, but because Chris-Jon was my gardener and had mentioned to him I liked free plants, Donkey most generously informed me I could have some as a present. Well, what could I say to an offer like that? Naturally we headed towards Donkey?s nursery. It was a most interesting set-up and soon the car was full of pots and cuttings. But I decided it was time to leave when Donkey told me to look at some ground cover over two mounds and said it looked like a large breasted lady wearing a bra. The owner had abandoned his ginger cat and Donkey said he was looking after it. I almost weakened and packed the cat in the car along with the last pot, but thought Graham would not be too pleased, so left the feline to a fate held in the hands of Donkey, who incidentally told me he was nick-named Donkey because he worked like one. I secretly begged to differ on that front as the garden was totally overgrown and unkempt like Donkey?s beard. Waving good-bye to me like a long lost pal, Donkey called out that he may have given me plants for a ?pressie?, but he expected a ?donation? to be given to Chris-Jon when I paid him at the end of the day! Chris-Jon nodded and said he would see that Donkey got the ?donation? as he rode past Donkey?s house on his way back home. (I felt I had been caught up in a slight bit of pre-meditated gardening conspiracy between the two wayward relatives.)   Driving home along the costal road in trepidation I was pleased that the bellowing, arum protecting family did not come running out breathing fire and brimstone onto their front lawn as I drove past their house. Perhaps Chris-Jon was right about us being incognito in a white car?anyway; with a feeling of total relief I pulled up outside our home and asked Chris-Jon to offload the plants and Donkey?s pots. Chris-Jon told me he would do that, but I would have to do my own planting, as it was four thirty and he was knocking off. I thought that I had enough of him and his antics for one day and rushed to get his pay, not forgetting to include Donkey?s ?donation.?   Once Chris-Jon had left I set about planting out my new bed and my friendly next-door neighbour ambled over to see what I was doing. She asked where I had got all the plants from and I proudly explained that I had got them from the town dump. Horrified, she asked me if I hadn?t been scared. Wondering what on earth she was on about, I asked her why I should have been afraid, and she said that she believed there were unsavoury characters who hung out on the dump. I told her they did not look dangerous at all, but that I thought the smell was the only unsavoury thing to experience there. ?Oh Susan, promise me you will never go there again,? she implored, ?I will give you free plants from my garden any time, just stay away from that terrible place.? I told her that I would do her bidding. Besides?she had offered to give me free plants from her garden.   The following morning there was a knocking at my front door. Two of my neighbours were armed with baskets full of cuttings and plants from their gardens?they had heard my story from my friend next-door and came bearing free gifts.   Next week Chris-Jon shall dig another flower bed in my garden. I have planned just where it shall go. This time I shall not have to go far a field, as I now have four neighbour?s gardens I can raid with their blessing and I have promised them all I shall not return to the dump? In all honesty I had no intention of ever doing so again. It was a place to experience only once in my gardening life and never again. Besides?my friend next-door has arum?s in her garden and I have ear-marked them for a shade-bed. As for Donkey?I rather suspect I shall be seeing more of his donkey-work in the future.  
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