Wednesday, 23 June 2010

The Importance of Beauty - A View on the 2010 World Cup

Its been hard to ignore the fact that there's a World Cup happening in our backyard at the moment. Its been something we've been building (literally and emotionally) towards for the last several years, with equal doses of pessimism and excitement. I'm looking forward to seeing the long-term benefits to our economy and nation, as the rest of the world has a chance to see what a truly amazing place South Africa is. The truth is, once you've lived here, its hard to be happy anywhere else.

Flag Wrapped Tree outside the Africa Art Centre on Florida Road
Huge amounts of money have been spent on things like building brand new stadiums, fixing infrastructure that wasn't too bad before, and tidying beaches, parks and other public places. None of which would and should probably be a high priority in a country, where there is such an extreme between rich and poor. Where the AIDS epidemic has effected almost everyone to some degree, and where many essentials are spoken of as priorities, but are in actuality, neglected.

But honestly, I'm not sure that I'm unhappy that money has been spent on these "superficial" things. You can't deny the effect that this World Cup has had on uniting a nation obsessed with pointing at our differences, rather than celebrating what makes us unique.

Natal Mahogany wrapped with South African Flag for the World Cup
The money that has been spent on revamping our Durban beachfront, or creating parks where there were empty lots before, or planting trees to beautify the neighbourhoods, would never have been spent on these 'less important' things. Sadly, creating beauty is seen as unimportant in our needy world.

But beauty is what inspires us, its what takes our minds off of the mundane. Beauty affects our emotions, and perceptions. It changes the way we feel about ourselves. I'm not advocating choosing something pretty over buying food to eat. But if we're not looking, we might miss the fact that the beautiful doesn't always have to be sacrificed to the practical.

Wrapped Trees lining the streets of Durban for 2010
Very often, beauty doesn't have to even be costly. Sometimes, it just needs a different perspective, new eyes, or the desire to appreciate.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Thinning Plants or Thieving Plants?

A common mal-practice amongst landscapers here in South Africa, and particularly the larger companies that provide landscaping or maintenance services on a large scale, is the theft of plants.
Aloes in flower, planted with Strelitzia back-drop
Its an accepted fact that when a bed becomes overcrowded, it becomes necessary to thin those plants out, and then replant them elsewhere. Often, they are just replanted elsewhere in the garden, and sometimes they are even sold on to other clients. Both of which I believe are acceptable solutions.

The lines become blurred, however, when there is no real need for thinning. The landscaping company is just looking for free plants that they can then sell on to another client.

I saw a particularly bad case of this recently, in the turning circle of an office park in La Lucia. The bed was planted with a swathe of Strelitzia reginae (Bird of Paradise Flower), which had begun to mature over the last couple of years, and was creating a perfect backdrop to the Aloes planted in front. When I drove past the other day, all the Strelitzia had been removed and replaced with Anthericum - a favourite amongst generic landscapers because they are fast growing, and cheap. The value of the Strelitzia when sold on, would have been in the tens of thousands.

Normally, I would be happy that wild grasses are being used in the landscape - they are a great source of food for birds, and are very under-appreciated. But in this case - I'm fairly certain that the client had no idea what had just happened. The grass will never create the same effect that the Strelitzia had - and I believe the garden is aesthetically poorer for it. Not to mention the fact that I have spotted a troop of mongooses using the Strelitzia as a place to hide.

The sad thing is, the client may never even notice the difference, and probably for this very reason, crimes like this continue to be committed by unscrupulous "landscapers". The unfortunate result of this type of action is that it calls into question everything done by the landscaper, and erodes the trust required to design and maintain a garden.
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