A few years ago, Johan Coetzer, now just aged just 10, gave each friend who attended his birthday party a few plants, a container, and some soil and fertiliser together with instructions on how to start their own little garden.
His dad, Francois, says he and his wife, Juliana, have never had any particular interest in gardening at their home in Welgemoed, and are therefore at a loss to explain what has kindled Johan’s passion for gardening at such a tender age as well as his enthusiasm for instilling in others a love for growing things.
“Johan has always just had this fascination with plants and animals,” says Francois. “Whenever we do day trips over weekends and stop at a farm stall, Johan will always look out for pot plants on sale and buy one or two, often with his own pocket money. We went to a wine farm a while ago and he collected cuttings to grow in his fish pond, and on a trip to Botswana he collected some plants. His special treat is to be taken to a nursery to buy some seeds or seedlings.”
On Sunday October 21, Johan and other green-fingered gardening enthusiasts will be celebrating Garden Day, which sprouted as an idea from a group of enthusiastic gardeners who wanted to start a movement to unite South Africans by creating a day where everyone can enjoy and celebrate their gardens together.
Many studies have shown that gardening can also make a significant contribution to our health and well-being, not just as a way to get some physical exercise but also to improve our mental health. GPs in London have already started to prescribe gardening time to assist patients with mental health troubles.
According to Professor Nox Makunga, a plant scientist at the Department of Botany and Zoology at Stellenbosch University, South Africa has an incredible flora that has been used by people for health purposes for centuries.
“Apart from their aesthetic beauty, gardens have many healing properties linked to psycho-spiritual healing,” says Professor Makunga. “They may provide us with food and medicine and an interconnectedness to nature and the world around us and also to our very self. Benefits are thus psychological, social, emotional and physical. A medicinal garden in some households is a first line of primary health care.”
As for young Johan, when he is not in the garden, he hones his hobby by watching TV gardening programmes and dipping into some gardening books he has collected. He has developed a particular interest in succulents which he cultivates in pots and often transplants into bigger containers as they grow.
The 10-year-old is also a committed vegetable and herb grower. “The drought we have had in the Western Cape made it impossible for him to grow his vegetables last year,” says Francois “but in previous years he has grown a variety of vegetables, particularly tomatoes and salad greens which he brings to his mom to prepare for meals. He will definitely have a veggie and herb garden this coming summer.”
And then there’s his chickens. He has three of them, one which was recently hatching some eggs. At times when the veggie garden is growing, Johan feeds them off cuts.
Will he maintain his interest in gardening into adulthood? “I have no doubt,” says Francois. “He often says he wants to work for Stodels when he grows up but we tell him he will first have to get a degree.”