Meet Carl from Johannesburg, South Africa

“I am a young South African graphic designer and part time gardener. My parents instilled a love of gardening and outdoors in me, but working in the garden always seemed like a chore until quite recently. I spent the lockdown period working at my desk, often into the night, and I wanted something that would push me to get up earlier and do some physical activity. I am in the fortunate position of dictating my own hours, so I wake up at sun-rise and spend the morning in the garden before I get in front of the computer screen.

In South Africa, mayhem descended when the lockdown began… it was as if all the other diseases of our society that were already there suddenly came to the surface (political corruption, racism, farm murders) and it seemed like most people had lost faith in the system. At the same time, I was just finding channels like Nature is Always Right and Rob Greenfield. I loved the idea of making food gardens and sharing knowledge and through them I realized that wanting to grow but having no land could actually be an opportunity rather than a setback.

I am based in Johannesburg, South Africa. My main growing space is about the size of an empty residential plot – a Municipal plot not far from where I live. The space has no electricity or bathrooms and it used to be a dump site until it was cleaned up. I also use my townhouse garden to germinate seedlings and grow a few crops, experimenting with small scale & vertical growing.

When I started a couple of months ago, the garden was full of spinach, beetroot, kale & onions but the beds had plenty of unused space so I began planting whatever seeds I could get at the local store, from beans to lettuce; cucumber; tomatoes; celery; a few herbs; cabbage; peas; etc. I hope to turn the property into a food forest and replace any weeds with useful plants of many different varieties. I want to spread things out so that people can wander around and pick and choose.

My number one goal is to cover the soil… best case scenario, with altering canopies. I have been making raised beds over cardboard sheeting and I have found that the cardboard works well to protect the lower layer, preventing weeds and retaining water. Just recently, I had my first attempt at making fertilizer using Korean Natural Farming Methods and I’m currently waiting for it to ferment.

The health and fitness benefits; eating what I grow and being connected to my food source; chatting to passersby; and being part of a solution are the greatest rewards of gardening.

The garden was started by a community leader (Mandla Nkosi – featured on my Instagram page) who runs a recycling business. He is involved in many initiatives and he started this garden with the purpose of growing seedlings to give to people who are interested in growing food. He calls his movement “Amatandamvelo” which roughly translates to ‘the ones who cared for the environment” and his goal is to uplift people who are living in poverty and make heroes out of the many underprivileged people in our area that roam the streets during the day collecting trash and dividing it to sell.

I think we all miss opportunities every day because we have an idea of how things should be and we’re willing to wait until the stars align, but sometimes we just have to get down to it and get results. I deliberately started out in my parents’ garden with no inputs and in dry soil… and to my amazement things grew…. slowly, but they grew. I underestimated the determination of nature to overcome and now my job is just to make things grow faster and with more resilience. There is no reason why anyone should go hungry or be out of a job and there is more than enough land.”