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Alex Smith

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Secret Gardens of Cape Town #7: Ferndale

Feeding ducks and geese is immeasurably uplifting: bearing nought but all the dingy bits of bread you never got around to eating, you are met with the kind of unadulterated glee, adoration and quacking clamour a superstar like Natalie Portman or Brad Pitt might expect on the Oscar-night red carpet. For as long as your bread lasts, you’re a hero, a benevolent god tossing crumbs far and wide, ensuring that not only the tall, fat, goose front-runners get their share but the small, skinny underducks too. I confess then, that when Elias and I go to Ferndale, it’s very seldom to buy plants (although when wandering through the rows of trees for sale he tells me he is Happy!); we go to feed the ducks.
But does a nursery count? A garden is there on purpose, it is not there by wild chance, but rather, by design. A garden is a leafy manifestation of a gardener’s motives, secrets, passions and obsessions. And the plants are given beds. An ordinary nursery is always only temporary, perhaps not a true garden then, because everything is for sale and trees don’t have time or space to put down deep roots. The oaks at Ferndale are testament to its status as most unusual in the realm of nurseries. Your honour, I argue therefore that it is a garden. If you have only been there to buy potting soil and Impatience for problematic window boxes, or such like, then you may not have realised there is a puddle of ducks and gaggle of hungry geese beyond the aviary with lovebirds and parakeets, and you may not have ventured with the cock-a-doodling cockerels through the shrubbery maze, towards the tangle of palms, plectranthus and bamboo. I bet you then also won’t have been photographed with the cement lamb which perches on the tree stump next to that ‘jungle walk’. Whereas the Green Point Urban Park, is perfectly conceived, immaculately designed, not for profit, and spotlessly resolved, Ferndale is haphazardly evolved, generous with eccentricities (like the cement lamb, which probably nobody ever wanted to take home), abundantly floral, clearly lucrative and pleasantly chaotic. Andrew came with us last week and he was enchanted. Indeed, it is joy, and actually today when we went to feed the ducks we did buy a pot of Thyme and three succulents, so we’re not just duck-freeloaders. But if you do go, even if you are a proper plant shopper and don’t remember to take your old bread, for R2 a packet, they sell corn and, really, it’s worth spending a moment feeding the birds.
Devilskein&Dearlove is due to be published by Random House Umuzi in SA and Arachne press in the UK in July 2014. It is a ‘Secret Garden’ for the 21st century, set in Long Street Cape Town. Perfect for precocious readers from the age of 12 and up!


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