GARDEN MAKING AS A SPATIAL TACTIC IN
Meghan M. Posey
B.A., University of Michigan, 2003
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Landscape Architecture
2011 by Meghan M. Posey
All rights reserved.
This thesis for the Master of Landscape Architecture
Meghan M. Posey
has been approved
Posey, Meghan M. (Master of Landscape Architecture)
Intimate Infrastructure: Garden Making as a Spatial Tactic in Post-apartheid Khayelitsha, South Africa
Thesis directed by Assistant Professor Joern Langhorst
This thesis explores the agency of gardens in the post-apartheid landscape of South African
townships, where daily life is impacted by poverty', racial segregation, HIV/AIDS, and violence. Amid
these challenging circumstances, township residents commonly make and tend gardens. Contemporary
scholarly research demonstrates that garden making can be a mentally and physically sustaining endeavor,
cultivating hope and purpose. Gardens can be places of respite, escape, and memory; microcosms of
desired realities; and opportunities to express defiance, resistance, and pride. The practice of gardening in
the township context is conceptualized as a tactical operation, performed to negotiate adverse realities of
everyday life. Further, gardens are positioned as a vital component of intimate infrastructure, defined as
the physical manifestation of practices that support wellbeing of individuals and cohesion of community
structurea network of spaces marked by activity, vernacular ingenuity, and cultural exchange. This
inquiry employed an ethnographic fieldwork methodology, supported by a literature review of formative
precedent studies and concepts. The fieldwork occurred during March-July of 2009, in Khayelitsha, the
largest setdement east of Cape Town in a region known as the flats. The investigation took the form of
walks and talks, facilitated by a Xhosa guide and interpreter, to observe and document garden spaces
and practices. Khayelitsha meaning New Home in isiXhosa, is a disenfranchised black township
created under apartheid (literally apartness in Afrikaans). Apartheid was the South African governments
systematic and forceful racial segregation of non-white peoples into rural homelands or urban
townships. Although apartheid was officially dismantled in 1994, its legacy is entrenched in the physical
articulation of space, social structures, and collective memory of modern-day South Africa. Khayelitsha is
a sprawling, yet densely populated settlement, home to a burgeoning half million people. While poverty
and struggle through adversity define everyday life in Khayelitsha, it is also a vibrant place where people
continue to pursue fulfilling and inspired lives. This tensioned environment positions Khayelitsha as a
poignant place for the exploration of garden making and an unfurling of the intimate infrastructure that
lies critically beyond the scope of our traditional understanding of infrastructure.
Keywords: cultural landscape studies, defiant gardens, vernacular gardens, intimate infrastructure, post-
apartheid ethnography, South African townships, Khayelitsha
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidate^hesis^^ecommen^t^ublication.
I dedicate this thesis to my parents, Mellody and Michael, who always believed that I would finish the
project, and supported my decision (as always) to walk that darn less traveled road, this time to Africa and
back. And to Namhlawithout her patient and sincere guidance and translation, I would have been lost in
Thank you to my partner, Alex Scott, who was by my side everyday of fieldwork. Alex accompanied
me to Khayelitsha on each visit with a sincere interest in my project, meeting new people and helping me
to document the research processthe bulk of the photographs are to his credit. Upon returning home
from Cape Town, he has also encouraged me through the (extended) challenge of completion. Thank you
Lvnita and Brian Scott for opening your home to me, providing the physical and mental space I needed to
hunker down and write.
I am immensely grateful to my friend and advisor, Joern Langhorst, for his dialogue, provoking
questions, and steady support. I extend heartfelt thanks to my mentor, Joni Palmer, for guidance with the
initial proposal, her dedication to reading drafts, and thoughtful feedback. Thank you, Ann Komara, for
your quiet support, personal library' loans, and bursts of encouragement along the way. And thank you to
Tony Mazzeo, Leila Tolderland, and Adam Clack, graduate instructors who challenged my thinking and
guided me to establish my own theoretical scaffolding. 1 am also appreciative to have been the recipient of
the Brandes Scholarship, awarded by the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of
Colorado to a thesis-track student who is committed to the life-long value of helping others who are less
Lastly, 1 am indebted to the Nonguanzu familyGolden, Pumla, Nangamso, Namhla, Nande, Lona,
Onezlwe, and Onela, who opened their home to usand positively linked us to the garden makers of
TABLE OF CONTENTS
List of Figures........................................ix
Purpose of Project......................................3
Research Foundations & Questions........................4
II. METHODOLOGY & RESEARCH DESIGN......................14
Ethnographic Research Design...........................15
Arrangement of Ethnography.............................28
III. LITERATURE REVIEW: PRECEDENT STUDIES..............30
Cultural Landscape Studies.............................30
Summary of Precedent Studies...........................35
IV. LITERATURE REVIEW: CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK...........37
Conceptual Framework Summary...........................58
Opening the Dialogue...................................59
Garden Agencies in Context.............................97
Garden as Spatial Tactic..........................105
Garden: Noun and Verb.............................108
APPENDIX A. Maps .................................120
APPENDIX B. Glossary of IsiXhosa Basics...........122
APPENDIX C. Human Subjects Approval...............123
LIST OF FIGURES
1.1 Cape Flats Environment | photo by D. Alex Scott..........................9
1.2 eKhayelitsha Mural | photo by author...................................10
1.3 RDP Government Housing | photo by Ellen Schnier........................11
1.4 Khayelitsha: Site C | photo by author..................................12
2.1 Mini | photo by D. Alex Scott........................................18
2.2 A Morning Walk | photo by D. Alex Scott................................19
2.3 Khayelitsha: Site C, Long View | photo by author.......................20
2.4 Khayelitsha: Site C, Close View | photo by author......................21
2.5 Cows & Children in Street | photo by D. Alex Scott................21
2.6 Garden Intrigue | photo by author...........................22
2.7 A Conversation with Nelson and Namhla | photo by D. Alex Scott..23
2.8 Herbal Service Roof Garden | photo by author...........................25
2.9 Xhosa Head Wrapping | photo by D. Alex Scott...........................26
5.1 Goldens Materials | photo by D. Alex Scott.............................64
5.2 Goldens Flower Garden | photo by D. Alex Scott........................64
5.3 ZelosFence| photo by D. Alex Scott....................................65
5.4 Zelos Mending | photo by D. Alex Scott................................66
5.5 Zelos Fence and Chickens | photo by D. Alex Scott.....................67
5.6 Zelos Garden | photo by D. Alex Scott.................................68
5.7 Goldens Fence | photo by D. Alex Scott................................69
5.8 Goldens Rondeval | photo by D. Alex Scott.............................70
5.9 Momentary'Garden? | photo by author...................................72
5.10 Mr. Mofus Garden | photo by author...................................73
5.11 A Garden Talk | photo by D. Alex Scott................................74
5.12 Furrows | photo by author.............................................75
5.13 Schoolboys and Garden | photo by author...............................75
5.14 NoosRoadside Statue Display | photo by D. Alex Scott.................77
5.15 NoosGarden | photo by D. Alex Scott..................................78
5.16 Noos Work | photo by D. Alex Scott...................................79
5.17 Nelsons Tomatoes | photo by D. Alex Scott..............................80
5.18 Neighborhood Produce Stand | photo by D. Alex Scott.....................80
5.19 Nelsons Home | photo by author.........................................81
5.20 X Marks Homes With No Address | photo by D. Alex Scott.................82
5.21 Rosys Garden | photo by D. Alex Scott..................................84
5.22 Ottos Thinking Garden | photo by author.................................86
5.23 Namhla and Lona at Kirstenbosch..........................................87
5.24 Namhla and I | photo by D. Alex Scottt...................................89
6.1 Archetypal Garden I | photo by author......................................91
6.2 Archetypal Garden II | photo by author....................................91
6.3 Individual Subsistence Garden | photo by author...........................92
6.4 School Subsistence Garden | photo by D. Alex Scott........................93
6.5 Community Subsistence Garden | photo by D. Alex Scott.....................94
6.6 Artisan Garden 1 | photo by D. Alex Scott.................................95
6.7 Artisan Garden II | photo by D. Alex Scott................................95
6.8 Momentary Garden, Swept Sand | photo by author............................96
6.9 Aesthetic Beaut)- | photo by D. Alex Scott...............................103
6.10 Beaut)-in Routine | photo by D. Alex Scott..............................103
6.11 The Village | photo Fiona Ross........................................112
E.l Eastern Cape Landscape | photo by author..................................118
E.2 Hopei | photo by author...................................................119
E.3 Hope II | photo by D. Alex Scott..........................................119
A.l South Africa Context | image by Google Earth 2011.........................120
A.2 Cape Town & Khayelitsha Context | image by Google Earth 2011..............120
A.3 Khavelitsha Context | image by Google Earth 2011..........................121
In 2005, before launching my graduate studies in landscape architecture, I traveled to South
Africa for six months to pursue rock-climbing in the Cederberg Wilderness Area, two hours north of the
Cape Town metropole. Climbers need rest days, and one day we ventured father away from camp than
usual towards Cape Town. Although it was advised against, we visited Langa Township, on the periphery
of the city, with a local climber who once lived there. He wanted to show us the real South Africathe
one that could be safely viewed from afar, kept at a comfortable distance if so desiredthe seemingly
endless swaths of shantytowns visible from the highway as one travels the N-2 from the airport to the city
Townships are a legacy of the apartheid policies that segregated African and mixed-race people
into separate housing areas. Although the regime of apartheid was officially dismantled in 1994, its legacy
of racial segregation remains deeply entrenched in the physical articulation of space, social structures, and
collective memory in modern-day South Africa. Townships vary significandy in resources from place to
place, but are generally characterized by a high density of people living in makeshift or sub-standard
housing settlements, often lacking basic infrastructure services, and located on the physical and
psychological margins of society". The persistence of the word township to name these racially and
economically segregated setdements examplifies the insidious scar of apartheid.
My first exposure to life in Langa township was a visceral sensory experience. This dense yet
sprawling place smelled strongly of burning wood fires, the wind spun sand around my bare ankles, and a
collage of colors brightened the otherwise bleak landscape of the sand flats under a smoky haze. The
people of Langa had mixed reactions to our presence, some stared at us with seeming bewilderment and
others beamed us wide, welcoming smiles. Among the bright colors, I was most keenly intrigued by the
verdant greens of peoples gardens. These gardens seemed perched on a precipice of life and death,
straddling a fate much like the fences that defined many of the spacescobbled together out of found
objects and at risk of toppling over with the next high wind. And yet, these garden spaces not only existed,
but seemed to persist and even thrive under the care of their makers. Although generally small in stature
and modest in materials, these spaces spoke of human care and perseverance in the face of formidable
daily challenges. It was apparent that some of the gardens had gone the way of the precariously
constructed fence: faltered, abandoned and taken over by the elements. Yet, perhaps these vestiges of
gardens were once concentrations of purpose and beauty, if only for fleeting frames of time. I took not a
single photograph of the gardens that day, as I brought no camera for fear of looking like the rich,
American tourist that 1 was. Yet the images and emotions of these gardens were softly planted in the soil
of my mind, like seeds that lay fertile, albeit dormant.
In the spring of 2007, I attended a lecture given by Kenneth Helphand, professor of landscape
architecture at the University of Oregon, hosted by the Denver Botanical Gardens. Helphand introduced
his research and new bookDefiant Gardens: Making Gardens in Wartimea truly pioneering endeavor
merging history, archival research, and an inspirational perspective on the garden. In Defiant Gardens,
Helphand presents historically grounded, evocative narratives about gardens created in the extreme state
of warthe trenches of W.W.I., the Warsaw ghetto, POW camps, and the Japanese internment camps of
W.W.II. Helphand began his talk as he opens his book: he told us about a single photograph of French
soldiers in W.W.I., standing aside a small vegetable garden. He professed, the photo haunted me for
years and inspired his archival unearthing of wartime gardens. His story resonates for me, as I reflect on
how I came to my own research project. Upon my initial read of Defiant Gardens, I recalled the striking and
tenuous gardens of Langa, the images and emotions sown in my mind, lingering dormant from years
before. I imagined the opportunities to extend this research project with an investigation of contemporary
defiant gardens in South Africa. As Helphand poignantly states: As I write and you read this, war rages
on and defiant gardens are created somewhere in the world. It has always been so (242).
While the people of the post-apartheid South African townships are not presently at war, and living
conditions are ostensibly improving, they continue to live in a racially tensioned society, in the shadow of a
violent past, and against the odds of daunting daily hardships. These profound social and political
circumstances position South African townships as compelling sites to develop a closer knowledge of the
garden. Helphand implores future research of modern defiant gardens, and he even points in the direction
of South Africa, quoting Nelson Mandela in A I sing Walk to Freedom:
A garden was one of the few things in prison that one could control. To plant a seed, watch it grow, to
tend it, and then harv est it, offered a simple but enduring satisfaction. The sense of being the
custodian of this small patch of earth offered a small taste of freedom (489).
Helphand observes, The gardens diverse functions, from the most pragmatic and mundane to the
most fanciful and profound, are all accentuated by the gardens circumstance and intention (9). He cites
John Dixon Hunt who calls for a theoretical position on the garden, a coherent view of garden-making
and its place in human life and society, to be approached through an anthropology' of the garden [that]
would explore the many cultural versions (13). Following this lead, I looked to other scholars who have
engaged in anthropological studies of the garden.
In his closing chapter, Helphand acknowledges the collaborative work of landscape designer and
scholar, Diana Balmori, and photographer, Margaret Morton, in Transitory Gardens: Uprooted I Jves (1993), an
inspirational ethnographic study of New York Citys homeless individuals who carve out gardens with
scarce resources on poached plots of land. Over a two-year period, Balmori and Morton interviewed
garden makers and documented the gardens with poetic black and white photographs. Over this period, a
number of were gardeners were forcefully evicted from their plots, their creations razed with bulldozers
somber events that highlighted the fleeting nature of these tended spaces, hence their designation as
In Transitory Gardens and Defiant Gardens the authors share a conviction that gardens created in unusual
or marginal circumstances possess immense potential to reveal the essential, or universal, in all gardens.
Balmori and Morton explain that the gardens of homeless individuals, made with true economy of means
by persons who are deprived of the most basic necessities, seem to point to the power of the garden laid
bare.. .they seem a testimony to the essential need for a garden (7). Helphand expounds: a depth of
garden meaning [is] amplified through hardship, a meaning that may lie latent in all garden creation,
awaiting a catalyst to bring it to conscious awareness (212).
The work of landscape architect, Richard Vf'esmacott, in African American Gardens and Yards of the Rural
South (1992) is another compelling ethnographic inquiry of garden making practices. Vfesmacott
interviews descendants of slaves in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina who continue to tend gardens
with strong links to their ancestors traditional African practices. These gardens display interesting
vernacular adaptations to current conditions; Wesmacott explains: Resourcefulness is a demonstration of
ones ability to adapt to change and to solve problems. Gardens and yards are places where
resourcefulness in dealing with change is demonstrated in ingenious and innovative ways... (116).
Westmacott seeks to document this ingenuity that has been largely overlooked by garden scholarship; his
1992 study predates both Transitory Gardens (1993) and Defiant Gardens (2007), so he might be considered
the pioneer of this small group dedicated to studying gardens created in unexpected, and marginalized
Guided by these initial precedent studies my research project began to take shape. As I read Defiant
Gardens for the first time, the idea emerged that I would return to South Africa townships in search of
modern-day defiant gardens. I sought a deep, personal understanding of the garden and I hoped 1 would
gain this knowledge through investigating the intentions and circumstances of people who tend gardens in
Purpose of Project
The aim of my research is to enliven the discourse of the garden and explore the gardens capacity to
be a creative, elastic, and positive agent in daily life. In my short time as a student of landscape
architecture, it became clear that the discipline is generally uncomfortable with the gardenthe word,
the idea, the associations. Although the discipline is deeply rooted in the garden, we outwardly seek a
separation, illustrated by the name of an Internet group I was asked to join some time back, The
Infamous Landscape Architect... and No, Im Not a F***ing Gardener The garden has lost its
1. I chose to mention this Internet group as a blunt (if not humorous) example of the disciplines aversion to being associated
with the garden, and gardening. However, this aversion is a real phenomenon, not just a joke among practitioners and students. The
common garden is seen by many to trivialize and degrade the professions status and skill set.
importance in our discipline; Kenneth Helphand reasons:
Ironically, that we associate the garden with the archetypal idea of paradise and the nostalgic allure of
the pastoral may account for our marginalization of garden making, where we see gardens as luxury,
frill, pastime, or leisure time activity, and not as an essential component of culture and human existence
In an accordant opinion, the founder of Landscape magazine and a catalyst of cultural landscape
studies, J.B. Jackson reflects in The Necessity of Ruins:
We are determined to see the garden in terms of vegetation, and that may be one of our problems.. .we
can never entirely divorce the garden from its social meaning; when we do so, we run the risk of
defining the garden in stricdy esthetic or ecological termswhich is what many people are doing now
Both Jackson and Helphand implore scholars to heed the social significance of the gardento look
beyond the gardens wonderful and well-documented aesthetic and ecological values, and more deeply into
the gardens impact in our individual and communal lives. Balmori and Morton further contend that
garden scholarship has long focused its gaze on gardens designed and maintained for the upper classes of
society; thus, they aim to expand the historical record with their inquiry of gardens made by homeless
individuals. My research positively contributes to this ongoing project through an exploration of the social
significance of gardens, specifically focusing on gardens that have been largely ignored by garden study
those coaxed out of the every day fabric of the post-apartheid South African township.
