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Anne Townsend

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

The Terror of Roots

In the March/April 2012 issue of National Geographic Traveller, acclaimed travel writer Daisann Mclane writes:

“I’m not noticing the neighbourhood foliage because I’m too busy eyeballing to the end of the block for the car service guy I called to take me to the airport. Once again I am leaving home, turning into a traveler. I don’t stop to think why it’s so important for me to be able to move around from place to place. I just do it: I pack up and go.”

Is this the global nomad in a nutshell? Always eyeing the horizon, missing what’s right under their noses? Driven by unconscious motives, running, running, running, never standing still long enough to get to the root of the impulse to be in perpetual motion?

Daisann continues: “There probably is nothing more disconcerting, more terrifying, for hard-core travelers to contemplate than the life of a tree. A traveler is by definition footloose; trees send down deep, abiding roots. They don’t stay put because they are timid or incurious or on a budget. Trees stay where they are because if they abandon their point of origin they will cease to exist.”

For years I’ve been fantasizing about a garden at my block of flats in Vredehoek. There is a long narrow patch of soil at our communal washing line that has clearly not been loved or cared for in a very long time. Last week, on a whim, I asked our gardening service to yank out the straggly poison ivy that clings to the fence in a miserable attempt at beautification. I am planning to plant a hedge of bougainvillea, a herb and vegetable patch, and a few deep pink proteas, pin cushions, with a border of snow drops. Yet every time I see the piles of vegetation that need to be carted off, and ponder the reality of what is to follow: buying gardening tools, compost and potting soil, and visiting a nursery to purchase a truckload of plants, my anxiety level shoots up.

When I was five, I was an obsessive little gardener. Next to the aviary in our suburban garden, I planted neat rows of vegetables and pasted the colourful seed packets on wooden sticks. Radishes, lettuces, onions, and carrots. Baby potatoes. Daily I watered, tended and visited my little patch. When the upheaval in our house became unbearable, gardening was my refuge. I was seldom alone as my pets usually ambled over to keep me company. Two tortoises, a pair of ducks, a few chickens, and a rabbit, Bollie. Indoors I had goldfish, hamsters and budgies but they never showed any interest in the garden.

My adult life has not included gardening. Looking back at all the places I’ve lived, there have been many opportunities for a garden, or at least flower beds. Even in Hong Kong, all my apartments were garden-friendly. On Lamma Island I stayed in two rooftop apartments and when I finally embraced city life by moving to Hong Kong Island, there was a large communal courtyard just begging for plants.

What does a garden represent that instills such resistance? Is it the fear of unpacking and committing fully? Is it the association with apron-clad hausfrauen swopping recipes for quince jelly over picket fences? There is no anxiety when I admire the garden at the Mount Nelson (bougainvillea, petunias, velvety purple pansies, hollyhocks, dusky pink rambling roses and rolling grass), and florists, in every city I’ve ever lived in, soon become my favourite stores.

For the past year I’ve been collecting seed packets at hardware stores and nurseries.

Seeds of success: Herb, Parsley Plain. A large-leaved strain of parsley with flat, dark green serrated leaves. Biennal. Keep moist. Varieties may differ in colour and shape.

Herb, Basil. Spicy-flavoured plant with aromatic leaves ideal for cooking. Annual. Full sun.

Garden Pea. Should be planted in moist loam soil. Sow in rows, press down, keep moist. Thin out at 10 cm. Days to harvest: 90 – 120 days.

Who knows how long Operation Garden will take? I have long stopped forcing things. The garden will unfold at whatever pace is healthy and natural. I will be watching closely.

(Photo Credit Anne Townsend @ Hong Kong)


Recent comments:

  • Anne Townsend
    Anne Townsend
    July 21st, 2012 @15:25 #


  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    July 22nd, 2012 @14:13 #

    Do it, Anne. Gardening and reading: recipe for sanity.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Kathryn</a>
    August 20th, 2012 @09:47 #

    Lovely :)


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