Sandy’s Garden ... GardenAfrica

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson
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While lying in bed one Sunday morning a few weeks ago I was half-listening to the radio.

I was pondering whether to get up before or after the eight o’clock news on BBC Radio 4, when my attention was caught by the name Monty Don. To quote from Wikipedia, “Montagu Denis Wyatt … ‘Monty’ … Don is an English television presenter, writer and speaker on horticulture, best known for presenting the BBC television series Gardeners’ World.” And, given that he is a respected horticulturist, I actually listened to his contribution to the weekly Radio 4 Appeal, which was on behalf of a charity of which I confess I knew nothing, GardenAfrica … and yes, there is no space between ‘Garden’ and ‘Africa.’

And now I must make another confession; I have learned to inure myself against the seemingly-constant charitable appeals to which I am subjected on television, on radio, in the press, on the streets, in shops … wherever I turn. I have no doubt at all that the vast majority of these appeals are from deserving charities which need our support for the work they do: but I decided years ago to select a few charities whose work I would support on a long-term basis, for by far the greater number of charities need continuing support year on year. Yes, I do review my short list regularly: but no, I admit that I can turn a deaf ear to most appeals.

Still, I listened with interest to what Monty Don had to say; and I learned that GardenAfrica works with the most vulnerable people to find plant-based solutions to their everyday challenges. This struck a chord, for I have long understood that the best way to help people affected by long-term food shortages is to teach them how to help themselves; and that, while possibly very necessary in the short term, sending food to parts of the world where people lack agricultural skills which we take for granted is not a lasting solution.

I learned that GardenAfrica teaches community gardeners and family farmers to build resilience and opportunity by making the most sustainable use of their natural resources; and that Garden Africa encourages the conservation of vital horticultural knowledge about the production of food, fuel, medicine and fibre to pass on to the next generation. And I was pleased to learn these things, just as I was pleased to hear that GardenAfrica’s small team aims to equip people with the skills to train others to select and breed plants for particular traits … be they to improve nutrient content, soil fertility, drought tolerance, pest resistance, visual appeal for market, durability for transportation and shelf-life, or for their medicinal properties and their pesticidal utility in making biological sprays and powders to reduce crop and post-harvest losses.

We in the British Isles take our supplies of food, of water, of fuel, of medicines, of fertilisers and pesticides and, indeed, of all the myriad requirements for a comfortable life for granted. And, while I am pleased to report having learned what I now know about the work of GardenAfrica, I am not making an appeal for this particular charity. You, gentle reader, will decide which charities you choose to support without any exhortations from me. Yet I shall pass on one tip from GardenAfrica which may be of interest to the Scottish organic gardener; and this is it … a recipe for home-made insect repellent. This solution will provide a safe and non-toxic way to protect your plants against attack. To make a litre of solution you must take 4-5 chillies, 4-5 cloves of garlic, 5 sprigs of rosemary and a handful of pure, grated soap. Steep these ingredients in water for twenty minutes, then boil, cool and strain. When using, dilute one part insect repellent to ten parts water. Simple, cheap and eco-friendly.