Cape Town - Noordhoek residents may have been wondering who’s behind the neat and colourful verges along its main roads, and will be surprised that it’s a small team which achieves so much.

Kathy Fish is the project’s driving force, and you’ll see the sign “We are on the verge today” when she and her team work every Wednesday.

The project was inspired when Fish noticed the beautiful verges between Robertson and Ashton: “We live in paradise, and our verges were such an eyesore. I mentioned it to a friend and she said: ‘Stop talking about it and do something’.”

Fish spoke to Peter Mkwena, her gardener, who agreed to help, and with the council’s blessing, they got started.

At the moment, the team consists of Fish, Mkwena, Michael May and Bernard Mwale, supported by those who give plants, hire out tools and donate funds to pay the three gardeners. “The goodwill is fantastic,” says Fish.

The council does an alien clearing once or twice a year, supplies them with trees at times, and removes the cuttings.

The first corner they planted was the highly visible one near the Noordhoek Common. “I bought a packet of watsonia bulbs at a fete and planted them,” recalls Fish. The watsonias were joined by aloes, gazanias and pincushions to form an attractive garden.

The original packet of bulbs has multiplied into clumps of plants, and been divided time and again to populate other gardens.

Almost five years on and “On the Verge” has planted more than 80 trees and worked on about 22 verges.

Limited funding means the team can only work once a week.

“We’d love to work more often. In spring and summer we struggle to get around to doing everything. Once a year we do a major tree mulching and fix the tree cages. We’re constantly looking for more sponsors as there’s always more work to do, and things to buy like tree stakes, tree ties, cage cloths and new tools. It all adds up.”

Many of the verges they garden are along the main road. “We planted huge numbers of African plums to replace those that died over the years. We also did the bridle path. When the road was widened, the roads department made a garden, then did nothing. It became impassable. Now we work with the riding club to keep it clear,” says Fish.

“Winter is exciting, everything is lush and wet. But watering in summer is a difficulty. We find people are excited by the neighbourhood being cleaned up, and when we plant a verge, some help with watering. In summer we go around with 5-litre containers in the boot to water the trees, which need about two years before they can cope on their own.

The verges need to be waterwise, of course, and while Fish uses mostly indigenous plants, she’s not averse to using others for a splash of colour. “For example, one of the plectranthuses is not indigenous – it’s a sun-loving plant, unlike most of them. We’re all being educated and we have a hatred for Port Jacksons,” she says. “A few times a year we do a blitz.”

The old Post Office garden is the Cape Argus’s first stop: it’s a historical building, and when the team started the garden was in disarray. Now the crocosmia are blazing orange, the ribbon bushes have been cut back, and the “mother” vygie is clambering down the bank.

“We do an enormous number of cutting ourselves – this vygie bush has supplied many, many verges,” says Fish. “But it is difficult to get plants, to get variety, especially with the bigger plants. We love nurseries to donate to us, and have had great support from the local nursery.”

We visit the corner of Silvermine and Paddock roads. This garden is now three years old, and well established. The wild fig is in healthy competition with the gazania, pelargonium, plumbago, dietes and helichrysum, and the vygies are thriving. Tecomaria, a white wild dagga (Leonotis leonurus) and a klipdagga (Leonotis nepetifolia), felicia, bulbinella, pig’s ears (Crassula orbiculata), and spekboom add to the diversity of plants here.

Many cuttings come from the dumps, as do aloes and some larger plants, left by gardeners who have no use for them. And then there are the naturally occurring plants.

“We start growing plants between the grass – when we have enough, we incorporate it into a bed,” says Fish. “When full and lush, we extend it. We plant trees – here we have water berries and boekenhout. And we just weed-eat the grass; it keeps kikuyu down and buffalo comes in.

“We can’t be precious – people will walk on some of our plants. But it’s an amazing thing to work on something which doesn’t belong to anybody – just for the joy and beauty of it. Cars often stop and people thank us,” says Fish.

“And I've learned to be excited by plants I was prejudiced against,” laughs Kathy. “My love affair with aloes has escalated; they're gorgeous in the right setting. And pig's ears (now in flower, with their pink bells) are so rewarding, as are the gazanias.

“It's great fun and such a joy to us. We're just gardening, and no one is offended.”

* If you can help in any way, contact Kathy Fish at 021 789 1440, or [email protected]

Jeanne Viall, Cape Argus