Maverick Citizen


Reflections on the benefits of gardening – and it’s more than just growing food

Reflections on the benefits of gardening – and it’s more than just growing food
National Garden Day takes place on 9 October and is a day is meant to encourage South Africans to get together and celebrate their gardens. (Photo: Adel Ferreira)

Gardens provide more than just an opportunity to grow food –  they inspire hope and healing too.

National Garden Day held annually on 9 October was started by a group of green-fingered people to enjoy the fruits of their labour by taking a moment to celebrate gardens and green spaces of any size with friends over dinner or collective meditation. 

Gardening is said to have many positive effects on the body such as relieving stress, reducing the risk of dementia and increasing levels of vitamin D, and it can give a sense of empowerment. Maverick Citizen spoke to three ambassadors of National Garden Day about their gardening journeys.

Nzwisisai Dyirakumunda is a part-time advocate at the Pan African Bar Association of South Africa as well as a part-time commissioner at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration. She says gardening is about connecting with nature and she was first introduced to it by her mom who spent a lot of time in the garden.

Advocate and part-time CCMA Commissioner Nzwisisai Dyirakumunda started a flower garden in her spare time, now it’s a micro-urban flower farm called Akanaka Blooms.
(Photo: Adel Ferreira)

“I am an accidental farmer, as it was never in my plans,” says Dyirakumunda. She says that gardening has been a way for her to release and work through “a lot of pain and bottled-up anger”. She says it was in 2018 that her personal journey of gardening began as she worked through the impact of having been sexually abused as a young girl, the loss of two pregnancies as well as a son with cognitive impairment, which she explains led to her experiencing depression. 

Dyirakumunda now runs Akanaka Blooms which sits on five acres of land in the Midvaal, and she intends expanding. Through the experience of her son’s disability, she also has decided to hire people who are differently abled to work in her garden with her. “My hope is that by working together with them, they will find hope, purpose and fulfillment.” 

She goes on to say that she is acutely aware of just how “differently abled” people are marginalised and hopes to do her bit to change that. She says that gardening has helped turn her journey of pain into one of hope.

Nazeema Jacobs, 42, who is from Mitchells Plain in Cape Town says that gardening has helped her turn her life around and that nurturing plants made her realise that it was a way of also nurturing the self. “I knew nothing about gardening. Absolutely nothing. Only that plants need water. That was it,” says Jacobs, who works at Khulisa Streetscapes’ vegetable gardens in the heart of Cape Town. Khulisa Streetscapes is a work-based rehabilitation project for the homeless. 

Jacobs is a recovering drug addict and has now been “clean” for two years which she credits to having found purpose and healing through gardening. “I have been an addict for about 15 years. In that time I had a very short fuse, was involved with the gangs, sold drugs and even worked as a prostitute. I am not ashamed of anything, because I learnt a lot from it.” 

Nazeema Jacobs who works at Streetscapes is a recovering drug addict and says that gardening helped her turn her life around.
(Photo: Adel Ferreira)

“When I see some of the street people arriving at Streetscapes and starting to garden, I see myself. I regularly try to motivate them because I was also there once.” Streetscapes aims to offer homeless people a way of making a living so they can take care of themselves through gardening skills and selling their produce, including flowers, vegetables and even honey, Jacobs says.

Jacobs shares that “long ago somebody asked me how I see myself. My answer was, ‘As a flower whose petals keep on dropping’. Nowadays I see myself as a better person. I want to get to the top. The admin keeps me busy, but when they ask me I’ll always help with the gardens or teach other people.

“I grew up in Wellington on a wine farm, so I grew up in a typical farm life and grew veggies with our gardener since I was a kid. I saw how my dad cultivated grape vines. My dad is still a farmer,” 31-year-old graphic designer Peta Malan tells Maverick Citizen. 

She says that although her gardening journey began at a young age, it was really just before the Covid-19 lockdown that she started focusing on it, when she moved in with her boyfriend who had a big garden for her to potter around in. She says it is a good way to keep busy but also to destress after a long day at work. “Some people look forward to a glass of wine after work. I look forward to going into my garden and watering my plants,” says Malan.

This is how Malan started Backyard Boerdery which she describes as slowly turning the backyard into a small-scale farming space. “My main aim was to have a separate place where I could keep a record of everything. It is also very nice to go back and look at what you have planted or how certain areas looked a year or two ago.”

Peta Malan is a senior creative director by day and by night documents her seedlings’ growth on Backyard Boerdery. (Photo: Adel Ferreira)

Malan says that what is often underappreciated, particularly about vegetable gardening, is that it encourages healthier eating habits and expands your palate because you are involved in every part of the process from the soil to your plate. 

Malan encourages people who do not have a big garden to still pursue gardening using corrugated steel planters and hanging planters which are good for small spaces. She says even those who don’t think they have a green thumb can try their hand at gardening and that national garden day can hopefully inspire more people to green up their spaces. DM/MC

Absa OBP

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  • Barrie Lewis says:

    What wonderful stories of hope.
    My mother’s favourite few lines were; “When the world wearies, and society ceases to satisfy… there’s always the garden.”
    We now grow 70% of our food in a suburban garden. There’s really no need for anyone to starve if they are prepared to bend their backs and get stuck into gardening.

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