Research Foundations & Questions
This research endeavor is approached with an admitted optimism that the practice of making a garden
has the capacity to empower a person, specifically a person living among challenging circumstances such as
poverty, segregation, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It posits that garden making endeavors possess
agencies that promote individual and community wellbeing; Helphand outlines five of these potential
agencies in Defiant Gardens: life, home, work, hope and beauty. To this list, I have added the capacity for
communication. Further, this research is grounded with a strong theoretical allegiance to Michel de
Certeaus perspective in The Practice of Everyday Ufe. De Certeau contends that peoples daily practices are
inherently tactical, as the majority' of practitioners operate in a perpetual power struggle.
De Certeau elaborates:
Many everyday practices (talking, reading, moving about, shopping, cooking, etc) are tactical in
character. And so are, more generally, many ways of operating: victories of the weak over the
strong (whether the strength be that of powerful people or the violence of things or of an imposed
order, etc), clever tricks, knowing how to get away with things... maneuvers... joyful discoveries,
poetic as well as warlike (xix).
Guided by this understanding of De Certeaus tactics, Helphands defiant gardens, and Balmori and
Mortons transitory gardens, gardens in the townships are conceptualized as tactical gardens: intimate, exterior
spaces, created out of the basic human need to negotiate an adverse situation. It is posited that the tactical
garden can result from either deliberate, purposeful composition or spontaneous, ruderal" development,
yet a space only truly becomes a garden through human praxis, when acted upon with intention and care.
In a departure from many traditional definitions of the garden, these gardens need not contain vegetation,
nor be called gardens by their makers.
To guide the research process, a series of questions are posed to explore this idea of the tactical
garden: 1). How, and in what ways, can the act of making a garden be understood as a spatial tactice in the
marginalized landscape of post-apartheid South African townships? 3 2). Can the tactical garden be
discursivea platform for communicationthe garden itself a speech act? If so, what are people
saying through their gardening acts? 3). How is the practice of tactical gardening linked to the
construction of individual and collective cultural identity?
The research project addresses these questions through an interdisciplinary fieldwork methodology
that investigates the presence, operation, and significance of gardens in Khayelitsha. A primacy is afforded
2. Ruderal is a relatively new addition to the lexicon of garden scholarship, referring to hardy vegetation that colonizes an
opportunitya sidewalk crack, a vacant lot, a roadside, etc. This type of vegetation is also known as pioneer species. See also
Hclphand in Defiant Gardens on pages 11-12. He states, Gardens are not only made, but can volunteer (t 1).
3. 1 have adopted this vocabulary and perspective from Michel de Certeau in The Practice of Pveryday Ufe and De Certeau, Giard,
and Mavhol in, published in 1984 and 1994, respectively. Upon initiating their own cultural research endeavor to unravel the mystery
of daily practices, the researchers contend that the behaviors/practices they are seeking to better understand are assumed to be
inherently tactical. See pages 39-40 of the first publication, and page xxiii of Vol. 2. I will further discuss this idea of tactics in the
literature review- under the subheading. Spatial Tactics.
to what gardens do for peoplethe agency of the gardenas paramount to what gardens are. The
methodology' and research design are the subjects of the next chapter. Before delving into methods, it is
imperative to situate the project within the broader historical, social, and spatial context of the apartheid
era and post-apartheid reality of South African townships.
Brief Apartheid Histoiy
Under apartheid laws, blacks (terminology' for African) and coloureds (terminology for mixed race)
were required to live either in designated rural homelands (akin to Native American reservations in the
United States) or in townships, isolated and segregated settlements on the urban peripheries. As Anna
During the decades of apartheid, when one community after the other was declared as a white group
area throughout the Cape Peninsula, the Cape Flats was the area to which people were forced to
move. As a consequence, the Cape F'lats became understood as a space associated with displacement,
hardship and suffering... The flatness of the place, its strong winds and the constant whirl of fine sand
edging its way into all corners of the houses, are a few of the sources of grievance among residents
often mentioned alongside high levels of crime and violence... on a more fundamental level, this space
also became regarded as the epitome of the system of an externally imposed classification: of being
defined by others (2000: 276).
Apartheid policies were the law from 1948 through 1994nearly half a century that Africans were
forcefully segregated in their own land. Africans were either required to live in designated rural
homelands or urban townships established by the government. In 1988 Younge described the bleak
conundrum for non-whites:
Conditions in the rural areas are so bad that men stream into the towns in search of work. Once there,
they may not live elsewhere even if they are in town for a short period. The central material fact facing
the majority of South Africas urban population is that by law they are forced to live in one of these
segregated, impoverished and overcrowded townships situated on the periphery7 of white towns. This
fact penetrates every aspect of urban life... (27-28).
In addition to isolation via housing policies, Africans living in urban townships were required to
carry pass books, which restricted their physical movement through white urban areas. A pass could be
requested of a black or coloured person at any time, and if a pass was not presented or did not permit the
holder, the person could be arrested (Worger and Clark 2004).
Freedom from the brutal segregationist policies of apartheid was eventually won through sustained
resistance and political solidarity, with an initial commitment to non-violent protest. However, violence
was often employed by the white minority government to suppress the majority African populace. On
March 21st, 1960, in an incident known somberly as the Sharpeville Massacre, police shot and killed 69 un-
armed Africans during a peaceful protest that escalated into arrests and rock-throwing by protesters. The
PAC (Pan African Congress) organized the protest, and shortly after the massacre, the South African
government banned the PAC and the ANC (African National Congress), both liberation parties with the
goal of abolishing apartheid. Nelson Mandela, an ANC leader and dynamic political activist, was arrested
on charges of sabotage and sentenced to life in prison in 1962; he was imprisoned for most of his twenty-
seven year sentence in a solitary cell on Robben Island (ibid.).
The apartheid regime maintained relative control over the next decade, yet by the 1980s increasing
violence mobilized by a semi-militarized opposition and growing international disapproval put serious
pressure on the government to dismantle apartheid. First, the petty policies were revokedpass laws
and the ban on mixed-race marriage, for example. In the early 1990s negotiations ensued and the grand
segregationist policies of apartheid were overturned. Mandela was eventually released in 1990 and led his
fellow South Africans to the nations first-ever democratic elections in 1994; he was elected president in a
landslide victor}. Mandela focused on an ethic of reconciliation, with a conviction that only through a
mediated process of confession and forgiveness could the nation make forward progress (ibid.).
In post-apartheid South Africa, a de facto segregation policy is perpetuated by staggering economic 4
4. VChereas the Brief Apartheid History required reference and research, the Post-Apartheid Reality is based on my personal
experience in South Africa and knowledge gained through fieldwork, conversations with South Africans, and exposure to daily media:
advertisements, radio, television, films, and printed materials.
disparity between the rich (predominandy white) and poor (predominantly black). Today, the continued
use of the signifier township to name these marginalized places is one pervasive example of the
apartheid legacy. Township signifies a stigmatized locale where blacks, coloureds, and (in rare cases) poor
white people live.5 The townships are often synonymous with shacklands, shantytowns, and
informal setdements, which are characterized by makeshift construction of dwellings and shops using
reclaimed materials (corrugated metal, shipping containers, wood, cardboard, car tires, etc). However,
many locales with the name township are composed primarily of permanent houses and businesses. To
be cleartownship, shantytown, shackland, and informal setdements, are broad terminologies
that are used to describe a range of settlement types with varying levels of infrastructure and standards of
living. Yet, all signifiers connote spatially and socially marginalized places.
As South Africans continue to migrate en masse from rural to urban settlements, and Africans from
other nations flood the borders, the populations of these marginalized places are swelling, densities are
increasing, and the pressures on already inadequate infrastructure are greater than ever. Although this
phenomenon is occurring across South Africa (and throughout the developing world) a representative
example are the Cape flats, a highly contested and disenfranchised region of townships on the east
periphery of Cape Town, commonly called the flats. In the post-apartheid era, the population of the
flats has mushroomed due to the mass mobility created when African people gained the freedom to move
from their designated homelands into the urban cores. The Cape flats are a diverse patchwork of places
where poverty, segregation, high unemployment, intermittent violence, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic are
omnipresent, yet places where ordinary' people continue to lead productive and creative lives, despite
material deficiency. In the face of outwardly dire circumstances, a sense of optimism and pleasure often
5. As Anna Bohlin establishes, as is applicable for this paper: Whenever racial categories are used.. .they should be understood as
essentially contested terms that nevertheless continue to play a significant role in social and political discourses in South Africa
(2000: 273). This evaluation is also applicable to the term township which I believe is a contested term that seems to have fallen
out of favor in official discourse, but is still widely used across South Africa by all racial groups. In Art of the South African Townships,
Younge explained in 1988: ...the term township art' is offensive to some artists and stylistically indefensible. I have thus avoided
the use of township gardens but use the township term because of its widespread use and clarity to describe physical locales.
Flats environment. Residents of the Cape flats are challenged daily by the harsh environmental
conditions of the region. The flats are located within highly sensitive and mobile sand dune and wetland
systems, which also contain some of the most threatened floral species within the unique Cape Floral
Kingdom, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thus, another dimension of the setdement dilemma are the
extreme environmental pressures that it places on an already sensitive ecosystem.
Due to low elevations and close proximity' to the water table, many dwellings flood with frequency
and severity. High winds regularly blow-off makeshift roofs, penetrate dwellings with sand and dust, and
exacerbate fires that run rampantly through the densely situated, highly flammable shacks. No tree species
are native to the flats, and most imported trees cannot survive or mature due to the high winds and sandy
soils. In short, the challenges of dwelling are significantly intensified by the extreme environmental
constraints. Yet for over one hundred years, the margins of society have been displaced to this region that
is basically inhospitable for human habitation.
Figure 1.1 Cape Flats Environment | photo by D. Alex Scott
Settlement rhetoric. The landscape stretching east of Cape Town for over 30 kilometers is a sprawling
collage of both formal and informal settlements, home to well over two million people. Defined
parcels of land and access to basic infrastructures including water, sanitation, electricity, roads, trash
removal, schools, and health centers are general characteristics of formal setdements. Whereas informal
setdements are more organically emergent urban forms, intricately woven of dwellings and businesses,
constructed of reclaimed materials, and generally lacking basic infrastructures. The informal setdements
are continuously morphingexpanding, contracting, and relocating in a corollary7 pulse to their transient
populations and forced government relocations. Often, an informal setdement will emerge within a formal
setdement, or just on the edge, encroaching on the space and services of the formal zones. In a number of
cases, informal setdements have been formalivgd through infrastructure retrofitting, although this is
problematic due to space and construction quality constraints. Close in physical and social proximity7, and
the lines between these types of setdement are far more fluid than rigid, and it is important to emphasize
that both are identified with the township signifier.
Figure 1.2 eKhavelitsha Mural | photo by author
Director of the African Centre for Cities, Edgar Pieterse, states, Informality is the norm.6 In 2008,
it was estimated that Cape Town had a housing waitlist of approximately 460,000 people, living in 222
informal settlements, in 150,000 shacks. Rhetoric such as No Shacks by 2010! and From Shacklands to
6. Pieterse, Edgar. African Cities: Grasping the Unknowable. Podcast lecture, August 29, 2009. Available:
Dignity: Houses, Security, Comfort! frames the discussion. To address the complex housing dilemma,
the Western Cape launched the ISIDIMA Strategy in 2007, as an alternative to the highly criticized
Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP) strategy executed in 1994. The RDP housing initiatives,
generally characterized by sterile rows of cement block houses in grid layouts, constitute a significant
disconnect between the basic human need for shelter and dwellers broad range of cultural, social, and
Figure 1.3 RDP Government Housing | photo by Ellen Schnier8
Khayelitsha. In 1985, the apartheid government established Khayelitsha, isiXhosa for New Home, to
absorb the significant influx of Xhosa people to Cape Town from the Eastern Cape as pass laws were
phased out, and black people gained the freedom to move from rural homelands into urban cores. Most
of Khayelitshas first generation residents still consider the Eastern Cape as their true home. Even after
residing in the Cape Town region for decades, many consider their situation as a temporary one, and make
pilgrimages home when finances allow. Many of the first generations children and their grandchildren 7 8
7. This is an observation based on my experience in Cape Town in 2009: these statements were printed on billboards that lined
the N-2 highway into Cape Town and familiar phrases in the ANC campaign for improved living conditions.
8. Permission to reprint given by F.llen Schnier. See: http://ellenschnier.wordpress.eom/2009/l 1/22/tin-shacks/.
have not physically traveled to the homeland, however they are raised to regard the Eastern Cape as their
home, while constructing a real and physical home in Cape Town.
Figure 1.4 Khayelitsha: Site C | photo by author
Khayelitsha has a ballooning population of over half a million residents, predominantly of Xhosa
decent. 9 It is the second most populous of all South African townships (only Soweto Township on the
margins of Johannesburg is larger). New residents arrive daily by choice, albeit a choice that is perhaps
driven by dire circumstances elsewhere. Due to its size, Khayelitsha has received more national and
international attention than other smaller townships, and hosts some of the most developed infrastructure
in the Cape flats, including three health centers, a technical school, and a central business district.
However, according to the 2001 census, approximately 70% of households live in shacks defined by the
absence of a foundation (dirt floors); 40% of these households can only access to water at a communal
tap; 25 % of homes lack complete access to sanitation services (toilets), and less than 1% of the population
9. According to a 2008 Khayelitsha Annual Activity Report on Comprehensive TB/H1V Services at Primary Health Care Level
produced by the Western Cape Province Department of Health, City of Cape Town Department of Health, University of Cape
Town, Infectious Disease PLpidcmiology Unit. The actual population of Khayelitsha population is unknown. This figure |500,000
people] is based on a 2001 census, and is widely believed to be underestimated (1).
cited access to computers.10 To further exacerbate these troubling statistics, Khavelitsha residents carry of
one of the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates in the country and an unemployment rate reported at 50%,
although believed to be much higher. Approximately 30% of residents are HIV positive, and due to the
negative social stigma and fear of testing positive, a significant proportion of the population remain
untested, resulting in both underreporting and severe deficiencies in treatment.
In 2011, even though apartheid has been abolished for fifteen years, the setting of my researchthe
Cape flats, and specifically, Khayelitsha Township is a direct physical legacy of the apartheid state.
Khayelitsha remains highly segregated, impoverished, and infrastructure deficientthe epitome of a
marginalized status.11 This cursory overview of apartheid history and present-day realities provide a macro
view of the context that helps to situate the research question. Yet the core of the research question is
found in the micro details of daily life in the townshipsideas of gardens, life in the margin, and spatial
tactics. How do contemporary discourses frame these concepts? A review of the literature structured
around these conceptual themes is the focus of Chapter Four. First, the methodological underpinnings
(Chapter Two) and an introduction to the literature through a review of influential precedent studies
(Chapter Three) establish a foundation for the project.
10. Data sourced in A Population Profile of Khayelitsha, published by the Information and Management Department in April
2005, citing the South African 2001 Census Data for sole reference. The next census will commence in October of 2011, with the
final results scheduled for release in March of 2013.
11. The concept of marginalized status is given further attention in the literature review, The Margin, see p. 50.
METHODOLOGY & RESEARCH DESIGN
In 1984, an art professor at The University of Cape Town, Gavin Younge, began a pioneering study
of artists and the art that was being created in townships across South Africa. He explained:
The closed book of township life is seldom penetrated by the casual visitor. Terms such as squalor,
hardship, or even housing,...and schooling, tend to fragment our understanding of one of the
modern worlds most calculated attempts at social engineering. These terms may be able to give us
endless statistics but they cannot measure subjective experience and a peoples resolve to change (17).
In this explanation, Younge takes a compelling position that an outsider cannot approach an
understanding of an unfamiliar culture through detached terminology and statistical reports. He points
towards the value of subjective experience to gain an authentic understanding of a culture. To conduct
his research on art and artists in the townships, Younges method was ethnography, although he didnt use
those terms to describe it.
Ethnography is a classic methodology of cultural anthropology involving direct, in situ observation
and interaction with a group of people to gather qualitative cultural descriptions and understanding. It was
a natural choice to apply an ethnographic methodology to gain an understanding of Khayelitsha through
the lens of the gardenthe data the project seeks to unravel is not found in quantitative measures such
as statistics and frequencies, but rather through personal contact with people and their stories about daily
life. In Raw ]Jfe, New Hope: Decency, Housing, and Everyday Ufe in a Post-Apartheid Community, 2 Fiona Ross
defines ethnography, and explains its value in a particularly effective passage:
1 consider anthropology to be a form of disciplined curiosity. In its attentiveness to social life,
ethnography offers the tools for a careful, sensitive and sensible assessment of peoples lives and
contexts such as these...The value of ethnographic approaches is double. Part lies in seeing peoples
lives from the inside, as it were; showing how they organize social life and make sense (or not) of what
happens to them. This emic perspective is complemented by an eric approach, which entails
systematizing that knowledge, extending it though abstraction, generalization, and comparison so that
we can say something more broadly about the human condition (9).
My goal is to achieve this double-edged capacity" of ethnography: 1). to relate peoples stories garnered
through fieldwork experiences to the larger theoretical discourse, and 2). to bear a theoretical
understanding on experiences and observations gleaned from the field. To accomplish this goal, I
employed a fieldwork methodology" grounded in the ethnographic tradition that is supported by a review
of scholarly literature. The ethnographic research design, which articulates the specific methods employed
and central methodological considerations, is the focus of this chapter.
