Friends help garden grow

Tour guide Gath Angus gives a free tour of the Companys Garden on Heritage Day.

The new Friends of the Company’s Garden was launched on Heritage Day with a tour of the inner city garden aimed at educating people about the space and building the group’s membership.

The implementation of the Friends group was started by Alan Cameron, who used to live in the city.

Laura Robinson, who was on the City of Cape Town’s already established steering committee for the garden, said they’ve been wanting to start a Friends group for years, but she thought the timing was right now as they had lost the garden manager, and it seemed the garden needed some attention. “It was starting to feel unsafe and look sad, so it was time.”

She said she and Mr Cameron had a few meetings before they eventually established the group.

The group would act as eyes and ears on the ground, a support group to the City, who manages the site, and also get involved in some projects in the space.

Mr Cameron said the idea was to slowly build interest in the garden. “Many people living around here have green fingers, but can’t really explore it on their balconies. We want people to take ownership and make the garden a community asset and an enabling environment.”

ould like to tackle were safety and the dysfunctional ablution facilities.

Also on the committee is Gardens Commercial High School principal, Dylan Tommy, who was elected as the chairperson.

He said he got involved when one of the parents at the school invited him to a meeting.

Mr Tommy started teaching at Gardens Commercial High School in January 2000, and has been walking through the garden for 19 years.

He said he decided to become part of the group because he struggled to make a difference on his own.

“I was regularly engaging with various role-players involved with cleaning, maintenance and safety within the garden, but it wasn’t having the impact I desired.

“When I started teaching, there was a dedicated manager and staff who looked after the garden – they ensured the garden was how I remembered it from my childhood, when we visited in the 70s and 80s.”

He said he remembered the aviary full of birds, the ponds full of fish and the well-maintained garden.

In the past few years, he said, the way the City managed the garden changed. “I believe this is one of the reasons we have seen a deterioration – the aviary has no birds, the ponds are empty and the garden is not as clean as it once was.

“I have also seen an escalation in crime in recent years. A few weeks ago I met a couple from Durbanville, who had last visited the garden 15 years ago. They expressed their disappointment in the state of the garden, saying it is nothing like how they remembered it.”

Garth Angus, a tour guide who has been doing walking tours in the garden since 2002, said the site was an important part of the story guides tell tourists.

“There is the story about slavery and the colonial rule; there are statues which speak to the Rhodes Must Fall movement; there is Parliament, where history is made every day, and there are museums, and a beautiful garden.”

He said people should get involved and help keep it clean and safe. “Many tourists visit the garden, and if we don’t look after the space, it has a negative impact on our visitors.”

An idea he had was for people to “adopt” an allotment and grow fruits and vegetables. He also wanted to see the canal near Tuynhuys being cleaned.

Ward councillor for the CBD, Dave Bryant, said he had been chairing the garden steering committee since 2011, with the aim of establishing a structure to pull together everyone who was interested in the garden, including the City, museums and schools and find a way to uplift the site.

He said in the past 10 years, there was progress made, with the refurbishment of the Company’s Garden restaurant, the installation of public furniture and art, the nests, the installation of the old Dutch garden and the planting of indigenous plants and the arch in the front (“’Arch’ honoured with very own arch”, CapeTowner, October 12, 2017).

He said recently there was renewed interest after Friends groups popped up all over the city. “We now have a committee, which acts as a liaison with the City, who is the owner and manager of the facility.”

He said they will also be inviting one of the Friends members to sit on the steering committee going forward, which meets at least four times a year.

He said some of the ongoing issues in the garden are urban homelessness, general maintenance of the facility, lighting, a bathroom revamp and petty crime. “We will make sure we keep an active hand on that and make sure we can uplift those areas.”

However, he said, one of the projects they’ve been working on involved formalising trading spaces on Government Avenue, which will be managed by the City’s parks department. “It’s now an area where one can trade, but in the future, we would like to get a formalised trading stand for the space.”

He said he has also been in talks with the mayoral committee to bring back the position of a dedicated manager, which was ceased three years ago, which will “make a massive difference”.

“The garden is a unique space, it’s the oldest garden in Cape Town and used by all. It’s got enormous historical value and is a big space to manage.”

Mr Tommy said the immediate goals are to grow the group’s membership and to engage with the City to see what is needed to restore the garden to its former state.

Membership costs R100 a year, and R200 for businesses, NGOs and other organisations. The money will go towards projects that will benefit the garden.

For more information, visit the Friends of the Company’s Garden on Facebook.