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Gods in the Garden

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In 1947 Johnnie and Greta Makings arrived from a green and wet England
and bought this house on a dry and dusty hillside in a foreign land

at that time there was no water supply to Monavale
just a few rambling farmhouses and manager’s dwellings
strewn across its stony hilltops
that rise above the surrounding wetlands

Johnnie was an action man of the land
a pioneer
he knew how to survive
he was one of the initiators of the communal borehole
that was piped into the scattered dwellings
he picked up the millions of loose rocks and created beautiful dry stone walls
across contours of the hill
around gardens (fed by his house waste water)
built stone houses

he was a creative god in this foreign garden

when we came to this place in 1980
Johnnie and Greta were still living in their (Johnnie-built) house next door
and they welcomed us in with stories of this hill
- their home for 33 years

Johnnie told me of noticing a Gum Tree sapling
when he was building stone steps at the bottom of the garden
and of his decision to leave it to grow
an evergreen fast-growing foreigner to this land
it captured his spirit

when we arrived 33 years later, the hill was already a different place
water was being pumped from a seemingly limitless underground aquifer
and fed into gardens and vegetable patches on the hilltops
it had turned into a green and leafy place
with towering gums and shady jacarandas
foreign trees, planted by the new settlers
seeking a more gentle way of life

gods in the garden

30 years later, a more environmentally aware community
began to see the impact of these foreign evergreens
on the indigenous trees

beautiful Musasas and hardwoods
out-competed by new exotics
which  were spreading fast across the hill
leaving only vestiges of this once unique woodland

once again we became gods in the garden

and began to cut and cull these alien trees
in an effort to retain what had been lost
and we planted back native trees
and began slowly to see the increase in insects and birds and diversity

We too have been living on this hill for 33 years now
and Johnnie Makings’ Gum tree had reached an incredible height and girth
she could be seen for miles towering above the tallest tree on the hill

for years now there have been conversations about her survival …
the obvious problem being the amount of underground water she consumed
she was leaning a bit
she was out competing the surrounding trees
she was getting old – drying out at the outer branches?
was she on her way out?

when we were in Cape Town
Mel took the decision to cut her down

gods in the garden

coming back to a huge empty hole in our canopy was devastating
despite being warned
despite the logic
I feel a deep mourning

she was the herald of sunrise
catching the first light in the  tips of her sky-high branches
holding the last touch of gold
long after the sun had sunk below the horizon
the roosting place of eagles, falcons and passing herons
home to thousands of birds

she was my age
she was my friend
she was a guardian of our boundaries

what responsibility we take
when we play with the balance of nature
only aware of our own intentions
until we see the effects of our actions

in the bare-open space at the bottom,
Mel is ready to plant a few hundred indigenous trees and bushes
the moment the rains begin

gods in the garden

Lily found the huge cobra under the jasmine last week
it’s ankle wide girth winding swiftly across the lawn and into the rocks below
a sense of awe
of gratitude and relief that she is still here

and there were 2 bush babies at the bananas last night
are they a pair?

the garden echoes with the peeping of new fledglings

there are gods in the garden
despite our god-like interference

One comment to “Gods in the Garden”

  1. Comment by fen Moore-Gordon:

    We had a wonderful talk at our garden club last week about the wetlands of Harare and particularly the Monavale Wetlands. How inspirational the whole community of Monavale are Keep it up! Sad about the lovely old Gum tree. We are all saddened at the loss of all the trees that we are being felled around our country.