Ethnographic Research Design
In spring of 2008, I submitted a thesis research proposal about my interest in the gardens located on
the periphery of the Cape Town. The landscape architecture faculty at the University" of Colorado
supported my proposal, and I began making arrangements to return to South Africa. As I anticipated that
it would be critical to have academic connections and resources, 1 applied to the University of Cape Town
and was accepted as a visiting student to their landscape architecture masters program. I traveled to South
Africa with my partner, Alex Scott, and lived in Cape Town for six months, attending courses at the UCT, 12
12. Raw IJfe, New Hope (abbr.) is an ethnography published in 2010 that is highly relevant to my ethnographic research endeavor.
Fiona Ross is a respected cultural anthropologist and professor at the University of Cape Town who studied a community over an
eighteen-year time frame, as they ere relocated from an informal shantytown to a government-sponsored housing development.
Rosss study was not a precedent study for my research, as it was published in 2010. I only fortuitously discovered it on the
Internet, gaining early access to the chapter, Sense-scapes, in 2009. It has served as an important resource for my project in its final
and visiting Khayelitsha Township twice weeklyon Tuesdays and Fridaysover five months, March
through J uly of 2009.
A true ethnography, according to the founding myth of the discipline (Ross 2010; citing
Malinowsksi 1922) involves living in the community, along side the people one is studying, learning the
rulesessentially, becoming an insider or a local. In the reality of ethnographic field research, living
among the people and becoming a true insider may be a lofty, if unattainable goal, although numerous
anthropologists have aimed at this level of assimilation, admirably committing themselves to years in the
field. For reasons involving my personal safety and enrollment in University classes, I did not attempt
this cultural immersion, and choose not to live in Khayelitsha. Instead, we rented a one-bedroom flat in
Vredehoek, a neighborhood adjacent to the City Bowl [See Appendix A]. Thus, we never achieved even a
semblance of the locals status; we were most certainly always visitors.
Over ninety percent of Khayelitsha residents speak isiXhosa. As a general rule, the younger
generation speaks English as a second language, but most people 1 encountered in the older generations
spoke only Xhosa, with minimal conversational English. Thus being able to communicate in Xhosa was
essential to both initiating and building relationships. To gain access to the people and gardens of
Khayelitsha, I located and employed a guide and interpreter, Namhla Nongauza, a young Xhosa woman.
As Namhla recently graduated from an English language immersion high school, she is bilingual. I made
an effort to learn and use Xhosa greetings and simple phrases, [See Appendix B] yet the success of my
research was dependent on my fortuitous relationship with Namhla. She was essential to my ability to
meet and converse with people, not only due to my language barrier, but even more so, her
companionship signaled a powerful non-verbal communication to others that we were trustworthy
Walks and Talks
The field research was designed to take the form of walks and talks through Namhlas
neighborhood in search of gardens and gardening practices. It was most effective to look for spaces; they
are visible, tangible, and not dependent on their makers being present, in action, at work. Garden spaces
are the material products of gardening practices, and thus offer tangible departure points to the practices
that produced the spaces, and lead to interviews with their makers. As we meet with neighbors, I observed
and spoke with them about their daily practices and experiences in their lived spaces, specifically in their
gardens. It was my goal to better understand the significance of the garden from the perspective of the
While it was mv preliminary intention to perform structured interviews and collect data through
prepared questionnaires, the reality of fieldwork quickly modified this plan, and we kept interactions more
informal, relaxed, and friendly. The language barrier was significant enough that formal interviews were
not easily approachable and seemed to be potentially invasive. In my initial interactions, when I attempted
to ask questions in a quasi-interview manner, with pen and notebook in hand, the response I received was
of apparent skepticism and perhaps distrust; an attitude of Why is she asking me all these questions? or
Who does she work for? prevailed. Whereas, casual conversations were welcomed, easily facilitated by
translation, gestures, and the exchange of smiles.
When we went to Khayelitsha it was always in the mornings, as Namhla clearly instructed us that it
was safe in the morning because the gangsters were quite simply, still sleeping. It was not only safer for us
to visit in the mornings, but safer for Namhla and her family members to walk confidently on their
neighborhood streets as well. We always drove our rental car, a 1963 white Mini, which attracted some
attention, but of the positive sort. It was apparent that the small car often prompted thumbs-up and big
Figure 2.1 Mini | photo by D. Alex Scott
VCe seriously considered traveling the 23 kilometers from the city center to Khayelitsha in the same
manner as the local people commute in and out of the city to workby minibus taxi or by train. However,
minibus taxis have a notorious reputation for fatal crashes, and the train line to Khayelitsha is not deemed
particularly safe for white American tourists. Traveling by car was a luxury and a safety precaution we
could afford, and allowed us to drive directly to Namhlas family home in the Makhaza district of
Khayelitsha, so we were always in her company on our walks [See Appendix A].
Our visits were almost always on Tuesday and Friday mornings, from approximately nine in the
morning until one in the afternoon, allowing Namhlas family to go through their morning routine before
we arrived and departing before the gangsters were presumably emerging on the streets. If we were still
there at two oclock, Namhla kindly said goodbye and shuffled us on our way. I was often curious how
the climate on the streets changed in the afternoons and evenings when people returned from work, and if
this witching-hour was just a precaution or a serious concern.
On our walks we traveled at the pace of a stroll, ambling along the generally quiet streets, punctuated
with many a pauseto take a photo, make a note, and talk with a neighbor. It was a pace distinct from
that I was accustomed to walking in the city: it was more patient and conscious than how one would walk
to class, to catch the bus, or even walk their dog. We often had no specific destination; the walk was our
purpose, allowing the sensory details to flood our perceptions.
F:igure 2.2 A Morning Walk | photo by D. Alex Scott
When taken as a whole, the expanse of Khayelitsha that we could view from the rare second story
vantage point of Vickys B & B was sprawling, dingy and hazy, especially under a cloudy or rainy veil. Yet
on the ground, at street level, on a human scale, the vibrant details of peoples lives were striking. I
suppose these details were especially stimulating to my foreign eyes, ears, nose, and skin. Overtime I
became more accustomed to the exotic sights, smells, sounds, and tactile richness of Khayelitsha. 1 was no
longer alarmed to see a herd of cattle in my path or a sheeps head cooking over an open fire, nor was I
upset by children unattended in the street, or annoyed by the wind blowing sand around my ankles. Yet, 1
was perpetually intrigued by the creativity and ingenuity evident in peoples homes and gardens.
According to my original research design, it was my express intention to cover a lot of ground and
speak with as many garden makers as possible, even to map the frequency, sizes, and patterns of the
gardens. Yet, the reality of fieldwork was such that every morning we traveled to Khavelitsha, we would
start at Namhlas family home, chat with her father, Golden, and then proceed to walk her neighborhood,
known as Makahaza [See Appendix A], We visited people from previous visits to see how their gardens
were coming along, to meet their families, and to give them prints of digital photographs. The unintended
result of this habitual routine is that we became well acquainted with a handful of people in Makahaza, and
they spoke with us openly and intimately about their stories and their gardens.
Figure 2.5 Cows and Children in Street | photo by D. Alex Scott
Figure 2.6 Garden Intrigue | photo by author
The primary data gathered were dialogues, often spoken directly with Namhla, who then interpreted
and conveyed the stories to us. The conversations were often prompted with simple compliments or
questions; more often than not, peoples responses were more detailed and elaborate than the initial
evocations. When we approached a new garden, Namhla would generally initiate the conversation,
introducing us as Americans interested in gardens, and we would exchange Xhosa greetings and
handshakes, almost with a tone of ceremony. We practiced and used our Xhosa hellos, goodbyes, thanks,
and simple phrases to show our respect, and these efforts were both well received and often humorous,
especially in the beginning [See Appendix B]. I perfected the compliment, Nice Garden, in Xhosa,
Igadi Enkle. From this simple compliment, I often provoked complex accounts of the gardenhow
long it has been tended, who works it, what is grown (vegetables, flowers, happiness), what it needs to be
healthy (often more water, seeds, sun, a better fence), what challenges the gardener (drought, dogs, rats,
bugs), the goals for the garden in the future.
It was mv practice to jot down notesthe important details, an anecdote to trigger my memory
rather than frantically writing. I preferred to focus my attention on the dialogue, make eye contact, trying
to decipher Xhosa words, and then listening carefully as Namhla communicated the details. I would ask
follow-up questions that Namhla posed to gardeners and then relayed. It was also my practice to return
home and type the memorable observations, conversations, and stories of the daythese formed my
cache of field notes for reference.
figure 2.7 A Conversation with Nelson & Namhla | Photo by D. Alex Scott
The walks and talks process was copiously documented with digital photography. Alex took the
bulk of the photographs, as I was often occupied with conversation. Namhla and I took numerous photos
as well; thus, I have credited the respective photographer for each image. We aimed to capture both the
context and the details of gardens, hints to the gardens vital capacities that are so often lost in two-
dimensional representation. The use of photography has a sustained history in the field of ethnography,
and continues to be a common tool of the trade. However, there are known limitations of the visual
medium, and it comes along with associated risks and responsibilities.
Of the primary limitations, photographs are always biased, as the person looking through the
viewfinder chooses, both deliberately and sub-consciously, the frame to capture. Photographs can flatter
or embellish assets, and are equally astute at depicting a picture worse than the reality. Further, two-
dimensional representation simply cannot accurately convey a three-dimensional scene. In The Garden as an
Art, Mara Miller explains:
The photographs should not be misconstrued as representing the garden as it is experienced. They are
at once too abstract and not abstract enough...They reduce an environment which, even in its simplest
forms, has been designed to take advantage of several modes of sensory experience, to the single mode
of vision (48).
In Visual Methodologies, Gillian Rose offers a parallel perspective:
...images offer views of the world; they render the world in visual terms. But this rendering, even by
photographs, is never innocent. These images are never transparent windows on to the world. They
interpret the world; they display it is very particular ways (6).
In short, Miller and Rose both heed caution that photographs, like language, are subjective representations,
and cannot be taken to be objective descriptions of reality.
One acknowledged risk of using digital photography was the added potential for negative attention
and robbery, as the digital camera is far from ubiquitous in Khayelitsha, but rather a material symbol of
wealth. We addressed this risk by carrying a small camera, and putting it away when we were in crowded
situations with people whom we were unfamiliar. A risk of a different nature was my concern that
photographing people would cause them embarrassment due to their impoverished circumstances, or
cause people feel like objects of study, thereby increasing their sense of vulnerability. Ross (2010) explains:
Being part of a research project can be uncomfortable. It involves subjecting oneself, ones beliefs
and practices to the assessing eye of an outsider unfamiliar with the nuances of daily life and the
historiespersonal and politicalthat shape ones actions and relations with the world (9).
We mitigated this risk bv acting ethically and sensitively: we always, without exception, asked
permission to take a picture if there were people in the desired frame. Further, we only engaged people
who were outwardly willing to speak with us, and kept conversations generally open-ended, which allowed
for people to share information at their discretion and comfort level.
The practice of taking peoples photographs became a research tool in itself, an icebreaker, and a very
powerful when we returned with printed copies of the portraits to give as gifts.13 Many recipients had
never before had a physical photograph of themselves, accepting the gift with tearful smiles, and parents
were especially appreciative to receive images of their children. In this thesis, I have omitted all
photographs showing peoples faces, as signed consent is required to publish these photographs, which I
did not have the foresight to obtain (with the exception of Namhla and her father, whom I interviewed on
audio tape and obtained permission to use their words and photographs).
hie Id trips
Figure 2.8 Herbal Service Roof Garden | photo by author
On a handful of visits we set out specifically to walk new territory, or get in the car to explore
further reaches of Khavelitsha. Namhla often had fresh ideas about people and gardens that we would go
visit; she brought us to a traditional herbal medicine man with a roof top container garden of succulents
13 See Marcel Mauss, The Gift (1923), wherein French sociologist/anthropologist theorizes that a gift forms a social bond between
the giver and receiver, one that results in reciprocity and solitarily. This phenomenon was positively observed in our fieldwork
and herbs, to a sculptor with an elaborate garden crafted of statues, rocks, and plants (Noos Garden), and
to the creche (preschool) where the teachers were tending a vegetable garden to feed the schoolchildren
and sell surplus to the community.
Figure 2.9 Xhosa Head Wrapping | photo by D. Alex Scott
One day we did hardly any garden research at all and visited her aunt, who had us over for tea and
biscuits. I complimented her aunts head wrap, and this is when 1 learned that married Xhosa women
wrap their heads. She asked if I was married and when I responded, No, she turned to Alex and asked,
Why not? She proceeded to remove her scarf and wrap my headlaughter abounded. On another very'
memorable and windy day, we traveled to the hill where the government has constructed a park; we
climbed to the top of the stairs and looked out over the expanse of Khayelitsha. I came to think of these
outings as field trips, variation from our routine of walking Namhlas neighborhood. These departures
were critical to our research experience, building a rapport with Namhla and her family, creating
opportunities for new discoveries, and learning the lay of the land.
The ethnography is shaped from the field notes, reflections, photographs, and memories about the
gardens and the people who tend these special spacestheir histories, day-to-day lives, and future plans.
The practice of constructing the narratives helped me (and simultaneously challenged me) to elucidate my
intimate knowledge of Khayelitsha and its garden spaces, attempting to make these gardens
comprehensible for readers who were not there.14 To accomplish these narratives, 1 employed a long-held
technique of cultural ethnographers: the thick description, introduced by prominent cultural researcher,
Clifford Geertz, in his seminal book The Interpretation of Cultures (1973).13 Geertz appropriated the term
thick description from British philosopher Gilbert Ryle, using it explain the practice of interpreting or
construing meaning from field observations, as opposed to merely observing and recording, which he
considered thin description (6). Geertz explains:
From one point of view.. .doing ethnography is establishing rapport, selecting informants.. .mapping
fields, keeping a diary, and so on. But it is not these things, techniques and received procedures that
define the enterprise. What defines it is the kind of intellectual effort that is: an elaborate venture in, to
borrow a notion from Gilbert Ryle, thick description (6).
14. I also consulted mv partner Alex, who was there each day of fieldwork, to help reconstruct the garden stories. Initially, Alex
escorted me as a safety precaution, and through his own curiosity about life in the townships. Although it may have been reasonably
safe for me to travel to Khayelitsha independently, he became invested in the project and continued to accompany me. This was an
unintentional component of my research design, yet it was invaluable to have two sets of eyes and ears in the field; as 1 mentioned
before, most of the photographs are to Alexs credit, as I was often engaged in conversation. 15
15. I was first introduced to the work of Clifford Geertz during my undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan where I
studied cultural anthropology as core curriculum for the Program in the F.nvironment, School of Natural Resources and
F.nvironment. 1 was re-introduced to the methodology while studying at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand; we worked
on a semester-long ethnography project concerning the urban assimilation of the Maori population in Christchurch, which involved
field observations, interview, and narrative constructions.
What the ethnographer is faced with.. .is a multiplicity of complex conceptual structures, many of them
superimposed upon or knotted into one another... at once strange, irregular, and inexplicit, and he
must contrive somehow first to grasp and then to render (10).
Geertzs interpretive mode of ethnography, and concept of thick description has maintained a strong
currency within the discipline since 1973. Ethnography is not a scientific testing of hypotheses, but an
interpretive method of study, shaped by qualitative data and the subjectivity of the researcher.
Arrangement of Ethnography
The written ethnography is told as a series of narrative, first-hand accounts, weaving through
significant fieldwork experiences. Chapter Five, Fieldwork, is devoted to this narrative, and begins with
Opening the Dialogue, an account that describes the intricate process of gaining access and establishing
rapport with the communityfirst through an individual contact, Namhla, next with her family, and over
time, their neighborhood. The narratives are presented in a selected collection of Garden Stories: Goldens
blower Garden, Zelo !r Proper Garden, Goldens birst Garden, Air. Alofu's Allotment Garden, Noos Sculpture Garden,
Nelsonss Subsistence Garden, Rosys Own Garden, and Ottos Thinking Garden. Among the numerous gardens I
encountered, I chose to develop these particular narratives, as I was able to develop a personal
understanding of these gardens. This level of awareness was gained through sustained study, cultivating
relationships with garden makers over the five months study. In the few cases where I only had the
opportunity to converse the garden maker once (Rosy and Otto), we shared particularly meaningful
To introduce the narratives, there is often a back-story that explains how we came upon the garden.
Each story aims to capture the individual spirit of the gardening endeavor, as each one is unique in the
details. Amid these individuals garden stories, there are few other short field anecdotes: X Alarks the
Homes with No Address, an exploration of the poorest informal settlements in Khayelitsha, Saturday, a special
visit on a Saturday when the neighborhood was bustling with activity7, and leaving Khayelitsha, an outing
with Namhla and her sister to the Kirstenbosch National Botanic Gardens in the suburbs of Cape Town.
The fieldwork findings are explored in the Chapter Six framed by discussions: Garden Typologies, Garden
Agencies in Context, Garden as Spatial Tactic, Garden: Noun and Verb, and Intimate Infrastructure.
Lastly7, directions for future research and reflections on the relevance of my project within the discipline of
landscape architecture are explored within the conclusion.
To prepare for the narrative ethnography, the next chapters focus on a review of the literature. I
began building a cross-disciplinary bibliography and critical review of this literature before initiating the
fieldwork. This process was fluid and continuousconcurrent to the field research, upon return home, as
I developed the stories, and as I completed the thesis. The literature review is organized in two chapters:
Chapter Three reviews formative precedent studies that provided specific methodological guidance and
theoretical underpinning to the project, and Chapter Four establishes a conceptual framework that is
structured thematically, focusing on essential components of the research question: the garden, landscape,
the margin, and spatial tactics. The purpose of the contextualized literature review is to situate the
research question within both the scholarly literature and the research locationa theoretical and
contextual groundwork for the ethnographic garden stories.
