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Alex Smith

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Secret Gardens of Cape Town #17 Soil for Life



Vegetables growing, lush and abundant, are as beautiful a sight as any bed or bank of flowers. Well some do have the loveliest of flowers too, like artichokes and cauliflowers. Although I do not seem to have green fingers, I so envy those who do – people with patience and wisdom who know how to make beans and pumpkins and squashes grow and carrots and cabbages and lettuces thrive. Perhaps in time, I will become one of those clever souls. For the moment though, I can but marvel at gardeners who are good at their jobs.

sqaure foot

Like baking cheesecake, I never imagined I would one day set foot in a garden club of ladies, but this weekend past, I did. And what a wonderful gathering it was, of people who know the scientific names of plants, who know F1 seeds from open pollinated seeds and how to cure a snail problem with the jam-jar lid of beer (yes! Snails love beer and it’s a better way to go than salt, so they say). It was a very professional club and there was a fantastic guest speaker, a woman, named Christine Stevens, who has been an organic farmer for fifteen years. She has written two books about harvest and kitchen.
soil for life

From all these amazing women, I learned so much, but perhaps one of the most precious secrets I gleaned was that about the Soil For Life education centre garden. It is more than a secret, it is a treasure: glorious vegetable garden, a way of life and an organisation. In particular, it is an organisation that focuses on teaching people how to create healthy soil and grow organic food. They empower people. In their words: ‘we teach as many people as we can how to grow their own food and to care for the earth. The majority of Cape Town’s households are food insecure, and for these families the ability to grow their own food and generate some small income represents a genuine step up in the world.’
They welcome visitors to the education centre garden – you can wander and be inspired; participate in workshops about creating healthy soil; buy seedlings if you need them, or if you are like Elias, you can pretend to drive the wooden tractor, test out chairs made from trees and roll in the gooseberry bush.
Whatever you do, visit it!
Soil for Life is a charity, and it is so worth supporting.


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