The original purpose of Cape Town, as a stop-over for fresh produce, was restored when the Company’s Garden was unveiled with a ceremonial planting of fruit trees.
‘This showcases the historical origins of the Company’s Garden as a food-producing garden which supplied produce to the ships and sailors who travelled the spice trade route from the East Indies.
‘It will be an important means of educating people about urban agriculture, as well as the medicinal properties of herbs and vegetables.’
For garden manager Rory Phelan, promoting urban agriculture is the most important function of the project.
‘Cities are coming under more stress to supply food. The value of growing your own food can never be overstated.’
Hopes of supplying a farmers’ market
The produce will be sold to the Oranjezicht farm for now, but Phelan hopes the garden will eventually supply a farmers’ market.
‘It was built specifically to bring back the lost history of the garden during the Dutch period,’ he said. ‘The whole settlement of South Africa was based on food, and motivated by the spice trade.’
Phelan used excerpts from Jan van Riebeeck’s diary to gather information about the crops sown there in the Dutch period.
On June 19, 1652, Van Riebeeck wrote: ‘Dutch seed being sown by five men. Although young seedlings were continually being flattened by the wind, there was now enough greenery to supply the table and feed the sick. (Radish, lettuce and cress).’
On July 23, 1652 heavy rains flooded the new garden.
Van Riebeeck wrote: ‘All our seeds drowned and ruined, indeed a great sadness to behold, as some were already making such a beautiful stand.’
Workers’ strength also perished with lack of meat.
On October 8, 1652, Van Riebeeck wrote: ‘If ships do not arrive with provisions or some cattle be obtained from the indigenous folk, all work would have to be stopped as a result of the weakness of the workmen.’
Today’s workmen may have had to contend with rain but not a lack of food. They started building the garden in January and it should be finished within the next three weeks.
One gardener was amazed to learn he was reconstructing a garden that grew there nearly 400 years ago. He was not born in South Africa, and was surprised to find that his clearing and planting was mimicking the work done by Dutch farmers, Khoisan locals and Malay slaves in the days of colonial Cape Town.
‘This is a great opportunity. I am so proud,’ he said, sweeping oak leaves away from the water channels that will soon quench the thirst of the 23 varieties of plants already planted.
Adapted from original: Cape Argus