REVIEW OF LITERATURE:
Cultural Landscape Studies
My project was predominandv inspired by four aforementioned precedent studies: Defiant Gardens,
Making Gardens in Wartime (2007), Transitory Gardens, Uprooted lives (1993), African American Gardens and
V ards of the Rural South (1992), and The Practice ofF-veryday life (1984). These studies all fall within a body of
scholarship known as cultural landscape studiesnot a discipline in itself, but rather a growing
collaboration of research among anthropologists, landscape architects, geographers, architects,
archaeologists, historians, and others, who seek to unravel the mysteries of the everyday built environment.
A cultural landscape can be understood as the interaction of people and place in a specific geographical
locale. A central tenet of cultural landscape cohort is that the study of seemingly mundane sites of daily
life can be illustrious. In Understanding Ordinary I landscapes, Paul Groth explains:
Ordinary, everyday landscapes are important and worthy of study...a critical word in this formulation
is ordinary. Everyday experience is essential to the formation of human meaning. When only
monuments or high-style designs are taken seriously the everyday environment is overlooked and
undervalued (Groth, 1997: 3).
Due to the interdisciplinary diversity of the loosely aligned group of researchers, there is according to
Groth: no single approved theory or method (10)no formula to studying the cultural landscape.
Methods and theory are thus appropriated and combined from multiple fields to tackle the complex task
of decoding the landscape, interpreting culture. Among these methods, a primacy is afforded to both
visual and spatial information; Groth explains: the landscape is directly accessible and makes abstract
processes more concrete and knowable (1997: 15). He continues with the warning that, There is
nothing particularly easy or automatically facile about intelligendy interpreting built space (17). The
interpretation of the cultural landscape is an inherently subjective endeavor, exploratory and speculative,
and undoubtedly, deeply personal.16 In Understanding Ordinary luindscapes, contributing author, Derek
Holdsworth succinctly states, All vision is subjective, and in the end all interpretation is personal (44).
Jackson explains that a common departure point for a project within cultural landscape research is most
often a personal curiosity that also possesses larger social significance. We recall Fiona Ross: I consider
anthropology to be a disciplined curiosity (9).
Each of the precedent studiesDefiant Gardens, Transitory Gardens, African American Gardens, and The
Practice oftiveryday JJfe took shape in this common waythe authors curiosity about a cultural landscape
sparked a scholarly research project. As these precedents were formative to my project, and each one
contributed specific stimulus and methodological guidance to my project, I will briefly highlight the
influence of these important sources.
Defiant Gardens, Making Gardens in Wartime
Helphands book and research endeavor captured my spirit as it triggered memories of gardens in the
South African townshipsboth a powerful departure point and foundation for my research. Although it
reads as a history7, it speaks directly and soulfully to present conditions of humanity and the creative act of
gardening. Helphands work seeks to advance the understanding of all gardens through a focused archival
study of defiant gardens created in the adverse conditions of 20th century wartime. It also explores
contemporary defiant gardens in its last chapter, Digging Deeper, grounding it firmly to the present. Integral
16. See Groth, referring to J.B. Jacksons methodological style in Understanding Ordinary landscapes. Further on Jackson, He builds
from qualitative datahistorical research, observations of behavior, photographs, and chance conversations (20).
to Helphands methodology is his disciplined historical contextualization of the case study sites; my
methodology7 follows this model with a brief, yet detailed contextual treatment of Khayelitsha.
Transitoiy Gardens: Uprooted I Tves
Balmori and Mortons collaboration in this book was my first exposure to an ethnography of the
garden. The poetic potential of the garden is revealed in a rich collection of oral interview transcripts,
woven together with gripping black and white photographs, and sprinkled with the authors keen insights.
This book seeks to expand the historical record of the garden and to highlight the momentary and the
reality of impermanence in all gardens. In the methodology' for Transitoiy Gardens, Balmori and Morton
employ techniques common to anthropological ethnography: observation, interview, and photography.
My methodology models Transitoiy Gardens in the authors use of photography and their ethnographic
practices of observation and interview, with two noteworthy modifications. First, whereas Morton utilizes
black and white film photography, I chose to employ digital, color photography, as color figures
prominently in the landscape of Khayelitsha, and digital format allowed me to take thousands of
photographs. Second, Transitoiy Gardens features many oral interviews transcribed from audiotape
recordings, and I choose not to record conversations due to the significant language barrier. To facilitate
nearly all communication, I depended on an interpreter, and the extra steps of translating and transcribing
audio recordings were unfortunately prohibitive for this scale of my project.1 Thus, I chose to convey
peoples garden stories in narrative form based on my perceptions, experiences, and conversations with
garden makers in their authentic garden spaces. 17 *
17. I use the word unfortunate, because of the few garden stories that were communicated to me in English and l was able to
understand more depth of these storiesthe details, idiosyncrasies, and emotions. 1 can imagine how wonderful and insightful it
would be to hear the garden stories word by word from the garden makers, as opposed to rapidly translated and often paraphrased in
African American Gardens and Yards of the Rural South
Westmacotts skillfully researched book was the second ethnographic study of the garden I
encountered. Akin to Transitory Gardens, it seeks to record a typology of garden that has been historically
ignoredthe African American gardens of the rural southern United States, tended by ancestors of freed
slaves. Westmacott employs techniques familiar to cultural anthropology: windshield survey, observation,
participation, interview, and photography.18 To expand upon qualitative methods, he gathers quantitative
data through measured drawings, material inventories, frequency diagrams, and graphs. While the detailed
drawings and statistical analysis certainly offer another level of knowledge, I believe the crux of his
investigations is uncovered in the qualitative realm. Through his ethnographic practices of observation
and interview he is able to achieve an intimate knowledge of individuals gardens and histories.
While it was my initial intention to follow Westmacotts research model, once in the field, 1 made a
number of modifications. First, I had planned to construct measured drawings of gardens; however, these
drawings quickly lost their importance for me when I became engaged in conversations and relationships
with garden makers.19 Second, we also skipped the windshield survey, as there was a concentration of
gardens to explore in the dense urban area. Traveling by foot significandy increased our level of
interaction with the placethe simple absence of the windshield barrier opened us to other sensory
detailssounds, smells, tactile experiences, and even tastesas well as increased opportunities for
interaction with people. Third, Westmacott performed formal, structured interviews with a prepared list of
questions, whereas 1 relied on informal conversations. It was my plan to engage formal interviews,
however the reality of fieldwork interactions did not support this structure. Again, due to the language and
18. When used alone, windshield survey, essentially driving through a new place to gather visual information and snap
photographs, is considered by many as an insufficient method to gain an understanding of place. However, Westmacott performed
his research in a dispersed rural setting and was reliant on an automobile to locate gardens for further ethnographic study. See Groth
in Understanding Ordinary landscapes, p. 17 for discussion.
19. I imagine that by making the drawings, l may have uncovered nuanced understandings of the spaces, simply by being in the
gardens for extended periods of time. See Ross Ch. 3. p. 54,Beginning with a map for further discussion. Ross highlights the
challenges and value of the mapping exercise and the difference between representational and cognitive maps.
cultural barrier, structured interviews proved to be both tedious and potentially invasive, as people were
apprehensive to answer a list of questions, but were more open to casual dialogue.
The Practice of Everyday lJfe
This important source is not an anthropology of the garden as the other precedent studies, but rather
the amalgamation of numerous urban studies on how people operate day to day. It reads more like a
treatise, than ethnography; however, De Certeau and his research colleagues did perform extensive
fieldworkengaged observ ational practice and interviews in various Parisian neighborhoods over
several years (1974-1978). Additionally, there are a number of anecdotal studies presented from Brazil,
Denmark, and the United States, as De Certeau was traveling extensively during this time. De Certeau and
his colleagues studies concentrate:
.. .above all on the uses of space, on the ways of frequenting or dwelling in a place, on the complex
processes of the art of cooking, and on the many ways of establishing a kind of reliability within the
situations imposed on an individual, that is, of making it possible to live in them by reintroducing into
them the plural mobility of goals and desiresan art of manipulating and enjoying (1984: xxii).
Although De Certeau and his colleagues do not address the practice of gardening directly, I believe
that the art of gardening could easily be inserted into the above description of their research efforts. In
the book itself, field studies are transformed into narratives and a dense theoretical discussion that focuses
on the essential tactical nature of daily practices. The related concept of spatial tactics is explored more
extensively in Chapter Four. Regarding data collection to study practices, De Certeau clearly privileges
qualitative, empirical data over quantitative data and analysis, he states:
Statistics grasps the material of these practices, but not their form; it determines the elements use, but not the
phrasing produced by the bricolage (artisan-like inventiveness) and the discursiveness that combine these
elements, which are all in general circulation... (xviii).
Further, he champions the capacity of the narrative to convey qualitative observations: Narration is
the language of operations, it opens a legitimate theater for practical actions and allows one to follow the
stages of operativity; hence the attention given, for example, to spatial stories (xxxii).
De Certeau does not make his research design and methodologies fully transparent to the reader, thus
I was not able to glean ways of working in the field from this text. Nonetheless, The Practice of Everyday IJfe
strongly influenced the theoretical underpinnings of my research design and field methodology in three
important regards. First, I also chose to privilege qualitative observations. Second, I began my research
with De Certeaus supposition that daily practices are inherendy tactical. Lastly, I chose to convey my field
experiences in the form of spatial narratives.
Summary of Precedent Studies
Each of these provocative studies closely examine specific gardening endeavors (with the exception of
De Certeau)20, and achieves a level of nuanced understandinga realm of understanding one could call a
deep reading of place. The practice of deeply reading a place is an aspiration widely held by the
discipline of landscape architecture. Evidence of this objective is articulated by Christopher Girot in tour
Trace Concepts of I jmdscape Architecture (1999), in which he identifies four processes critical to the landscape
practice: landing, grounding, finding, and founding.
To summarize Girot: landing happens only once; it is our subjective and visceral act of initial
discovery often in juxtaposition of preconceptions about a place (61). Grounding follows landing
and continues infinitely; it is a repeated reading, an orientation and rootedness, and an increasing
understanding. He states, grounding is a process implying successive layers, both visible and invisible
(62). Finding is the thing discovered; Girot states: What is found is the je ne sais quoi ingredient that
conveys a distinct quality to a place (63). Lastly, founding deals with design interventions that can only
occur when the prior three acts are synthesized into a new and transformed construction of the site (64).
Founding is beyond the scope of this research project, however it shows how Girots first three
processeslanding, founding, and findingare critical to practice of landscape architecture.
20. The Practice ofliveryday IJfe communicates the studv of other daily practices, however its treatment of these practices such as
walking, cooking, and dwelling that is highly transferable to the practice of gardening.
It must be highlighted that Girots landscape reconnaissance practices are also essential components
of ethnographic fieldwork methodologies and cultural landscape studies. To review, the tradition of
ethnographic fieldwork seeks to gain an intimate knowledge of a place that requires repeated and routine
engagement of the landscape and the people who inhabit it. Girot champions these same goals in the
practice of landscape architecture. Geertzs ethnographic method of thick description is a parallel
practice of landscape inquiry to the process advocated by Girot. The fieldwork component of this project
and resultant garden stories were guided by these parallel methodologies. Next, the review of literature
continues in Chapter Four: Conceptual Framework, which lays a foundation for the fieldwork with
thematic reviews of: The Garden, Landscape, The Margin, and Spatial Tactics.
REVIEW OF LITERATURE:
The purpose of the conceptual framework is to become familiar with the range of ideas critical to my
research hypothesis about gardens created in the South African townshipssimply stated: in the
marginalized context of the township, to make a garden is a spatial tactic performed to negotiate an
adverse situation. To guide my research, I posed the question: How, and in what ways, is the act of making a
garden understood as a spatial tactic21 in the marginalized landscape of post-apartheid South African
townships? This question is teeming with loaded concepts that demand discussion: namelythe garden,
landscape, the margin (the marginalized landscape), and spatial tacticswhich are the focus of this
chapter. The chapter is organized by concept and includes contextualization of each concept within the
research site. The Garden is afforded the most attention and includes sections: Etymology and Definitions,
What is a Garden?, The Garden in Context, Why Garden?, and The Ageng of Gardens. Landscape, The
Margin, follow each with respective etymology, definitions, and contextualization. Lastly, the concept of
Spatial Tactics is reviewed in relation to the garden. This review of literature aims to establish a
conceptual framework that situates the research question and prepares readers for the ethnographic garden
21. 1 have adopted this vocabulary and perspective from Micheal de De Certcau in The Practice of Uverydcry Ufe and De Certeau,
Giard, and Mavhol in The Practice of h very day Iafe V'ol. 2, published in 1984 and 1994, respectively. Upon initiating their own cultural
research endeavor to unravel the mystery of daily practices, the researchers contend that the behaviors/practices they are seeking to
better understand are assumed to be inherently tactical. See p. 39-40 of the first publication, and page xxiii of Vol. 2. I will further
discuss this idea of tactics in this chapter under the section, Spatial Tactics.
Etymology and Definitions
At its etymological origin, the word garden is explicidy tied to notions of enclosure (Hunt 2000: 19).
Garden stems from an Indo-Europan root gher, which indicates enclosure in a number of cognates,
including the words for: farmyard, pasture sown field, hedge, house, fence, enclosure, stable, girder,
fortified place and garden. Gher is also the basis of hortus, originally a fenced enclosure or hedge
surrounding a dwelling on a parcel of land (Jackson 1980: 20). In Greater Perfections, John Dixon Hunt
summarizes: one of the most persuasive contributions from etymology is to stress the fairly constant
requirement that garden space, in its various guises, always be enclosed or somehow marked off from its
surroundings (17). Whether the enclosure is physical, with discrete edges, or metaphorical ...the garden
as a place apart, a different placepervades all our garden thinking (Helphand 2006: 2). Mara Miller
states, The importance of territory for understanding the garden cannot be underestimated (48). She
The act of defining territory expresses control; it also helps to define the self and the in-group. It is also
therefore a social action, with important social consequences. Definition of territory always requires
and therefore symbolically impliesthe compliance or cooperation of others of ones kind (54).
The hortus was originally created as a means of defense, privacy, storage, and most prominently for
marking ones territoryasserting autonomy, ownership, and claim to the land. A gradual domestication of
the hortus led to growing food inside the enclosure, which was the beginning of the garden as a
conspicuously horticultural idea (Jackson 1980: 21). Our modern definition of the garden stems from this
horticultural understanding, as the presence of living plants is explicit in most definitions. Websters
online dictionary offers a highly typical one: a plot of ground, usually near a house, where flowers, shrubs,
vegetables, fruits, or herbs are cultivated.22 This definition is consistent with the Western idea of the
gardenone that is closely associated with the dwelling and contains verdant life.
What is a Garden?
We begin this discussion with the etymology and standard dictionary definition of the garden to get
closer to a question central to garden scholarshipwhat is a garden? We might suggest that the garden is
an archetype, a common image in our cultural lexicon; we all have an idea of what that a garden is. In A
Philosophy of Gardens, Cooper posits ...we possess the knowledge that enables us to... distinguish gardens
from those bits of the world that are not gardens (2006: 13). If the garden is an archetype, it is perhaps
paradoxical that it requires definition. Cooper believes that the real question that warrants serious
philosophical inquiry is not 3X1131 is a Garden? but rather, Why Garden? (2006: 3). Nonetheless, he
agrees that to respond the latter, more fundamental question about the significance of gardens in peoples
lives, we need, at minimum, a working definition of the garden. To guide the discussion of garden
making as a tactical action (or spatial tactic) in the marginalized context of South African townships, we
must first establish a working definition of the garden, and then approach the more critical question of
People who create gardens, and the scholars who study and interpret gardens, have been both
intuitively and logically challenging this notion of the garden defined by its relationship to the dwelling and
its arrangement of biotic materials. In The Necessity for Ruins (1980), J.B. Jackson suggests, ... precisely
because it is an archetype the garden must be subject to constant reinterpretation. (20). Kenneth
Helphand shares this sentiment in Defiant Gardens, when he states: The garden is not only a specific type
of place; it is also a remarkably elastic concept with the capacity" to both generate and absorb a multiplicity
of mental associations (2). Jackson further posits, We are determined to see the garden in terms of
vegetation, and that may be one of our problems... we can never entirely divorce the garden from its social
22. See: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionan /garden for definition of garden.
meaning; when we do so, we run the risk of defining the garden in strictly esthetic or ecological terms
which is what many people are doing now (21). In A Philosophy of Gardens, Cooper reiterates this point:
gardens connect with aspects of human life and well-being that are not confined to that domain [of
aesthetics] (62). Balmori and Mortons Transitory Gardens is particularly illustrative of the possibility' that
gardens are significant in human lives beyond their aesthetic and nature values. Balmori and Morton call
these gardens transitory because of their tenuous, short-lived existence; these gardens are crafted out of
scarce resources in marginalized circumstances, and are often destroyed by eviction, bulldozing, or fire not
long after their making. The authors contend that transitory' gardens are spaces of active life, very small,
not dominated by plants (1993: 6). The raw materials and physicality of these garden spaces are fleeting,
thus actions or practices, rather than materials and form best define these as gardens.
Jackson highlights, as does Cooper, that W estern culture seems preoccupied with viewing gardens in
either aesthetic and formal terms, or through the lens of nature and human connections with nature
via the garden. This perspective is supported by plentiful garden scholarship both appreciating and
interpreting garden compositions, and exploring the theme of nature and the garden.
