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Maxi Burger was told she wouldn’t be able to grow anything on the slopes of her Simon’s Town retirement home.
Fortunately, she ignored that piece of local wisdom and went ahead with what she loves doing.
Within five years she has created a garden that is not only beautiful but colourful all year round.
“I’m a colour person. That’s my thing,” says Burger.
“I rebel against just green.”
A plant collector, Burger knows and loves plants and is always on the lookout for a different variety, or colour, of plant, shrub or tree.
My visit to Burger was to highlight the guerilla garden she’s been largely responsible for creating on the corner of Rocklands Road and the road through Simon’s Town to Cape Point.
In just a few years, the small section has changed from a rubble dump to a colourful garden, where tour buses have been known to stop.
Burger has garnered the support of the people in the area, who have helped with donations and time, and she has put in many hours of her own time.
An old wood-and-iron bench, restored by her husband Willie, is placed above the garden, with a magnificent view across False Bay.
There’s still work to do – a section behind the bench needs to be planted, and the garden needs constant attention.
While this garden is a gift to the area, her own garden at home takes my breath away.
Burger had told me her garden was looking beautiful, but I wasn’t expecting the riot of colour that greeted me. This is summer in Simon’s Town, with extreme wind and a sloping garden which would deter most people.
But not Burger: she has sought out and found plants that work here, aided of course by her dedication and hard work. Coming from Pretoria, she had some learning to do about local plants.
“I’m not a good sleeper, so I read books at night. I discover plants, and my husband, who has a PhD in plant physiology, helps fill in knowledge when needed.”
Between visits to Kirstenbosch and late-night reading, she grew her knowledge, and half of her front garden is largely indigenous.
Terracing and a path means she can get to everything.
She plants carefully, with an eye for colour and display, so no plant blocks out the next.
The result is an interesting garden, with a feeling of abundance and not clutter.
Colour right now is provided by purple statis, yellow gazania, pink ericas, red hibiscus, bulbine and a few vygies still in flower.
The other half of her garden has mainly exotics in it, with azaleas, ferns, orchids and fuchsias now in full bloom.
Using the wooden fence as a windbreak is not enough, she’s learnt, and a canopy is what’s needed. A wild fig (once a bonsai) is growing well here and protecting her orchids. In this shadier area she also has clivias growing.
Near the front door two pillars hold a slab on which perch various bonsai; below it the fuchsia, yellow and orange marigolds, white agapanthus and pink petunias make a show of colour. A coral tree bonsai has bright red blooms.
She also has bonsais of a kiepersol, a Ceres cedar and a Cape willow. And others are in training.
In a pot an ochna, or Mickey Mouse plant, has been flattened by birds, and its red flowers and black seeds (the “ears”) hide under the deep green leaves.
As plants pop up, she either uses them, sells them or gives them away.
“I keep my hand on things. I don’t want too much of one thing,” she says.
Every available space has been used, and Burger has many pots and containers, including some quirky ones, such a pair of wellingtons with num-nums growing in them.
At the entrance to the house, in a sheltered, partly enclosed area, she has dipladenia vines in pots, flowering now in various shades of red and pink. A deep purple petunia, almost black, sits below them.
The back garden, not surprisingly, is also startling. More exposed and on the same steepness of slope, it’s also full of colour: pincushions and proteas, various shrubs with different colour foliage and a lot Zephyranthes bulbs, with delicate pink flowers. They’re also called storm or rain lilies, and when they flower you know it will rain within a few days. They flower on and off for five months.
“I divided this garden into two half-circles, and then made paths into them. I like to get into the garden,” she says.
It’s a battle to keep the trees upright; she has planted an apiesdoring (an acacia) and a huilboerboom, or tree fuchsia, here. There’s also a nieshout, or sneezewood, indigenous to the Eastern Cape, valued for its hardiness and used for fence poles. Its name comes from the highly irritant, aromatic peppery oils released when the wood is cut.
Maxi has clear ideas about how the garden should be, and trains her plants to her plan.
“I try to get something different all the time. I want to make it interesting. And colourful.”
Although succulents aren’t her favourite, she has used them in pots up the front driveway and in various other spots, selecting for colour and variety.
She likes to work with plants, shaping them to her requirements: the helichrysum has been shaped into a cone, and a tree has been trained into a topiary against the fence along horizontal lines with a flat, lollipop-shaped top.
It’s wonderful being shown round such a creative garden, with its wide variety of plants, and being with Burger, whose enthusiasm for her garden has spilled over to the creation of the public garden.
It only takes one person to change the neighbourhood for the better. - Cape Argus