Outside and independent of the Melpark Primary school something astonishing is growing. It so happens someone has painted an ‘entrance’ on the corner, labelled Door to Narnia but what unfolds further down the street is the really fantastic place of magic.

The 3rd Avenue slopes that used to be full of crisp or sweet packets and trampled weeds are transformed into an extraordinary wondergarden of plants, hanging from trees and on the oddest supports. It is all planted and maintained by Andrew Mashilwane who was, as he says, “a useless drunk.”

“This is my new life. It’s a lovely place.” I remember his saying that when I first wandered the upper pavement, admiring the eccentric garden alongside, above and below, and sat myself next to the contemplative man on a bench.

Andrew discovered his green fingers when another local suggested he “do something – like garden over there.” He gets some support from Richard South and uses whatever he’s given or has been discarded, to create the magic of this place. He loves the way plants respond to him, mentioning that he does talk to them and “tell them what to do”. He propagates to fill gaps.  Andrew Mashilwane hasn’t drunk alcohol for six or seven years and has a grandchild of three.

Bonolo, the sassy granddaughter who loves “the flowers”, also loves Heather’s camera. A mini poseuse, all in pink, from the little pink hoodie to her pink shoes, she quickly presses a pink cell phone to her ear, answering “Fine!” when we tell her it’s ringing. Other times she’s zipping it into my backpack’s pockets.

Her grandfather is working marvels in what is not naturally great soil full of jacaranda discards. He says he needs compost most, digging it in and using it in the holes where he plants. Immediate use is made of all donations, including plants, planters or monetary ones. He has even filled gaps in the garden with old plastic Christmas trees until he can plant something better, his favourites being roses and aloes.

Andrew demonstrates how a cardboard architectural plans tube is painted with waterproof paint and turns into a pillar to support planters, near an elevated rattan chair doing similar duty.

At sunset you may find Andrew out on the recently-finished deck and, from across the road, I, like passers-by, admire the long-long-long magic garden with intermittent human flashes of pink.

(Bonolo’s Garden – In 3rd Avenue – between 2nd and 4th Streets, Melville)


Other Side of the City column by Marie-Lais Emond pictures by Heather Mason