W hile the garden may well be purposefully interpreted in formal terms, and is indeed critical to our
connection to nature, perhaps the essence of a garden is not found in its material ingredients or
composition, but rather human praxisthe actions and intentions that impart these ingredients (living or
not) with meaning. In The Passionate Gardner, Rudolf Borchart states: whatever it is [a garden] is finally a
human statement... because a garden is always a notion of order... (32). Harrison expounds along this
line of thinking in Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition:
One thing that all nonimaginary gardens have in common is that they come into being through human
agency. The fact that this is self-evident does not make it any less decisive. Whether they are situated
at its center or at its margins, gardens have their proper locus in the polis.. .this does not mean that
gardens are a form of political action, as we ordinarily understand the concept, or that they perforce
serve the political interests of those who created them. It means that however private or secluded they
may be, they never exist independently of the world shaped by human action, even if they cannot be
wholly contained or circumscribed by that world (46).
In The Garden as an Art (1993), Mara Miller offers a compelling argument for gardens to be placed
among the arts. She offers her own working definition that includes both the aesthetic and natural
considerations of the garden, yet begins her definition with the purposeful human action that initiates the
garden into being: A garden is any purposeful arrangement of natural objects (such as sand, water, plants,
rocks, etc) with exposure to sky or open air, in which form is not fully accounted for by purely practical
considerations such as convenience (1993:15). She emphasizes further that there is an excess of form
(ibid). Perhaps, as importantly, there is an excess of intention, a concentration of action and meaning that
leads to the more fundamental questionwhy do people make gardens? In order to move forward to this
question, we will proceed with Millers working definition of the garden, with an openness to the idea
that an excess of intention (associated with the practice of garden-making) may be as vital to the garden
making enterprise as her cited excess of form (associated with physical manifestation of the garden). We will
also carry with this working definition Helphands intuition that a garden is a place apart, and Balmori
and Mortons observ ation that gardens are spaces of active life.
The Garden in Context
The active role of gardens in Khayelitsha may astonish outsiders at first, a reaction that highlights a
typical visitors naive perspective.23 Gavin Younge describes a parallel reaction in Art of the South African
Towns hips (1988):
It will undoubtedly come as a surprise to many people that any art at all has surfaced through the bleak,
dusty streets and urban squalor of the South African townships. The world at large is perhaps aware
that the township residents queue for buses long before dawn and return home well after sunset to
houses which often do not have the convenience of electric light. There seems litde time or space for
creative pursuits. It is therefore even more surprising that the [art] work... should prove to be of such
sustained quality and complexity (10).
Like art, gardens created in the township context can be astonishing to because they are conceived out
of shrewd resourcefulness and tenacity, of meager materials and in harsh circumstances, often when other
basic needs are not met. In these regards, gardens pursued in the townships are arguably rather
extraordinary'. Yet the people who live in Khayelitsha tend to consider gardens somewhat unspectacular,
23. I was one of these naive outsiders who came to the townships for the first time astonished to find gardens amid the extreme
conditions of the townships.
but normal parts of their daily lives. This is not to say the Xhosa people do not take pride in their gardens,
quite the oppositeonly that gardens are elements of the everyday and to be expected. Although one
would be hard-pressed to call any garden mundane, they are nonetheless ordinary. Helphand
acknowledges this gap of perspective in Defiant Gardens, he asks: Who imagined gardens in the ghetto?
(104). Upon finishing his provoking account of gardens in wartime, one cannot help but retort, Who
imagined there were no gardens in the ghetto? Helphand seems to share this sentiment, he states:
Defiant gardens surprise us by their presence and persistence. These are gardens against the odds.
The fact that they seem out of place is indeed part of their appeal; ultimately, however these gardens
reveal themselves to be supremely adapted to the specifics of their condition (211).
As is the case in Khayelitsha, gardens created in adverse conditions can seem surprising from an
outside perspective. Yet when observed from a more intimate perspective, these gardens are not
surprising at all, but rather understood as normal ways that people negotiate everyday life. Which leads the
review to the next question: Why Garden?
Why Garden ?
In Greater Perfections, John Dixon Hunt makes an philosophical caveat as he calls for an anthropology
of the garden, he avows: It is not my intention to neglect the undeniable mystery, even mystique, at the
heart of garden-making (xii). Hunt recognizes that even as we study and understand the gardens
significance through inquires of many cultural versions of the garden, the garden will always maintain
ineffable qualities, not least for the garden scholar to unearth, but even for the garden maker, who knows
his or her garden most intimately. The significance and meaningthe agenciesof the garden (form) and
garden-making (practice) can be difficult to articulate. In A Philosophy of Gardens David Cooper confronts
the difficulty7 of learning the significance of gardens for people; he explains its not a simple as asking
Why garden? because when asked, garden makers are prone to identify7 pragmatic reasons for their
garden-making practices, while there are likely to be more fundamental agencies of the garden lurking. He
The kind of significance that concerns methe kind germane to the fundamental question of why
garden? -is the significance gardens have for people... significance, so construed, must be available to
people, something they may recognize gardens as having for them, and something, therefore, that is a
reason for them to make, appreciate, and comport with gardens as they do (3).
Further, he identifies the conundrum:
The significance that the garden has for people need not, of course, be something that they are able
easily, or even at all, to spell out.... To be sure, there is a problem here: how does one ensure that the
significance of gardens as articulated by the philosopher corresponds to that which they have for the
people who make and enjoy them?(4).
It is this significance or agency of the garden that we seek to tease out. To facilitate an exploration of the
gardens significance, Helphand identifies five attributes of the garden that are significant in peoples lives:
life, home, work, hope, and beauty.* To this list, I have added the capacity for communication, an agency
of the garden explored at length by Harrison in Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition (2008), among
other garden scholars including Spirn in The language of landscape (1998), and Cooper in A Philosophy of
Gardens (2006). The following section, Garden Agencies, aims to survey these multiple modes of
significance of the garden (form), and garden-making (practice); it summarizes and elaborates upon
Helphands five attributes of gardens: life, home, work, hope, and beauty-, and it concludes with an examination
of the gardens capacity' for communication, an umbrella agency of the garden that draws its power from the
range of garden attributes.
The Agency of Gardens
A garden agency is a specific capacity of the garden to do something for a person; it is an attribute of
the garden that focuses its energy on what a garden does, as opposed to what a garden is or appears to be.
Garden agencies are often intricately woven with others, and the choice to separate them in the following 24
24. In Defiant Gardens Helphand identifies five attributes of garden making that are significant in peoples liveslife, home, work,
hope, and beaut)' (see p. 18-20).
sections is an abstraction; in real life, multiple capacities of the garden are always operating
In The I amguage of I Mndscape, Sprin captures this intricacy:
A garden was, in the biblical stop, the first home. Garden is a potent and complex symbol; it
embodies pleasure, fertility, sustenance, and renewal. Gardening is a life-embracing act, an act of faith
and hope, an expression of commitment to the future; it can even be a political act (70-71).
The deliberate abstraction of garden agencies into categories: life, home, work, hope, beauty, and
communication allows for further exploration and understanding of the whole garden idea.
Ufe. In his explanation of the gardens attribute of life, Helphand points to E.O. Wilsons research
on the concept of biophilia, he explains: As living beings we display biophilia.... an indisputable, innate
affinity for the natural world and especially for its life forms, flora and fauna (19). We witness this affinity
for nature even in the homeless transitory gardens, active spaces, not dominated by plants; Balmori and
Morton contend that the recycled, inanimate materials that compose these gardens often symbolize plants
or natural materials. In Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition, Harrison reflects on Transitory Gardens'.
It is this implicit or explicit reference to nature that fully justifies the use of the word garden, albeit in a
liberated sense, to describe these synthetic constructions. In them we can see biophiliaa yearning
for contact with nonhuman lifeassuming uncanny representational forms (44).
As we acknowledged in the prior discussionWhat is a Garden?the gardens capacity to connect
human beings to nature has been identified as an important agency of the garden. Although it is not our
focus, as we seek to expand the notion of the garden beyond its traditional aesthetic and nature definitions,
this attribute cannot be wholly ignored or discounted. To enlarge the discussion of life, we can also look to
the gardens capacity to affirm human life, and to make certain that our definition of nature is inclusive of
human nature. Helphand posits: Gardens domesticate and humanize dehumanized situations. They
offer a way to reject suffering, an inherent affirmation and sign of human perseverance. In contrast to
25. See J.B. Jackson, Discovering the l emacular I^mdscape, he points out that it can be useful and productive to abstract, or separate
different landscape attributes, but in reality they are generally all present. He differentiates between the political and the inhabited
landscape and states: ...both of them, in one degree or another are always there and it is only when we discuss them in the abstract
that we are able to separate them (42).
war, gardens assert the dignity of life, human and nonhuman, and celebrate it (212). Helphands history
debunks the commonplace assumption that the act of gardening is reserved for the top tier of Maslows26
infamous pyramid; his research implores us to consider that the act of gardening can satisfy both basic
needs and higher needs. In this way Helphands inquiry adds to the work done by Balmori and Morton
in Transitory Gardens. Among the gardens of the homeless it becomes brilliantly clear that the act of
gardening is a human need approached before many other basic needs are met.
Home. In recent years, a small, but dedicated collection of garden scholarship has focused its study the
capacity of the garden to establish powerful mental and physical linkages to peoples former homes. These
studies have focused on displaced ethnic populations who are forging new homes in foreign lands.
Representative examples of this research include: Richard Westmacotts African American Gardens and Yards
of the Rural South (1993) and Patricia Klindiensts The Earth Knows My Name: Food, Culture, and Sustainability in
the Gardens of Eithnic Americans (2006).
Following in Westmacotts footsteps, Klindienst employs ethnographic methods to study gardens
created by immigrants, Native Americans, and African American who are descendants of slaves. Her study
engages a number of ethnic American gardeners and identifies another register of garden attributes:
renewal, freedom, place, refuge, memory, community, and justice. Kindienst argues that knowledge of
these ethnic gardens can prompt us to question and reevaluate the status-quo relationship with the land in
America; she states: The garden can be a powerful expression of resistance, as much a refusal of one set
of cultural values as an assertion of others (xxiii). By growing traditional foods and employing customary
methods, immigrants and other displaced populations are able to maintain vital connections to their place
of origin. Simultaneously, they are able to establish new homes and communities that are distinctly their
own, in part by refusing to assimilate to mainstream culture. In Defiant Gardens, Helphand implores us to
26. Maslows hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology established in 1943 by Abraham Maslow proposing that physiological
needs will be met before those of safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization (in this order). In typical representation,
physiological needs (food, water, sleep, etc) are to be fulfilled first, forming the base of the pyramid, and self-actualization needs
(morality, creativity, problem solving, etc) are to be realized only after other more primitive needs are met, composing the top tier of
the pyramid (Gorman 2004).
consider that Away from our desired or permanent home, a garden can be a way of transforming a place
into a home, or creating an attachment to a new place and also establishing a connection to our former
place (19). The gardens capacity to support the value of home is critically linked to the gardens capacity
to foster identity, both individual identity and collective, cultural identity.
Work. To describe the garden attribute he terms work, Helphand states: .. .garden is a verb as well
as a noun. As both physical and mental labor, garden work can provide the particular sense of identity and
satisfaction that comes with manual labor (19). Further, Garden work can provide a sense of purpose; it
is an act that provides relief from monotony, idleness, and restlessness... (230). He explains that
although garden work is sometimes tedious, and undoubtedly can be backbreaking, it is almost always
gratifying: there is a sense of dignity and self-respect inherent in garden labor (ibid.). Helphand is
among other garden scholars who emphasize the potential for the garden to provide meaningful work,
especially for persons who otherwise are lacking a strong purpose. In African American Gardens,
Westmacott explains that the work on kitchen gardens (performed outside the requirements of slave labor)
and the productive resultthe vegetable garden engendered a sense of dignity in the gardener; he
The vegetable garden from which produce was shared with family members and friends was a symbol
of commitment to the family. It was also seen as a demonstration of self-sufficiency, resourcefulness,
and hard work (112)___Times were hard, but hard work was not necessarily remembered with
displeasure. The garden became a demonstration of industriousness...a symbol of resilience and will
to survive in spite of hardships; the yard, a gesture of graciousness despite daily drudgery (121).
In The Necessity of Ruins, J.B. Jackson offers another perspective on garden work: The garden satisfies
the aspirations of every day existence: work shared with a few companions, family or neighbors, work that
has quality and measure... (35). In this statement, Jackson points to another agency of the garden:
sociability, when garden work is done with others. Furthermore, garden work fosters identity; in the
simplest form: I am a gardener.
Hope. In The Garden as an Art, Mara Miller deftly describes why gardening is an essentially hopeful
practice, she states:
Territory' defined by a garden extends not only in space but in time. The garden demonstrates not only
power to control a part of the world but a peculiar sort of confidence because it indicates an expected
continuation of that power in the future. (No one gardens only for today) (1995).
Helphand agrees, as he explains in Defiant Gardens-. Gardening is inherently hopeful as a series of
affirmative, assertive acts... (19). Further, he states: The mere act of making a garden implies a future in
which plants will reach fruition and results will be enjoyed (19). Although this statement hinges on
vegetation maturing, the same anticipation of the future (even just tomorrow) holds true for someone who
makes the time to craft a fence, or deliberately arrange materials, as evidenced in the fleeting transitory
gardens. In reflection on these gardens of the homeless, Balmori and Morton state: Few better examples of
hope and the wish for fulfillment could be found (3).
Beauty. The garden has long been recognized as an expression of beauty. But what is beauty'? This
elusive concept defies definition. As one has heard again and again: beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
One has also heard that beauty is what you know, instantly to be beautiful. In Defiant Gardens, Helphand
argues: Even in the most extreme situations, people not only see beauty; they seek it and will create art
that celebrates beauty and life (238). Further, he explains:
Gardens are planned, constructed, and cared for, and the results are carefully monitored. Here lies the
foundation of an aesthetic sensibility, an eye that registers subdeties and appreciates form, pattern, and
a multiplicity of meaning (241).
Beauty can be found in even the most miniscule details. In Gardening: Philosophy for Everyone, Elizabeth
Scott points to the beauty experienced in the micro-practices of experiencing natural phenomenon. For
example, simply watching a bud open, could cause a sense of wonder in the world (23). An experience of
beauty may cause emotions of curiosity, fascination, and enchantment. Eric MacDonald explains:
Enchantment involves a peculiar combination of bodily responses and a state of heightened sensory'
perception... (121). Further, MacDonald cites Jane Bennett in The Enchantment of Modem IJfe, she posits
that enchantment, bv cultivating an awareness of wonder may enable a person to respond gracefully and
generously to the painful challenges posed by our condition as finite beings in a turbulent and unjust
world (160). If beauty and enchantment can be found in even the simplest experiences, the garden may
well be a repository of this mysterious attribute. Beauty experienced among gardens created in
marginalized context may be accentuated, as compared to the beauty of gardens found in more amiable
conditions; Helphand explains that in the most extreme marginalized context of war, the antithesis of the
beautifulthe common gardenmay become the highest art (20).
Communication. Of these multiple and vital attributes that operate through the garden, recent
scholarship has identified the capacity' for communication. Through gardening actions, it is possible for
makers to discover and listen to the language of landscape (Spirn 1998) and to assert their voice through
speech acts (Harrison 2008). This capacity for communication is critical to the idea that making gardens
may be tactical appropriations of space for people living in marginalized situations. Thus, to frame the
discussion, the literature has been quoted liberally in the following passages.
In Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition (2008), Robert Progue Harrison reflects on the transitory
gardens of New Yorks homeless:
Insofar as they embody an affirmation, declare their human authorship, invite recognition, and call for
a response, they represent speech acts, not in the banal sense of making social statements but in the
sense of militating against and triumphing over a condition of speechlessness (45).
While there is certainly an element of creative expression at work in them, one senses that alongside or
perhaps even beneath this will to expression lurks a more urgent need to break through the barriers of
aphasia and become loquacious, the way poems, for example, are loquacious. In effect, these gardens
amount to the beginning of a dialogue, and the interlocutor is whoever takes the time to notice and
wonder at them. That is why the transitory gardens evoke... the distincdy human need that went into
their making, namely the need to hold converse with ones fellow humans (46).
And he concludes: To say that the transitory gardens of New York are speech acts means that they
speak, in a public if nonverbal mode, of the human need to make ourselves at home on an earth that does
not necessarily make room for us (48).
In The language of landscape (1998), Anne Whinston Spirn, explains:
Landscapes are a vast library of literature...The library ranges from wild and vernacular landscape, tales
shaped by everyday phenomena, to classic landscapes of artful expression, like the relationship of
ordinary spoken language to great works of literature (21).
Further, she posits:
Most people do not consider making a garden as speaking, and do not begin to garden by reflecting on
what they want to say, and yet, nonetheless, they are speaking, even praying, through their gardens.
Though human capacity for language may be innate, we learn the language of landscape primarily
through living in, building, and caring for a place (193).
In Defiant Gardens Helphand succinctly states, The garden can offer an assertion, a voice for the
voiceless, and involvement for the disenfranchised (12). Further, Gardens also foster a form of
nonverbal communication among a person, plant, and place (231). And in the Production of Space, Lefebvre
shares this sentiment regarding representational spaces, or direcdy lived spaces, Representational space is
alive: it speaks (1991: 42). Gardens are prime examples of directly lived spaces, where bodily and sensor}'
engagement in the landscape is unavoidable. The term landscape has been intentionally introduced here to
acknowledge that the garden is one part of a larger totality. In I language of I Mndscape, Spirn expresses her
belief that: Landscapes are as small as a garden, as large as a planet. To a person the garden is a
landscape, to a people the nation is, to the human species, a planet (18).
