New life for neglected plots of land

The mural painted at the Salt River Nature Park and the bench for visitors to sit on.

A new Salt River non-profit organisation is turning backyards and neglected plots of land in the heart of the city into mini parks and food gardens.

The Neighbourhood Gardens was started by Nadia Agherdine, Kulsum Viljoen and Marius Zenker. The idea germinated when Ms Agherdine took two German tourists on a street art tour more than a year ago. The visitors offered to donate money to have a neglected piece of land cleared and turned into a garden.

A German non-profit, Stiftung Bienenwald, came up with the money to clear the site and fence it.

The plot on the corner of Pope Street and Fenton Road had been rundown for at least four decades, Ms Agherdine said.

“All the neighbours from the surrounding area gave us permission, and, together with the residents, we started cleaning up and rehabilitating the area.”

They had tried hard to find the owners of the plot but without success, Ms Agherdine said.

Then, in December last year, the trustees of the land, having seen the new garden, had allowed for the plot to be leased so the work could continue, she said.

That had led to the decision to start the non-profit.

The site is now called the Salt River Nature Park, a name coined by the children of the neighbourhood at the start of the project in April last year.

The park is an indigenous garden with over 60 plant species.

There are flowers, medicinal herbs and benches where people can relax.

The park is also a home to insects and birds and is available, at no charge, for those wishing to hold community events.

Baz-Art held art classes for children there in October and November.

Ms Agherdine liaises with those wishing to use the park; Ms Viljoen makes sure it is well maintained and that activities run smoothly; and Mr Zenker is the garden designer and project manager.

“I love the transformation from derelict land to a beautiful garden. Gardens bring positivity, hope and healing mentally and physically,” he said.

They hope to grow a network of gardens across the neighbourhood to help to feed people, he said.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, Neighbourhood Gardens, together with residents and the Salt River Community Action Network (CAN), built the Kipling Street Food Garden, stretching across four adjoining backyards in Kipling Street.

It’s a source of beetroot, lettuce, celery, spinach, carrots, green beans, tomatoes, peppers, coriander, mint and more.

Iekeraam Salie, whose backyard is part of the food garden, started working with the non-profit on the project in July.

“All these vegetables are shared among the families, and we also share with other neighbours who need food,” he said.

Water tanks harvest rainwater for the garden.

Mr Salie said they hoped to grow potatoes and onions in the future.

Neighbourhood Gardens is now looking for other property owners who are willing to have their land turned into food gardens and mini parks.

Call Ms Agherdine at 072 676 3520 or Mr Zenker at 071 612 8119 or visit Instagram for more information.