Where the wild things are

2010-04-14 00:00

IN a perhaps surprising area of the city — near the landfill site — is a pocket of green and glorious Eden: David Moon and Mark Laing’s 2,4- hectare property in Scottsville Extension.

It’s hard to believe that it was nothing but horse paddocks when they bought it in 1995.

“It was the paper bark tree that decided me,” Moon said, “I bought the site for that tree and the cycads that were also already here.”

If plants made a noise, this garden would break all the municipal by- laws about noise control. It’s like a stadium-full of vuvuzelas, a full orchestra, a marimba group and a brass band all playing at once. Put this down to Moon’s approach to gardening: “eclectic and untidy with an emphasis on aesthetics”.

This approach is not surprising, given his background as a fine artist. His works cover the walls of the home where the collection of art and artefacts is similar to the style of the garden: surprising juxtapositions of European pieces with works from all over Africa. He was also a geography teacher, which contributes to the expansive nature of the art and plant collections.

The gardens have a combination of indigenous and exotic plants, although indigenous predominates. Moon is justifiably proud of some of the more unusual or striking indigenous residents, for example coffee trees from Zululand, banks of elegant scadoxus, variegated agapanthus, a coffee pear tree, troupes of Mandela’s Gold strelitzias and aloes from all over southern Africa, including Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

The area is divided into sections with different themes, including aloes and succulents, muti plants, a forest and a wetland. An agapanthus and strelitzia walk leads past a large pond to the forest section.

Moon said visiting children love that area. “Last time we had an open garden one father brought his young daughter and as they were leaving I asked if they had been on the forest walk. They had missed it so the girl made her father go back specially to explore it.”

Undoubtedly it’s the mystery of the cool and dense vegetation in that area which draws children in to explore the winding paths and nooks hidden behind overhanging vines.

The jewel of the garden must be the striking koi pond fringed with whispering water grasses. Moon explained that the fish are now so large that feathered predators struggle to catch them. “I had to rush out once to rescue a fish from a juvenile fish eagle that wasn’t strong enough to carry its prey away. It was struggling to land the koi on the side of pond so I was able to save it from being dinner.”

Strolling around the garden with Moon was a delight as almost every plant or group of plants has a story and a history. “You can make coffee from the beans of the Zululand coffee tree, but they are very small. We have a friend who mixes them with Arabica beans to produce a blend. That aloe I harvested on a field trip to the Chimanimani Mountains in Zimbabwe in the late sixties. That one I found on a field trip to Swaziland in the seventies.” Suddenly we came upon a row of fig trees, then a huge avocado pear and a guava tree: “Those were planted by the original gardener we employed who insisted that we needed fruit trees. He used to pick the green avos to save them from the monkeys, but they seldom ripened.”

This open garden is more than well worth a visit for keen gardeners and families alike. However, I must caution parents who wander down to the wetland at the bottom of the property. Some of the large leguaans that live in the small dam there have gone missing. “I phoned a friend to ask what swims underwater very fast and attacks leguaans; and he said there’s only one thing: a crocodile,” said Moon.

Indigenous plants will be on sale at this open garden over the weekend. Moon explained: “I’ve learnt that when people see a plant in our garden they like, they appreciate being able to buy it immediately and take it home for their garden.”

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