Etymology and Definitions
Perhaps even more so that the concept of the garden, the conceptualization of landscape is rather
problematic in contemporary culture, and even within the discipline of landscape architecture and related
fields. The word landscape is anything but singular; it is perhaps one of the most plural concepts we can
imagine and generates many meanings to people across diverse cultures. In Western culture, it is a concept
entrenched in both nature and artpainted landscapes on canvas, picturesque landscapes crafted in a
painterly style, landscape photography, and landscape page orientation, come immediately to mind. A
quick inquiry in Merriam-Websters online dictionary offers this definition: n. a section or expanse of
rural scenery, usually expansive, that can be seen from a single viewpoint and v. to improve the
appearance of an area of land, a highway, etc., as by planting trees, shrubs, or grass, or altering the
contours of the ground.27 In The I Mnguage of landscape, Sprin explains that although landscape was
traditionally understood as a connection of people and place, todays common understanding of landscape
has largely displaced the dynamic role of people, of culture (16). Sprin distills the etymology of the word
Danish landskab, German landschaft, Dutch landschap, and Old Engligh landscipe combine two roots.
Land means both a place and the people living there. Skabe and schaffen mean to shape; suffixes
-skab and -schaft as in the English ship also mean association, partnership...these original meanings
have all but disappeared from English (17).
Our contemporary definitions of landscape treat the land as a painting, or scenery, and omit human
actors, expect for their role in viewing the passive landscape from afar. Thus, Spirn concludes:
...landscape is not a mere visible surface, static composition, or passive backdrop to human theater;
therefore dictionaries must be revised, and the older meanings revived (17). In A Phenomenology of
I landscape Tiley proposes: ...landscape has ontological import because it is lived in and through, mediated,
worked on and altered, replete with cultural meaning and symbolism... (1994: 26). Paul Groth, landscape
architect and cultural landscape studies protagonist, offers this definition:
Landscape denotes the interaction of people and place: a social group and its spaces, particularity the
spaces to which a group belongs and from which its members derive some part of their shared identity
and meaning... cultural landscape studies focuses most of its history on how people have used
everyday spacebuildings, rooms, streets, fields or yardsto establish their identity, articulate their
social relations, and derive cultural meaning (1997:1).
In Recovering landscape (1999) James Corner argues that landscape is not only a reflection of culture,
but also a cultural agent with the potential to shape modern culture. As a means to conceptualize
landscape, Corner suggests that we stop worrying about what it is and what it means and focus on
what landscape does. He urges us to think of landscape as a verban active, performing medium,
sensitive to time and situationas opposed to the noun it is so often forced into.
27. See: http://www.merriam-webster.com/ for definition of landscape.
In Discovering the \ 'emacular l^netscape, Jackson implores:
...we have learned to see a landscape as something more than beautiful scenery....We have ceased to
think of it as remote from our daily lives, and indeed now believe that to be part of landscape, to derive
our identity from it is an essential precondition of our being-in-the-world, in the most solemn meaning
of the phrase. It is this greatly expanded significance of landscape that makes a new definition so
necessary now (147/
These scholars beseech a redefinition of landscape that denotes an intimate association of people and
landa definition that heeds the powerful, mutual agencies of people on landand land on people.
landscape in Context
The landscape of the post-apartheid township is tensioned between what J.B. Jackson identifies as the
political landscape and the inhabited landscape. He explains: These two landscapes.. .in real life are
always found together...it is only when we discuss them in the abstract that we are able to separate them
(42). The political landscape is deliberately created by an over-arching authority, manifest spatially in
constructs such as boundaries, roads, and other infrastructures. The inhabited landscape, is
conceptualized as the the product of incessant adaptation and conflict (43) which evolves in the course
of our trying to live on harmonious terms with the world surrounding us (42). In the case of modern-day
Khayelitsha, the segregated, isolated settlement (originally imposed by the apartheid state) continues to
dominate the political landscape, arguably perpetuated by current infrastructure delivery and housing
polices. Whereas the inhabited landscape of Khayelitsha is manifest in the everyday practices, or acts of
making-do28evolving into a landscape that Jackson has further articulated as the vernacular landscape.
Jackson reflects on the vernacular landscape, a description that sheds meaningful light on the
inhabited landscape of Khayelitsha:
...its spaces are usually small, irregular in shape, subject to rapid change in use, in ownership, in
dimensions;...the houses, even the villages themselves, grow, shrink, change morphology, change
location; that there is always a vast amount of common land...areas where natural resources are
exploited in piecemeal manner... Mobility and change are the key to the vernacular landscape, but of an
involuntary, reluctant sort; not the expression of restlessness and search from improvement but an
28. Language adopted from Michel de Certeau, in The Practice of livery day IJfe (1988).
unending patient adjustment to circumstances. Far too often these are the arbitrary decisions of those
in power... (151).
These vernacular landscapes are more often than not also marginalized landscapes, found in the
margins of societythe focus of the next section.
Etymology and Definitions
An online etymology dictionary explains, marginalization is a verb: "to force into a position of
powerlessness.29 As it follows, an easily accessed definition of the noun margin within the Microsoft
Word dictionary states: the part of anything, for example a society or organization, that is least integrated
with its center, least often considered, least typical, or most vulnerable.30 A marginalized landscape results
through processes of both social and spatial exclusion, when structures of power subjugate the powerless
in a society (Gurung and Kollmair 2005). Even when defining marginality, the ability to distinguish
normal versus other or marginal is reserved for those in power (Best and Striiver).
The Margin in Context
In the context of South Africa, it is clear that the hegemonic powers of the apartheid regime, and its
pervasive legacy of inequality, are both socially and spatially embedded in the physical, mental, and lived
space (Soja 1996) of the townships. Social marginalization is striking, as township locales are
conspicuously segregated along racial, economic, and class lines. Isolated from the urban cores, often on
the periphery of cities, along a highway or railroad, or in harsh environmental conditions, spatial
marginalization is also unmistakable.
29. See http://\vnww.etvmonline.com/ for etymology of marginalization (Accessed: November 3, 2011).
30. See Microsoft Word 2004, Bncarta World Finglish Dictionary for definition of margin.
Spatial theorist Edward Soja elaborates:
Hegemonic power, wielded by those in positions of authority, does not merely manipulate naively
given differences between individuals and social groups, it actively produces and reproduces difference
as a key strategy' to create and maintain modes of social and spatial division that are advantageous to its
continued empowerment and authority. We and they are dichotomously spatialized and enclosed
in an imposed territoriality of apartheids, ghettos, barrios, reservations, colonies, fortresses,
metropoles, citadels, and other trappings that emanated form the center-periphery relation (87).
For non-white South Africans, this state of marginality has a sustained history; it dates back to the
arrival of colonial powers in 1652, when the Dutch East India Company settled in Cape Town, and
European settlers began to aggressively colonize the territory. Centuries of colonial domination reached
its height during the modern apartheid era when segregation policies were most explicit and often violent
(Worger and Clark 2004). Thus, marginality is deeply embedded in collective memory and identity through
generations of oppression. In Raw Ufe, New Hope, Ross explains the entrenched lack of opportunity for
oppressed people, Their life chances and those of their ancestors were constrained by the pernicious and
cruel ways that racial categorizationboth colonial and apartheidshaped ordinary worlds (13). This
reality continues. In the post-apartheid milieu, although the segregation laws have been abolished, and
living conditions have markedly improved for many, an unambiguous condition of marginality persists for
the majority of the nations populace, epitomized in the Black townships (Bohlin 2000).
A significant amount of contemporary scholarship across diverse disciplines has focused on the
margin and the condition of marginality. Of particular interest to this inquiry', scholars have focused on
numerous ways people respond to subjugation, with special attention to the details of everyday life that
sustain people who inhabit the margin. It is proposed that when people respond to marginality', a new
condition emerges, one of contestation, that manifest in contested situationscontested landscapes
(Bender and Winer) and contested terrains (Langhorst).
Contestation is an argument against marginalizationor many' micro argumentsin constant struggle
with an overarching power structure. Prominent French historian and philosopher, Michael Focault, has
conceptualized contested spaces as des espaces autres, or other spaces, and signifies these spaces with
the term heterotopias (Best and Struver).
Foucault describes heterotopias as:
Places that do exist and that are formed in the very founding of society-which are something like
counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites... are simultaneously
represented, contested, and inverted. Places of this kind are outside of all places, even though it may
be possible to indicate their location in reality (1986: 24).
According to Focaults theory of heterotopias, an otherwise marginalized individual or group can
potentially transcend oppression through practices of creating heterotopic spaces, counterplaces or
sites of resistance, against hegemonic discourses. Heterotopias adjust to social change, changing their
role and location. They can be places of juxtaposition, a microcosm of society, such as theaters or gardens
(Best and Stiiver).
This concept of heterotopias is explored repeatedly in l Jtose Space, Possibility and Diversity of Urban Ufe.
Loose space is defined, roughly, as space in the public domain of access (including abandoned or vacant
private property) that is open, or loose, to constant re-appropriation for uses outside or beyond explicitly
intended uses. Loose spaces can be seen as heterotopic spaces, as both are created bv deliberate human
praxis: People create loose space through their own actions. Many urban spaces possess physical and
social possibilities for looseness...but it is people, through their own initiative, who fulfill these
possibilities (Franck and Stevens 2007:10).
Spatial theorist, Stavros Stavrides, a contributor to Jaiose Space, is particularly interested in potentially
emancipating urban practices. He posits: The concept of heterotopia can describe a collective experience
of otherness, not as stigmatizing spatial seclusion but rather as the practice of diffusing new forms of
urban collective life (174). He elaborates, With the notion of heterotopia... Focault described those
counter-arrangements, those spaces that are absolutely other compared to the normal spaces they
reflect, representing them, challenging them and overturning them (177).31 Stravides emphasizes the
capacity for heterotopias to create a collective experience, perhaps created through multiple and plural
heterotopias, in concert and communication with one another.
31. For original source see p. 422 in Focault, Michael. Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias, in ed. J. Ockman Architecture
Culture 1943-1968: A Documentary Anthology, New York: Rizzoli, 1993.
The potential to diffuse new forms of urban life in the face of oppression is the aspect of
marginality that is most critical to this research project. Social and spatial disadvantage can be the impetus
for innovation, creativity, and identity. Edward Soja states, Those who are territorially subjugated by the
workings of hegemonic power have two inherent choices: either accept their imposed differentiation and
division, making the best of it; or mobilize to resist, drawing upon their putative positioning, their assigned
otherness, to struggle against this power-filled opposition (87). Prominent postmodern feminist and
social theorist, bell hooks32, explains, Understanding marginality as position and place of resistance is
crucial for oppressed, exploited, colonized people (51).
These crucial actions practiced within the margin take the form of spatial tactics, transforming the
margin into a space of contestation. This realm of contested space is critical to Henri Levebvres concept
of lived space (espace ve^u), and his contemporary, Edward Sojas concept of Thirdsapce. Soja seeks
to reappropriate Levebvres pioneering socio-spatial theories presented in The Production of Space (1974) to
explore in Thtrdspace (1996):
Everything comes together in Thirdspace: subjectivity' and objectivity, the abstract and the concrete,
the real and the imagined, the knowable and the unimaginable, the repetitive and the differential,
structure and agency', mind and body, consciousness and the unconscious, the disciplined and the
transdisciplinary, everyday life and unending history (57).
Soja states that these lived spaces, or Thirdspaces, are thus the terrain for the generation of
counterspaces, spaces of resistance to the dominant order arising precisely from their subordinate,
peripheral, or marginalized positioning (68). These are the spaces of the tactic, the focus of the next
32. bell hooks is a pen name that was adopted by Gloria Jean VC'atkins. It is explained that she intentionally uses the
unconventional lower case to signify- her humility and focus attention on the content of her writing.
In The Practice ofEveryday ITfe Michel de Certeau makes a critical distinction between a tactic and a
strategy. Whereas those in positions of power employ strategies, a tactic is an action taken by those
lacking authority or power. If a strategy is a top-down practice wielded by hegemonic structures, a tactic is
a bottom-up, grassroots practice engaged by individuals and small groups (1984: xix). In relation to the
discussion of marginality, people inhabiting the margin pursue tactics, whereas the margin is imposed
and structured by strategies. When tactics are employed, contested space emerges. De Certeau describes
the spatial considerations of strategies and tactics:
...what distinguishes them...concerns the type of operations and the role of spaces: strategies are able
to produce, tabulate, and impose these spaces, when those operations take place, whereas tactics can
only use, manipulate, and divert these spaces (29).
In Volume 2 of The Practice of Everyday IJfe:
An everyday practice opens up a unique space with an imposed order, as does the poetic gesture that
bends the use of common language to its own desire in a transforming reuse...the everyday practice is
relative to the power relations that structure the social field as well as the field of knowledge...
everyday practice patiently and tenaciously restores a space for play, an interval of freedom, a resistance
to what is imposed (145).
In Discovering the l 'emacular I Mndscape, Jackson speaks to the tension between the politically
(strategically) imposed landscape and the socially (tactically) organized landscape: Landscape, like a
language, is the field of perpetual conflict and compromise between what is established by authority and
what the vernacular insists upon preferring (148). Further, he explains:
.. .underneath those symbols of permanent political power there lay a vernacular landscapeor rather
thousands of small and impoverished vernacular landscapes, organizing and using spaces in their
traditional way and living in communities governed by custom, held together by personal relationships
Organizing and using spaces, is appropriate language to describe what Michael Foucault refers to ways
of operating. De Certeau explains: These ways of operating constitute the innumerable practices by
means of which users reappropriate the space organized by techniques of sociocultural production (1984:
In his chapter Walking in the City, De Certeau describes the practice of walking as a way of
operating, or a spatial tactic. In The Phenomenology of I landscape, Tilley argues that De Certeau has made an
important discovery about the art of walking, he states:
An important aspect of [his| argument is its revelation of an art of walking as simultaneously an art of
consciousness, habit and practice, that is both constrained by place and landscape and constitutive of
them. Walking is the medium and outcome of a spatial practice, a mode of existence in the world
Thus, pedestrians are not only reading the city, but also writing it, not only listening to the city, but
also speaking through the act of walking. De Certeau argues that walking is a space of enunciation;
walking is to the urban system what a speech act is to the system of language (1984: 98). The city streets
are institutional, strategically organized spaces, but the pedestrian can appropriate and may even subvert
these spaces through autonomous, tactical choices. New spacesreal and imaginedare created. If we
understand the art of walking is a tactical appropriation of space, how might the art of gardening also
The art of walking can be replaced with the art of gardening with considerable import. In
common, the practices of walking and gardening are both constrained by place and landscape and
constitutive of them (ibid.). To make a garden requires attention to the specificities of a localethe
environmental and material constraintsand the product, the garden, creates a place anew.
Further, walking and gardening are modes of existence in the worldways to negotiate the landscape
and also a wav to communicate, as Harrison explains in a public if nonverbal mode, of the human need to
make ourselves at home on an earth that does not necessarily make room for us (2008: 48). Helphand
describes gardens as concentrated and perfected forms of place making (14). On the concept of place
Yi-Fu Tuan suggests: ...if we think of space as that which allows for movement, then place is pause; each
pause in movement makes it possible for location to be transformed to place (6). Following this
understanding of space and place, the act of gardening is a tactic that goes one step beyond the art of
walking; through pause the garden generates new places, even if these places are ephemeral or
Conceptual Framework Summary
This project poses the question: How can the act of making a garden be understood as a spatial tactic
in the marginalized landscape of post-apartheid South African townships? The review of contemporary
literature approaches the question through a dissection of critical concepts. 1 posed the research question
because I believe that the garden is a powerful human praxis with the potential to transform everyday life,
particularly for those people who are most in need of transformation. The conceptual framework
highlights materials that support the liberating potential of the garden for people who are marginalized or
disenfranchised by hegemonic structures. This potential, or agency, is investigated through an exploration
of Helphands garden attributes: life, hope, home, work, and beauty. Further, it explores the garden as a
mode for communication.
The conceptual framework sen es to theoretically ground the knowledge of daily lifethe empirical
data of place that cannot be captured through library or Internet research, but the details only gained
through direct experience and engagement in the field. These are the small facts that Clifford Geertz
deems essential. In his 1973 how-to of ethnography, The Interpretation of Cultures, he states, Small facts
speak to large issues (23). In the following chapter, narratives constructed from fieldwork experiences
reveal detailed accounts of gardens and peoples daily work, struggles, successes, motivations, histories and
hope. These stories add invaluable personal understanding and expression to the conceptual framework.
To be fully felt and known landscape literature must be experienced in situ: words, drawings,
paintings, or photographs cannot replace the experience of the place itself (21). Ann Whinston Spirn,
The language of landscape (1998).
Our method was patience. We would slowly absorb each image until we were what we had
deliberately chosen to become. Of course, then we ourselves were the documents; we acquired a
fragility (176). Lisa Robertson, Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office of Soft Architecture (2003).
A coherence of human vernacular landscapes emerges from dialogues between builders and place,
fine-tuned over time.... Dialogues make up the context of individual, group, and place. The context of
life is a woven fabric of dialogues, enduring and ephemeral (17). Ann Whinston Spirn, The language of
Opening the Dialogue
When I initiated this research proposal, I had made a connection with a young woman through my
sister who was working for a NGO with orphans in Langa; she was my primary contact in the townships,
who was enthusiastic to assist with my fieldwork, by introducing me to people she knew in the community
and helping with language and interpretation. To my disappointment, the NGO had transferred her to
work in Mozambique, and she was no longer in Cape Town when 1 arrived. Thus, I needed to find
another in to the townships. Anxious to begin, Alex and I accessed the townships as most tourists do,
on a township tour.
