A Letter from Johannesburg
A Letter from Johannesburg
Green medicine: Plants are slowly filling Yewande Omotoso’s flat. And she is very happy.
Illustration by Sarah John
People think Johannesburg is only kilometre after kilometre of concrete. But, with about five million planted trees it is one of the most wooded cities in the world.
I live in the north of the city, on the third floor of a block of flats. My very small balcony is the closest thing I have to a garden and I love it. I go to the garden shop on the corner of Main and Witkoppen. I don’t go to the shop with the tall trees with its big discounts. I would buy a tree if my balcony was strong enough and my neighbours would be happy about it. So I go to the shop with smaller plants which are OK for my flat.
I enjoy pretending to be a wild person. I garden on my concrete balcony and sometimes I wave at my neighbours as they look on with interest. Of the 15 or so plants in my flat I have bought a few and begged for a few others, a couple were gifts and others just arrived somehow.
The bought ones were from the garden shop, where a man offered to help. I described my situation and he showed me the kinds of plants that could live happily on my north-east facing balcony with a lot of beautiful Johannesburg sun – or the ones that would be happy inside my flat. He also said that I needed to buy wood chips.
‘To protect the soil.’
I was amazed. But he clearly knew more than I did.
‘Are you sure? What am I protecting it from?’
‘The sun. This is just for the outdoor plants. Because of the hot sun.’
I thought the sun was welcome? But I asked no more questions and I allowed him to carry a sack of wood chips into my car boot. I scattered them over the soil of the pot plants on the balcony. I bought too many woodchips and years later the big sack is still full and takes up space in my cupboard. I see it and think of the man at the garden shop.
One of the plants I begged for comes from my sister-in-law. Another comes from a big garden in Johannesburg South where I gave a workshop. I arrived early before the sessions started and sat in the garden in wonder. The peace reminded me of why I started buying plants. I bought my first plant only days after someone attacked me in my home. And then more and more pot plants to help me feel better.
I told the caretaker of the gardens that I really wanted to take some cuttings home with me and he said I should feel free. My garden was so much smaller but I felt that only a little piece would be enough. I took two cuttings from a Delicious Monster – one died quickly, the other lived a little longer.
On a visit to Cape Town, a friend gave me something known as Chicken and Egg, a plant with long thin green and white leaves which spreads quickly. I carried it in my lap on the plane. For years it did not spread until one day there it was suddenly.
Plant by plant I fill up my home, each time it helps me with the big problems of life.
NOW READ THE ORIGINAL:
(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)