The Thinking Woman's Diary

The Waiting Game,,,

Written: 8th Dec 2017  | Last Updated: 8th Dec 2017


The other day while walking our dogs, I passed yet another newly-built, ugly-as-sin pile of a house (which replaced a perfectly charming weatherboard cottage). Since my last swing-by a couple of weeks ago, the new house had been transformed by an instant garden - minimalistic and on-trend landscaping, with two species of easy-to-grow verdant shrubs, two types of small (flowering but not fruiting) deciduous trees and a brilliant roll-out lawn. It looked soldierly, neat and tidy, yet a bit too safe and unimaginative. This seems to be the look people want now - a “dress to impress” flourish without any creative gardening. 

It got me thinking back to how our first garden began - on the highveld of what was then the Eastern Transvaal of South Africa. It was 1971. We were living on a construction site where my husband was involved in the building of a major power station. We were provided with a free-standing brick house in a small village of brick houses built on what had been plateau farmland. All the foreign workers employed by various multinational corporations shared the neighbourhood. It was pretty classy as such sites go, and we were thrilled to have a comfortable independence in the middle of nowhere.

However, the house did lack a few things. Contrary to the company’s inference before our arrival from Australia, there was not one piece of furniture in the place, not a pot nor pan, not a sheet nor towel. Just echoing rooms, bare floors and empty cupboards. Having arrived from Sydney two weeks before with only a suitcase each, we were crestfallen to discover we had nothing (other than clothes) with which to begin our new life.

We bought most of the essentials from a furniture store and an OK Supermarket in Middelburg, and bit by bit collected the various accoutrements to make the house into a functioning home. We could only afford the minimum, so lived simply and frugally. It was wonderful. 

Going into our first winter at higher altitude (5,500 feet on the old scale), we were relieved to find a large bin of coal out in the backyard near the tiny servant’s quarters (empty). From June till September, our fireplace in the living room became the centre of our evenings together when my hubby got home from work. There was no television in South Africa then, so we watched the blue and green flames snap and dance as we chatted and laughed, read letters from home and listened to the radio. SABC radio was amazingly entertaining, with fabulous plays and stories on weekends, and a Saturday night music show called “Going Gooding” playing the best of the latest hits. (With hindsight, television would have invaded our African nights, whereas radio enhanced them.) 



While our indoor domestic bliss was very pleasing, we had absolutely no garden at all. The house sat upon old pastureland, hard as steel and unappealing even to the weeds. So once our first spring began to arrive, we decided to pay a worker from the site name Kaiser to dig up the ground for us with a pick. Kaiser was used to hard manual labour, but even he was daunted and exhausted by our ground. He earned every single cent we paid him.  

Once the soil was cracked open and evenly raked, we acquired some kikuyu grass runners and began painstakingly planting them. We bought a sprinkler. We waited for the weather to warm up. The sun’s rays began to do their trick. By mid to late summer, we had a front lawn! (The backyard would prove a tougher customer, however.) Eventually, my hubby, wearing a beautiful wide smile, cranked up the mower and mowed the grass. I even took photos. We sucked in that freshly-cut grass smell reminiscent of our childhoods. 

In springtime, I’d also planted some flowers in the front garden beds. The resultant display made me particularly chuffed, as I had not (in any way) inherited my mother’s gardening gene. The sight of dahlias, calendulas, cosmos, red-hot pokers, zinnias and marigolds not only growing but thriving was a source of enormous joy.

Our simple little house and hard-earned garden taught us a lot. Never to be afraid of hard work, never to be afraid of beginning at the beginning again (and again), and never to complain about something when there’s something you can do to fix it. 

Such great lessons.

The moral of the story? Good things come to those who wait...and to those who work, or something like that. :)