Most South Africans will advise that white, foreign visitors have no business wandering into the
black townships, but there are township tours designed for tourists. In Cape Town, a well-established
sector of the tourist industry specializes in these tours; just as you can go see Robben Island, where Nelson
Mandela was held prisoner for 27 years, or you can go see great white sharks on the Cape Peninsula, you
can pay a tour company to go see the legacy of apartheid. A township tour is on the itinerary of most
world tourists, and most tours advertise that operations benefit the communities by employing township
residents as guides, bringing money into businesses, generating awareness, and promoting ubuntu.33 The
tour we went on was one such operation. A well-appointed minibus gathered us at our apartment in the
city' early in the morning, and we were the last of eight tourists to be picked up. We were the only
Americans; the others were from various European countriesEngland, Ireland, and Germany. Our tour
guide identified himself as a Cape Town native, a coloured man (the persistent terminology for a person of
mixed race) who was a child when his family was evicted from their home in District Six and forced to
move to Mitchells Plain Township [See Appendix A].
District Six. Thus we began the tour in District Six, a well-known sector of the city that was completely
razed the early 1970s, save the places of worship. Its black and coloured residents were forcefully
displaced into various townships, according to their race, breaking apart families of mixed-races. A diverse
yet cohesive community of musicians, artists, students, professionals, and working-class people lived side-
by-side, like a stained glass window of races, ethnicities, and vocations. Amid strong resistance, both
internally and externally, the government shattered it under the auspices of providing higher quality
government housing. People, like shards of glass, were swept into tidy piles according to color, sent to
their respective townships. District Six is both a literal and symbolic scara barren landscape littered with
the rubble of the homes, businesses, and lives of the vibrant, multi-racial community' that once lived there.
Our tour guide explained to us on his microphone that when apartheid was officially abolished in 1994,
the Truth and Reconciliation Committee was formed to acknowledge past wrongdoings, an attempt to
correct or reconcile hardships incurred during the apartheid regime. An effort was made to locate the
original residents of District Six, or their next-of-kin, and facilitate their return to the parcels of land they
33. Ubuntu means humanity in Xhosa and is a concept that is widely promoted across South Africa, especially in regards to
reconciliation post-apartheid. The ethical teaching of ubuntu embodies human connectedness, mutual respect, and support.
were evicted from some forty years before. Although there have been numerous plans to rebuild the area,
only a couple of homes have been rebuilt and occupied by former residents, and it remains a highly
contested area that lingers heavily in the collective memory of Cape Town.
7Mtiga. After District Six, our mini-bus traveled east on the N-2 highway, a corridor lined with formal
and informal setdements. The first stop was Langa, Cape Towns oldest township. To my surprise and
disappointment, we never actually exited the vehicle in Langa. We only drove through, peering out the
windows, a barrage of digital cameras flashing, as people went about their daily routines. I felt ashamed
and uncomfortable, as if we were nervous voyeurs, keeping safe distance behind our tinted windows. The
next stop was in Khayelitsha, the largest of the townships, with an estimated population of over one
million residents (although the official census counted half that number). Our tour guide promised that we
would be disembarking the van to visit a bed and breakfast, a preschool (called a creche) a local bar (called
a shebeen) and to visit a local artisan.
Khayelitsha. As promised, we parked the van, and our feet hit the pavement for first time of the
township tour. Our guide identified our location within Khayelitsha as Site C, a now well-established
neighborhood with retrofitted infrastructure, yet once an informal massing of shacks with no running
water, toilets, or electricity. At Site C, we went first to Vickys B & B, a guest-house that has been
operating for about a decade, and caters mostly to tourists and humanitarian volunteers who are looking
for an authentic township experience. Vicky spoke passionately about her efforts break down the barriers
between the townships and the city, through a tourism that benefits her community while showing visitors
the beauty of everyday life in Site C. Adjacent to the B & B, we went into the creche, where pre-school
aged children smiled and laughed and crowded around us. The children sang us a song, and the teacher
asked us in English if we could make even a small donationmost obliged. Our stop at the sheeben was
brief, as it was closed; we peeked through barred windows into a modest bar with a pool table, and beers
for sale behind more bars. Next, we visited Goldens Flower Shop, where a local Xhosa man crafts
exquisite flowers from reclaimed aluminum cans.
Contact. As we left Goldens flower shop, I approached his adult daughter, Namhla, who was
facilitating some English translation among tourists. 1 asked her if we could return to walk around, and
talk with her father and her neighbors about their gardens. Although she was outwardly puzzled about our
objective, she warmly accepted, and we exchanged phone numbers. She instructed me to send her a SMS
(text) message because airtime was too expensive, a reality that we had quickly discovered on our pre-pay
cell. We would arrange a time and place to meet, and return the following week to seek out gardens.
In our text exchange, Namhla suggested meeting at the Shop Rite center, along the main thoroughfare
of Lansdowne Road; it was confusing navigating her neighborhood, streets are not always marked, and she
was concerned we could get lost. I recall our first trip to Khayelitsha as a stressful morning. It was our
first time traveling independently to the township, and we were both admittedly nervous. Our South
African friends at the backpacker told us it was a bad ideawe were crazy to go there alone. Part of me
wanted to prove them wrong; part of me listened to their concerns. Although we had been to Khayelitsha
before, it was with the township tour; we were escorted, presumably safe. As we approached the Shop
Rite, I wished we would have taken directions to meet Namhla at her house. We parked in the chaotic lot
(not crowded with other cars, but people), and Im quite positive we stood outlike white tourists in a
black township. I sent Namhla a text message, and we exchanged a couple of rapid texts to try and locate
one another. She called me, yet after a couple words, my phone cut outI had run out of precious airtime.
We exited the car to purchase more airtime; and I had never before felt more conspicuous; I tried to
remain calm. I recharged, phoned her back, and over background noise and static, we finally connected.
Namhlas smile quickly put me to ease. I remember hugging her. She got into our small car, and we
traveled several blocks to her neighborhood and entered her familys gate where Golden sat at his
workbench in the courtyard, tooling flowers.
Goldens blower Garden
A humble man, father to six children, he spoke in simple English, with elegant detail, telling his tender
ston,-. Several years ago, Golden had a dream; he dreamt of abundant, colorful flowers sprouting amid the
rubbish at the nearby dump. A voice told him to go to the dump and find the flowers. At the time he was
unemployed, struggling to support his family of seven. He went to the dump and found no flowers.
Again, he had the same dream, and he revisited the dumpno flowers. When Golden awoke a third time
with the lucid image of flowers at the dump, a voice telling him to go again and look for flowers, he
thought he was going crazy. Upon encouragement from his wife, he returned. On this day, he spotted a
red coke can lying in the dirt; it caught his eye and he paused. He picked up the dusty coke can and spit on
it; he recalled the bright flowers from his dream. That night be began to cut, twist, and transform the metal
can into a flower, his first daisy.
He honed his skills and began crafting handsome flowers; he made hundreds, then thousands
daisies, poppies, roses, lilies, tulips, and sunflowers. Over time he established himself as flourishing artisan
in the community, supporting his family with the sale of his bountiful flowers to world tourists. While he
spoke, he worked methodically, painting the black centers of pink poppies. He was humble, yet quietly
proud that he had picked his family up out of poverty and provided inspiration for his neighbors and
extended community. He considers himself blessed to have had the dreams, and thanks God for his this
good fortune. Yet he also acknowledges his hard workhe makes flowers even-day, and neighborhood
children help him to collect the tin and aluminum cans. The most valuable cans (and hardest to come by)
are the large food cans, good for fashioning the long flower stems; the ubiquitous soda cans are perfect for
crafting the delicate flower petals. Goldens unexpected garden was the first of many gardens in
Khayelitsha that spoke to me about creativity, persistence, and hard work in the face of daunting daily
Figure 5.1 Goldens Materials | photo by D. Alex Scott
Zelos Proper Garden
On the first day of our walks with Namhla, we stayed very close to her home; Golden accompanied
us, perhaps out of curiosity, for safety, or both. The first neighbor who we stopped to speak with was an
older woman wearing a bright red sweater, her head wrapped in a blue cloth (I would later learn this is the
Xhosa symbol of marriage). She was fastidiously tending to her fence, cobbled together from multiple
mattress springs, coils, and salvaged metal wires. Zelo shares with us that she is constantly mending her
fenceshe must keep her chickens and rooster in, and the dogs, cows, and goats out, in order to protect
both her chickens and her vegetable garden. She paused for a moment to shake our hands and exchange
the Xhosa greetings that we had been studying, without much opportunity to practice yet. She smiled
kindlv as she held my hand inside both of her slightly rough, yet gende hands; this was a handshake
technique that 1 had already come to know as customary and respectful, and I reciprocated.
Figure 5.3 Zelos Fence | photo by D. Alex Scott
I asked a series of questions through Namhla: How long have you lived here? Where are you from?
How long have you tended this garden? Zelos home is in the Eastern Cape, in the rural hills outside the
provinces capitol of Umtata. She moved to the Makhaza district of Khayelitsha in 1990, to be near her
children who migrated to Cape Town in search of work. She lived in a two-room shack until rather
recently when she came up on the waiting list for a proper house. The government built her current
house in 2007, constructed of cement blocks, painted pale orange, with a dark orange door; it has a
foundation, a proper roof, and an indoor toiletall amenities that her shack was lacking. As Namhla
translated, the word proper peppered the conversation; the house is proper, the roof is proper, and also
her garden will someday, be proper. She explains that since she has moved into this new house, she has
yet to have a proper gardenone that is healthy and productive. The sandy soil has been a challenge; she
is thus preparing to the soil with both manure and ash, in anticipation of a healthier crop this year.
She had a small garden adjacent to her shack, and while it was small, the soil was rich, after she
amended and cultivated it for over a decade. She has recently planted spinach seeds, which have sprouted,
covered with a screen to protect the seedlings from the chickens. It is always protecting one thing from
another thing, she explains. It is a slow process to make the soil healthy, she laments, shaking her head,
but she has this fence to deal with in the meantime, she smiles.
Figure 5.4 Zelos Mending | photo by D. Alex Scott
Her intricately cobbled fence that protects her chickens, and someday, her proper garden, seems
incongruous with her uniform cement block home. She explains that she likes her new home; it is warm,
dry, and keeps out the sand that blows through the walls of shack dwellings. She even likes the color,
although she would have painted it Xhosa blue, the color of her home in the Eastern Cape. Without need
for explanation this color was already familiar to mean aqua-blue color, that dots the landscapes of the
Eastern Cape and townships alike. 1 still do not know the traditional significance of this auspicious aqua
color, but it seemed to be a powerful connection to home for the people of Khayelitsha.
Figure 5.5 Zelos Pence and Chicken | photo by D. Alex Scott
The entire time she spoke with us in Xhosa she continued to mend, twisting the wire with her visibly
strong fingers onto the existing fence. She expresses that while it is sometimes bothersome, she does find a
certain satisfaction in mending the fence, closing a hole, making it more complete. She is always collecting
scrap wire to patch itclothing hangers work the best. With only a couple of exceptions, every time we
visited Zelo, she was mending her fence. I speculate that her mending practice is a sort of moving
meditation for her, a meaningful negotiation with this sitea house issued by the government, a sandy
garden patiendy waiting for fertile soil. Mending the fence is a purposeful way to make this site home, a
proper life here in the city away from her true home in the Eastern Cape.
Figure 5.6 Zelos Garden | photo by D. Alex Scott
Golden's First Garden
The garden that Golden continually creates of recycled and retooled aluminum cans is one of two
vital gardens he maintains. Within the boundaries of his fence, constructed of locally gathered and densely
bundled wood, he also tends a more traditional vegetable garden. He uses paint left over from his flower
making enterprise to color the fence, and over the course of four months, 1 saw a number of different
colors adorn it. He explains that he has kept this vegetable garden for as long as he can remember, and he
marv els that the wind or the birds must have brought some of its leafy participants over timehe picks a
handful of umfino (akin to spinach) and explains that while he never planted these seed, he has the dark
green leafy vegetable in abundance now. Golden learned to garden and to grow vegetables as a boy in the
Eastern Cape, a theme I would find common among Xhosa gardeners; it is an important part of their
collective heritage to tend small farms and husband animals.
In another connection to the Eastern Cape, he has built a small rondevala round Xhosa hut,
traditionally made of vertical wooden poles and woven horizontal branches; packed with clay mud, straw,
and cow dung; smoothed with clay, painted, and completed with a thatch roof. Goldens rondeval is
conspicuous among the dwellings in Khayelitsha; it is the only rondeval I saw during my time there. If
one was passing on the street, it might be missed, as it lies within his fence that forms a courtyard around
his home, and only the thatch roof pops out atop the fence.
Figure 5.7 Goldens F'ence | photo by D. Alex Scott
The courtyard is an extension of the home, an outdoor living space that significantly increases the
livable area for the family of seven. It is also more private than most homes in Khayelitsha; Golden says
this is because it helps with the wind and the sand, and also, his family appreciates some peace and quiet
when all the visitors go home. When I ask Golden why more people dont build traditional rondevals here
in the Western Cape, he reaches to the sand floor and picks up a handful, allowing the grains to slowly sift
out of his hand. Goldens powerful nonverbal communication was brilliant.
A traditional rondeval requires clay; and the sand of Khayelitsha will never suffice as a building
material. The rondeval is a vernacular dwelling that was locally adapted from available resources in the
Eastern Cape, but not viable in the Western Cape due to lack of clay, and abundance of sand. Thus, a new
vernacular style has evolved in the Western Cape townshipsone of makeshift dwellings, crafted out of
corrugated metals, salvaged wood, cardboard, and reclaimed car parts, among other reused materials. With
no clay to work with, Golden built his rondeval of cement, a ubiquitous building material (used in most of
the government housing projects) although cost prohibitive for most people.
Ftigure 5.8 Goldens Rondeval | photo by D. Alex Scott
Goldens home and gardens display vernacular ingenuity through the use of available materials and a
combination of both traditional and colloquial forms. His vegetable garden and rondeval exhibit
fundamental connections to his homeland, and his dwelling, courtyard, and flower garden are astute
adaptations to the local environment.
Air. Alo/us Allotment Garden
In a departure from our regular routine, after several weeks of neighborhood walks, Namhla
suggested that we visit gardens at nearby schools. At first I was inwardly apprehensive; I had come to
enjoy the routine of our walks, and I had this preconceived notion that my project was not about
community gardens, but rather about individual garden practices. Yet, I didnt want to discourage Namhla.
More over, I was curious about these more institutionalized gardens and I wanted to experience the larger
Khayelitsha. Perhaps I would even make an unexpected discovert'.
We drove Mini so that we could cover more ground, even though all the places Namhla had in mind
were within walking distance34. Our first stop was at the nearby high school, where we entered through
a guarded security gate, parked, and went inside to obtain permission to visit the garden. Visible from the
main road, beyond the fence surrounding the school, the garden was the size of a small allotment farm,
yielding vegetables in orderly rows. As we approached, we encountered a handful of orange chairs strewn
across the grass, on the edge of the formal vegetable garden. We paused to photograph these chairs, and I
made the note: momentary garden?
The sole gardener tending the plot approached us; he beamed us a wide smile and extended his hand,
first to Alex and then to me. Namhla introduced us as Americans35 interested in gardens; this struck Arit
Mofu as funny; he laughed and smiled some more. It was a contagious laughter and soon we were all
laughing, the joke was on us presumablythe silly Americans who traveled all this way to look at his
garden. Although he introduced himself as Arit Mofu, I called him Mr. Mofu as I wanted to show my
respect to this elder member of the Xhosa society.
34. Walking distance is an approximation of distance that 1 re-leamed in Khayelitsha as the primary means of transportation for
people of Khayelitsha is walking. A twenty-minute walk is considered close; an hour is a longer walk. The next most common means
of transport is mini-bus taxi, then the train, bus, and lastly, private automobile, which less that one percent of the population own.
35. When we mentioned America, we were often reminded with enthusiasm that we had just elected President Barack Obama. As
Americans, we were beneficiaries of peoples widespread excitement about this election result.
Figure 5.9 Momentary Garden? | photo by author
Mr. Mofu had stoic demeanor as he explained his history' and gardening endeavor, he held his hands
together at his chest as he spoke, using some English words when he could find them. He has not lived in
this neighborhood of Khayelitsha for very long, but lived in Harrare, a predominandy informal settlement
nearer to the ocean that has been absorbed bv Khavelitsha over time. In Harrare, he had an impressive
garden at his home that caught the attention of a teacher. The school approached him with a good-will
opportunity involving serious sweat equity; he could farm the land adjacent to the school, utilizing their
water, to start a vegetable garden. While they could not pay him, he could keep the produce and profits
from the sale of his vegetables. Thus, he seized the opportunity, moving with his wife, Beauty, to a small
shack in Khayelitsha. This was his second season working this plot, which he says looked like that
pointing to the expanse of uncultivated, overgrown land within the fence. Mr. Mofu grows an impressive
array of vegetables in tidy rowscabbage, onions, spinach, and carrots were growingstarting them all
from seeds. The high school has connected him with Abalimi Bezekhaya, an urban agriculture project,
who has been generous with seed donations, he explains.
