An open-access, medicinal street garden project for healing, greening and connection in Cape Town, South Africa

Andrew Reid

Age 27, South Africa

PROJECT: An open-access, medicinal street garden project for healing, greening and connection in Cape Town, South Africa

Contact Andrew with questions, suggestions, or to get involved at ANDREW.REID@livelihoods.org.za.

Tell us about the work you are doing to create a wilder world.
Herbanisation is an open access, medicinal street garden project in Cape Town, South Africa. The project aims to green streetscapes in economically marginalized areas while contributing to the livelihoods of local Rasta/Khoi herbalists and reconnecting community members with medicinal plants. Herbanisation gardens currently include 1,600 plants in Seawinds, Cape Town, and are set to reach 4,500 by mid-2015.


What are five (5) of your short term goals to accomplish in the next 1-2 years?
1. Host a workshop of Rasta bushdoctors and conservation actors
2. Establish and contribute to at least 5 new garden sites
3. Begin formal biological monitoring of sites
4. Develop site signage and publish/release an educational booklet/zine on the plants, their uses, and harvesting techniques
5. Establish a network of street gardens/gardeners in Cape Town


What are five (5) of your long term goals to accomplish in the next 5-10 years?
1. Expand nursery activities to employ more Rasta bushdoctors and propagate an increasing variety of indigenous medicinal plants
2. Reach a total of 25,000 plants in street gardens in Cape Town
3. Integrate with the wider urban food ecology of Cape Town
4. Release a documentary/series of short-format documentaries
5. Partner with Rastas and local conservation bodies to establish a community-led monitoring and mapping program for medicinal plants in the Western Cape


How can others help you accomplish these goals?
A strong and ongoing media presence is hugely beneficial in gaining exposure for the project and for ultimately shifting perceptions and shaping policy to do with indigenous plants, harvesting, and health and wellbeing. Individuals and organisations with skills and experience in the fields of print media, social media, photography and documentary film-making are all invited to assist.

Individuals with specialist experience in plant propagation, nursery management and permaculture are invited to assist with the up-skilling of our propagation team and in the planning and preparation of garden sites.

We are actively seeking an honours/masters level student to assess and monitor the biological diversity and development of the garden sites.

Existing nurseries, botanical societies and seed companies can assist through the gifting of plants, seeds, plastic plant bags and other gardening tools such as garden hoses, shovels, rakes etc.


How can the public get involved with your project/work?
Members of the public living in Cape Town and the Western Cape can get involved by following the project on Facebook and participating in planting and garden maintenance events. Usually held during the wetter winter months, these events are excellent opportunities for people to get involved in an ecorestoration project, learn more about medicinal plants, and build relationships with the wide variety of individuals who are engaged in the project.

A major way that people can get involved, both locally and internationally, is through the establishment of indigenous medicinal street gardens in their own neighbourhoods. In the case of people living in Cape Town/Western Cape, we may be able to assist with contributions of plants and the labour required to create the garden. For those living abroad, we are happy to advise you in your process and will do our best to connect you with individuals, groups and organisations in your area who may be of assistance. We’d love to see more people around the world replicating what we have done with Herbanisation and collaborating with others in their neighbourhoods to green, heal and connect.


What have been some successes you have had?
Our first major success was securing funding from the Table Moutain Fund, an associated trust of WWF-South Africa. This allowed us to grow the project from a pilot of 250 plants into a fully-fledged movement aimed at establishing 3 street gardens with a total of 4,500 within 3 years. In addition to expanding the gardens, the funding has resulted in employment and the strengthening of local livelihoods for a number of Rastas working at the Hillview Community Nursery and living in Seawinds.

Herbanisation has resulted in ground-breaking engagement between Rasta bushdoctors,
conservation bodies and local botanical societies, establishing inter-personal relationships where none existed before and shifting previously antagonistic relationships toward collaborative partnerships. This has occurred through experiential peace-building activities centered around garden planting and maintenance events.

Many Seawinds residents and local healers have been harvesting from the Herbanisation street gardens in order to treat themselves, their families and their patients. Not only does this contribute to the health and wellbeing of the local community, it also empowers individuals to take their health into their own hands while increasing their interactions with local nature and stimulating pride in their role as indigenous knowledge bearers.


What are some lessons you have learned/what would you have done differently?
The major lesson we have learned so far is the importance of working with local gardening champions. Our project was born out of a partnership between the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation and Neville van Schalkwyk, an accomplished gardener and Rasta bushdoctor elder in Seawinds. Working with established, respected and dependable individuals is key to project longevity and success when creating street gardens. This approach works on two levels, both on a practical level in terms of working with someone who already has a love for plants and has been actively gardening for many years, and on a social level in terms of the individual having strong ties and relationships with others in the local area. This strategy helps to ensure project relevance to the local community or involved bodies, since the champion is situation in the social, economic and ecological r eality of the project site. The champion also acts as an interface or translator between the neighbourhood community, project partners and other stakeholders.

A second lessons falls under the category of community-centered design and relevance. Plant species for the gardens should be selected, first and foremost, on their cultural and economic relevance to the people living in the neighbourhood. This is key if you want local people to use the plants and to come to feel a sense of ownership and pride in the gardens. A second aspect of this lesson is to observe the flows of people, vehicles and animals in and around potential garden sites before planting. Such observations can then be built into the design of the street garden, so that the gardens mesh with the fabric of daily life and movement in the neighbourhood. For example, before establishing a garden on the pavement on the corner of two streets in Seawinds, we noticed that people followed a path that cut across the section of pavement in a straight line. Rather than planting on the entire pavement, we utilised stones to accentuate the existing path and planted the gardens on e ither side – using hardy Aloes to line the path. This allowed people to continue along their habituated lines of movement while bringing them into closer proximity to useful plants and discouraging the trampling of plants. Even taking this approach, we have still lost plants due to destruction by local children and dogs. Such loses are inevitable and must be factored into the design and implementation of any street gardens.


Have there been any major (or minor) milestones in your work?
The establishment of the first funded street garden at our Seawinds site was a major milestone for all involved. It proved to us that it was possible, and represented the culmination of months and months of ideas, conversations, preparations and actions. Stepping back after a long day of hard work, the realisation of what we had achieved – albeit humble in relation to the challenges ahead – gave us the collective excitement and drive to continue with the project.

A second milestone was the major planting event we held in July 2014. This was the first time we really focused a lot of energy on ensuring that key stakeholders from conservation, the Rasta community, ecologists, volunteers and activists were all in attendance and actively participating in creating the garden we were planting that day. It turned out to be a big success, with individuals from diverse backgrounds working side-by-side and, in doing so, breaking down some of the barriers that had kept them apart for so long. This is especially encouraging given the historical antagonism between Rasta bushdoctors and conservation officials, as well as the large socioeconomic divide usually associated with the two groups.

The smallest of actions is far more powerful than the grandest of ideas.

Working with established, respected and dependable individuals is key to project longevity and success when creating street gardens.

We'd love to see more people around the world replicating what we have done with Herbanisation and collaborating with others in their neighbourhoods to green, heal and connect.