Where are sidewalk veggies?

When I was visiting my mum, we went for our standard late-afternoon walks around the neighbourhood with the dog, traipsing through this old suburb with the wide verges of my youth.

Those selfsame verges where once, in another life, teams of black men from the council would stride by in straight stripes, pushing lawnmowers ahead of them, keeping suburbia suitably corralled for its all-white populace. It was a desert of kikuyu.

Nowadays it’s a bit different; nowadays it falls to the houseowner to maintain the strip of public land that fronts their property. Choices are… interesting. It seems some folk feel the need to extend their personal fiefdom by adding a spiky suburban jungle with no pathway through for pedestrians.

Repeatedly, we had to take to the road, which I’m guessing is the point, a leafy version of “Get off my lawn!” Next time I’m taking a machete. Then one household had covered “their” verge with plastic sheeting and piled it up with jagged rocks, like something out of a western. Again, we had to take to the road.

Next time I’m taking dynamite. Maybe these people don’t walk themselves, or maybe they’re oblivious to the daily parade of humanity who simply have to walk in order to get to school and work, or who merely want to stretch their legs – or maybe they just don’t give a damn.

Whatever, it was edifying to read of the Cape Town pensioner who has spent lockdown making her stretch of dead-space sidewalk into a suburban vegetable garden, with passersby encouraged to help themselves to what they need. The spinach is particularly popular, she says, but she also has carrots, beetroot and chillies, with notices about what is ready, what isn’t, and how you should pick just the leaves of the spinach and not rip out the whole plant.

She’s not the only one, though. I remember another gardener somewhere in Joburg who put a sign on her veggie-lined sidewalk: “Take what you need, but leave enough for your brother.”

It’s wonderful. It’s wonder-filled. I hope there are many more secret veggie gardens hidden down anonymous streets – adding life to cookie-cutter suburbs. Sow food and love …

Jennie Ridyard

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