He continues to tend a small home garden, but has less time for that garden now because of this
endeavor, which is his sole source of income. Like many people in Khayelitsha, Mr. Mofu is unemployed
but earns money in the informal economy, an outsiders term for the important sector of the economy
that operates outside of the formal system, on a cash and barter basis for goods and services. Participation
in the informal economy is how many people in Khayelitsha survive on a day-to-day basis, to feed their
families and secure basic necessities. Mr. Mofu both barters his vegetables directly for other goods and
sendees, and selling vegetables for cash. Most astonishingly, he does this all by himself. His wife is not
well, he explains, and when she is better, she will help him to tend the garden. But for now, it is Mr. Mofu
only, and all this space.
He opens his arms widely to indicate the massive amount of space this is his to till, cultivate, and
harvestwithout a doubt, a daunting project for one person. I asked him why he has no help, and he
explains that he cant afford to pay helpers a wage. At one point, he had a couple young gardening
helpers, but they were lazy and often didnt show up to work the garden. Mr. Mofu has a charming sense
of humor, a light and buoyant demeanor, but he gets serious about this pointhe has no patience for lazy
workers on this land: its all or nothing, he explains. Clearly, he gives this garden his allit is his work, his
livelihood, and his purpose.
Figure 5.11 A Garden Talk | photo by D. Alex Scott
As it turned out, Mr. Mofus garden was not the institutionalized garden that I thought, but an
individual endeavoran important lesson about the danger of assumptions. We returned to visit
numerous times, without any notice, and he was always there, working the land. One day near the end of
our research, we visited and he was there with his wife, Beauty7; she was well now, by his side, tilling a new
plot, making deep furrows and high mounds to grow a maize crop. The furrows catch the rainfall, and the
mounds prevent the plants from drowning in soggy7 soil, he explains. It is essential to growing vegetables,
especially here in this sandy soil. The rows are beautiful and orderly, I say; and he responds with a smile,
yesthis is because they work.
Figure 5.12 Furrows | photo by author
As we departed, we saw schoolboys sitting on the orange chairs along the brick facade of the building.
They use this space to gather during breaks; although it may have been mere coincidence that the
gathering spot was adjacent to the garden, I could not help but wonder about the impact of Mr. Mofus
display of hard work on these young adultsI wish now I would have asked them.
Noos Sculpure Garden
We first saw Noos sculpture garden traveling at about 80 kilometers an hour. VCTiile we normally
entered Khayelitsha from the Spine Road exit off the N-2 highway, we missed our exit and got off at the
next opportunity. I knew that we could access Khayelitsha this way, but it was always a little nerve-
wracking trying a new route. As we cruised by the sculptures lining the road we glimpsed a hand-
painted sign that read, African Garden Art. When we arrived at Goldens home, after confidendy
navigating the new route, we asked if he knew this artist. Yes, he had met the man and we should most
definitely go visit him. Thus, we hopped back in Mini and retraced our routeNamhla giggling because
we went the long way. We parked along the main thoroughfare and approached the striking display of
statuarysome life-like renderings of animals, of the iconic African art genre giraffes, monkeys, and
scores of birdsothers were more abstract representations of people, angles, and mythical beings. An
imposing figure, over seven feet tall, seemed to preside over the outdoor shrine, with dark mirrors for
Noos speaks English; he tells us that he starts his sculptures with an armature of Styrofoam to set the
shape. Next, he spackles the foam contours with concrete, finishes the sculpture with paint, and adorns it
with found objects: broken mirrors, pottery, tiles, and things that sparkle. His art falls into the genre of
Goldensreclaimed and recycled materials creatively re-contextualized. He works intuitively, with no
sculpture in mind as he starts the process. He sells the sculpture mostly to tourists, who visit on township
tours, but many of the sculptures are too large to pack home in a suitcase. Thus, he sells more small
statuettes, and the larger ones live in his garden with him. He uses the word garden before I prompt him
with questions about the space that lies before us.
Figure 5.14 Noos Roadside Statue Display | photo by D. Alex Scott
Wlien he is not building sculpture, he is arranging his creations and tending this small garden. He says
that he knows it is important to display his sculpture in a beautiful settingto show people how the
sculpture could feel in their garden. He has had some recent success selling his art to township residents
for their gardens, especially the birdbaths, which he sells at locals prices, he explains with a smile.
Noos is from the Transkei and has lived in Khayelitsha for eight years, seven on this site, where he
has squatted on the land against the authorities. He says he thinks he gets away with this because he is
an artist. While he has no access to utilities on the site, there is a lot of space, and high visibility for the sale
of his sculpture. His is the only dwelling along this stretch of road, on the eastern edge of Khayelitsha;
there is the noise of the traffic, but otherwise it is peaceful on this plot, he explains.
Figure 5.15 Noos Garden | photo by D. Alex Scott
There has been some trouble in the bush36 across the thoroughfare, he explains: people go there to
gather firewood and use it in lieu of proper toilets, but recently a number of women have been attacked
and raped there, and its no longer considered safe to go into the bush alone, especially for women. Noos
expresses that this is very bad and makes the decent people living here have a bad reputation, he
explains: We dont need any more negative attention here in Khayelitsha, we need to be positive; thats
why 1 do my part, I make art. He not only makes art, but does so prolifically, much like Golden.
Alongside his art, he tends a special garden; he believes these practices have facilitated his illegal squatting
on the land. Rather phenomenally, he has never been pressured by the authorities to vacate this plot, and
he is certainly not under the radar, but rather, highly visible for the world to see his good work.
36. The bush, or da boos, (Afrikaans) are the common terms for the woods, or shrublands outside urban areas. In the context
of the townships, it has gained a derogatory attachment, as people who live in the bush, are squatting on the land and often some
of the most marginalized populations. For further discussion of the bush and squatters sec Ross, Raw Uje, Sew Hope, Chapter 1.
Figure 5.16 Noos Work | photo by D. Alex Scott
Nelsons Subsistence Garden
The man who lives across the way from Golden calls himself Nelson, a name he holds in
common with Nelson Mandela, and one that he is proud of. Like many Xhosa, this is not his given name,
but an English name that he adopted. Nelson lives with his wife and young daughter in a cheerful rose-
colored house. A brighdy painted purple fence surrounds his home and a more rustic wooden fence
bounds his vegetable garden. Nelson grows primarily tomatoes, along other vegetables to help feed his
family. He is unemployed, which is not uncommon in Khayelitsha; he represents one person in the
statistic of a staggering fiftv percent unemployment rate. He began this garden two years ago, and now he
has so many tomatoes that he both barters and sells to the produce stand on his street. In this regard,
Nelson has entered the informal economy much like Arit Mofu. Nelson says the garden helps them to
get bv, but I suspect that the garden has done more for him that he immediately recognizes. As he
shows us around his garden, he displays a certain pridehe built the fence first to keep out the animals,
and next, he bought starter tomato plants from the school. I asked about the sandy soil, and he admits
that he was concerned at first, but the tomatoes seem to like the soil just fine. He smiles.
Figure 5.17 Nelsons Tomatoes | photo by D. Alex Scott
F-igure 5.18 Neighborhood Produce Stand | photo by D. Alex Scott
The garden was the first in a string of projects at Nelsons home; Namhla describes that she has
watched the progress from her home across the street. After success with the garden, she recalls that he
began painting and tending the yard of the house: he built a mailbox, a stone patio, and a new clothesline.
With enthusiasm she explains that he is always working on little projects here and there to improve the
placelike a busy bee, she says.
Figure 5.19 Nelsons home | photo by author
X Marks Homes With No Address
After walking the Makhaza neighborhood for months, and becoming comfortable in our routine, 1
asked Namhla if we could visit people living in the more informal parts of Khayelitsha, the areas that are
officially referred to by the government as informal settlements or squatter settlements. At first,
Namhla was uncertain of exactly what I was aiming at, and she seemed unaware of the official distinction
between her neighborhood of Makhaza, a formal settlement, and setdements designated as informal.
This classification was clearly an example of outsiders terminology imposed on the marginalizedan
insidious legacy of the apartheid system.
Figure 5.20 X Marks FFomes with no Address | photo by D. Alex Scott
As I attempted to communicate with Namhla about where I was interested in walking, I recall my
unease and awkwardness. Even though she lived in a far better situation, I didnt want to offend her as I
described the poorest places in Khayelitsha, epitomized by families living in one-room shacks without
plumbing, marked with an orange X to designate no address. Once we came to an understanding, she was
perplexedif I wanted to visit nice gardens, she didnt believe we would be finding them among the
poorest shacks. 1 asked if it was safe to walk around in these placesshe thought it would be OK, and
we would go next visit.
The most personally challenging days of research were the days walking the informal sites. In contrast
to the people living in Namhlas neighborhood, who represented the middle class of Khayelitsha, the
people living in the squatter settlements were visibly struggling to maintain a day-to-day livelihood.
Outwardly visible signs of malnutrition, illness, and unsanitary living conditions caused me admitted
uneasethe suffering was palpable. Without asking directly about HIV/AIDS, we were aware that the
infection rate in the township is approximately 1 in 4 women, and 1 in 6 men. Thus, we could presume
that some of the people we talked with were struggling through both illness and associated negative social
stigma. I was not concerned for my personal safely, but 1 feared that our mere presence and questions
would cause these people to experience unnecessary shame. As Fiona Ross characterized this life, it is
The effects of apartheid and poverty play out in residents lives, relationships and social structures:
forces against which people pitted themselves and in relation to which they sought to forge meaningful
and fulfilling everyday lives in conditions of humiliating impoverishment and contexts that can only be
described as ugly. Theirs is a story of constant effort in the face of ongoing erosions of family, work,
stability and residence, created by what I call the raw life (4).
Whereas Namhlas neighbors were often proud of their homes and gardens and open to speaking
with us, these people were comparatively standoffish, far less open to our presence, let alone our
questions. A nonverbal sentiment of vulnerability' shrouded these conversations; many seemed
embarrassed of their situation, and thus 1 felt less comfortable to engage them in conversation about their
stories. I experienced the mix of emotions 1 had on the township tour when we drove through Langa
behind our tinted windows with our digital cameras. Thus, 1 aimed to be considerate and sensitive, and
only approached people who were welcoming. As always, we kept conversations open-ended, never
asking questions that people may not be comfortable to answer. We asked to take fewer photos, and only
took photos when people were clearly at ease. We met a woman named Rosyonly 20 years oldwho
was very' open to speaking with us. She had recendy moved out of her familys home and into her own
shack; she explained that living in a small shack was better than living in tight quarters with her extended
familythe move gave her freedom to live her own life. Rosy was her English name, her Xhosa name
was difficult to pronounce she explained, and she had gone by Rosy since she attended English school at
Rof)' If Own Garden
Rosy seemed empowered by her decision to leave home and carv e out a space of her own, even
though it is a humble spacefour cobbled walls, a tin roof, and a dirt floor covered with linoleum and
carpet scraps. She purchased the shack from a family moving into a larger home, with money she worked
hard to save for years, she explains. Rosy tells us that she works as a domestic housekeeper in Cape Town
five days a week, and leaves before the sunrise in the mornings to catch a minitaxi into the city'.
Figure 5.21 Rosys Garden | photo by D. Alex Scott
In front of her new home, Rosy has a front yard with manicured grass and a developing flowerbed.
She got the plants from her employer and makes a point to tell us that she did not steal the plants, but was
given these plants for her new home. She bought the grass seeds, planted the seeds three times, and now
she cuts the thick lawn with a push-mower, also a gift from her employer. She says she is lucky to work
for a nice family in the city'they treat her well, give her gifts, and she even lived with them for a year
while she was saving money for her own place. She explains that she could still live there, but she wanted
to be close to her family in Khayelitsha and have her own place. Her independent spirit shines through the
conversation. She is outwardly proud of being from Khayelitsha, and repeats that her situation with the
family in the city has been very lucky, but that is not her home.
1 reflect that her garden is created in the image of the colonial garden, a likely influence of her
employment as a domestic servant in a well-manicured colonial estate. Rosys garden is among many
gardens in Khayelitsha that seem to be influenced by this colonial or Western example, with an importance
placed on a tidy lawn and flower gardens, ornamental symbols of pride in ones home.
1 asked Namhla if we could visit on a Saturday or Sundayshe said a Saturday would be okay, as
Sunday most people devote to churchgoing and family. We would need to follow the same guidelines as
during the week and be on our way home in the early afternoon. Thus, we visited one Saturday in June
we were keenly interested to meet people who were generally working during our weekday visits and
excited to experience the vibe of the neighborhood on the weekend. We invited an American woman we
had met at the backpacker to join us, or rather, she may have invited herself. When we arrived, she was
immediately conspicuoustall, blonde, loud, and carried a large and expensive looking camera. She was
friendly and gregarious with the people we met, asking to take photographs and offering the children small
gifts. A trail of begging children now followed us on our walk. We had accidentally drawn a spectacle in
Khayelitsha for the first time, and I was initially quite nervous about this. As we moved along, the
attention dissipated and my nerves settled. There was significantly more activity on Saturdaya buzz of
outdoor family gatherings and barbeques, a wedding, and a funeral underway. We were invited into a
handful of gatherings, tasted the Umqombothi (homebrewed beer) and listened to families sing traditional
Ottos Thinking Garden
Our purpose on this Saturday visit was not garden research per se, but to better understand the
context of this place. I also anticipated meeting garden makers who were always at work when we visited,
and we were fortunate to find Otto on his way out. I had seen Ottos shade tree before, and 1 desired to
meet the person who tended this simple space. Otto told us that he doesnt sit on his bench often, but
when he does, he just thinks. I asked: What do you think about? He says he often recalls his home in the
Eastern Cape. Sometimes, he says, he thinks its time to trim the tree. He planted this shade tree some
nine years ago, and shapes it with a prized set of pruning shears and a ladder that he must borrow from a
I asked Otto if I could sit on his bench, and he replied, With pleasure, Lady a typical South African
response that is so automatic that it often implies no pleasure at all. However, as I sat down slowly on his
bench, I believed him.
As our time in Cape Town came to a close, Alex and I invited Namhla on a visit and picnic to the
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. We had not been there yet, and it was on our must-do list before
departure.37 Her sister, Lona, was home from high school and was invited to join; they asked their father
for permission, and we arranged to bring them to the transfer station before five for a minibus taxi back to
Khayelitsha. As always, Golden didnt want us there in the early evening hours. After our morning walk
we departed in the rental Mini, and traveled the N-2 into the city.
37. The Western Cape Floral Region is one of the most diverse floral kingdoms on the planet; while it covers only .5% of the
African continent, it hosts 20% of its plant species. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004
(http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1007). The Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens collection was the first to include only indigenous
species and is one of the most prized in the world.
Kirstenbosch is nestled at the base of the majestic Table Mountain just south of the University of
Cape Town in the leafy suburb of Bishopscourt. As we approached, we passed sprawling estates set back
behind tall walls and secure gates. It seemed to be the antithesis of Khayelitshatwo disparate worlds
located only twenty-five kilometers apart. I recalled Rosy who works on a large estate, and reflected that
she is one among the millions of labor class individuals who continue to enable the lavish lifestyles of the
elite class. After spending the morning walking the streets of Khayelitsha, the disparity between rich and
poor in South Africa was striking. I remember wondering if this outing was a mistake. I hoped that this
would be a positive experience for Namhla and Lona, yet I worried it may reinforce persistent inequities.
It was a windy and cool day, and a layer of fog hung heavy in the hills. Table Mountain was covered in
its legendary and mystical tablecloth, a natural phenomenon that occurs when a south-easter wind blows
moisture over the mountain to form a cloud as the air cools on top, and then spills over the mountain into
the City Bowl. We began to stroll the remarkable indigenous gardens. I looked to Namhla and Lona who
beamed smiles and my worry blew away with the wind.
If only for a fleeting afternoon, we were transported to a present where the burdens of injustice,
racism, and poverty seemed temporarily lifted. I remember feeling a profound sense of peace while
walking the gardens, a present state-of-being shared with my walking companions, with no thought of the
past or future. Afterward, I didnt ask Namhla and her sister if they shared this experience, but my
intuition is that they too found pleasure in the garden walk and temporary reprieve from the reality of
everyday. However, when we dropped them off at the downtown taxi rank, as masses of people began
their evening commute home to various locals across the sprawling flats, the glaring disparities were
tenfold. In the chaos of the drop-off, I handed Namhla extra money for the taxi, and she held my hands
in hers and said, Enkosi Kakhulu (Thank you very much). As we drove home, I realized that she might
not have an opportunity to visit Kirstenbosch Gardens again; even at reasonable student rates, the price of
transportation and admission were prohibitively expensive. I wondered if she would go home and tell her
family about the beautiful gardens, with the tacit knowledge that they would likely never visit. My worry
and my white guilt returned and I went to bed wrestling with the complexities of the day.
On Friday morning when we returned to Khayelitsha for our last official visit, Namhla had a gift for
us, carefully wrapped in paper and secured with a bow and card. She wanted to say thank you for the visit
to the botanic gardens. The gift somehow signaled to me that the outing to Kirstenbosch was not a
mistake, but a positive experience for Namhla and her sister. The gift also symbolized a bond between us,
one of reciprocitynow we were the recipients of her generosity, as she had been the recipient of ours. It
was a heartwarming day, as we walked our garden rounds we shared with everyone that we would be
traveling to the Eastern Cape and then back to America. The simple words, Ah, Eastern Cape spoken
with sweet nostalgia let us know that we were traveling somewhere very special. Before departing, we
drove to the hill and climbed the stairs to look out upon the expanse of Khayelitsha. We pointed towards
Goldens home and to our neighborhood at the base of Table Mountainwhile we stayed only twenty-
five kilometers awav, we were a world apart, and yet had come to know this people and their place through
the common language of the garden.