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ADDRESS to the SOUTH AFRICAN GREEN INDUSTRIES COUNCIL by UNA VAN DER SPUY in absentia.
I very much regret that I am unable to attend the function at which I am to be honoured by being included in the HONOURS ROLL of SAGIC .
I thank you for this accolade and shall continue to do what I can in the interests of the organisation. Receiving this honour in the year in which I turn a hundred years of age makes it a very precious gift.
Strangely, a few days before I heard that I was likely to be nominated for this honour, there was a letter in the Cape Argus from someone whom I do not know, which appeared under a large bold heading on the letters page as
UNA WAS AHEAD OF HER TIME
The writer refers to a book of mine published in 1971 with the title of
SOUTH AFRICAN WILD FLOWERS FOR THE GARDEN
She writes “She wanted us to appreciate our indigenous plants, use organic methods and mulch. She could not understand why our plants were more used overseas than in our own country. She was ahead of her time and I have learned so much from her lovely book. |…… If you love gardening but don’t know much, look out for one of these wonderful books. You will be surprised by how much you did not know about S.A. wild flowers.”
It is now 42 years since my two books on indigenous plants were published, the one dealing with trees and shrubs and the other with wild flowers. I still remember clearly taking many of the photographs, sometimes lying flat on the ground in order to take a close-up of some small but stunningly beautiful flower growing in the veld somewhere north or south of van Rhynsdorp.
I also recall being tired at the end of a day because of the weight of the large camera plus 2 tripods, one for the camera and one for the flash or the reflector to be used when extra light was required. Photography then required far more energy and attention to detail than it does now..
I often wonder why it has taken so long for gardeners to become enthusiastic about our indigenous plants. There was no lack of books on the subject, as at least two other writers produced books about them in that decade.
As so many of them are prepared to grow in ill-prepared soil and with little water it is indeed disappointing that still today one comes across few of these plants in private gardens. I think that the nurseries could well do more to introduce the public to their beauty and sturdiness.
Vast areas in the South-western Cape, where once these indigenous flowers grew in profusion, are now bare and desolate, or else are covered by buildings. One cannot confine the boundaries of towns but there should be more supervision of roadside flower sellers as by picking indiscriminately, many have contributed to the denudation of the veld flowers
I think that some attempt also should be made to induce the roads authority to delay their cleaning of the verges of the roads until after the spring flowers have seeded. In my first years of expeditions to see wildflowers, the roadsides were full of flowers, whereas now one sees them only across the fence of a farm and only if the ground has not be tilled to the boundary fence.
Some years ago I did intervene with the roads authority and for the next few years, the cleaning of the verges was delayed until after the spring flowers had seeded. Now, however, the machines are at work when the plants are in full bloom.
Perhaps SAGIC could persuade those responsible for road maintenance to plant some of our wild plants along the roadsides. If they are planted at the beginning of the rainy season they will grow without additional watering. Foreign visitors would be most impressed and no doubt more and more visitors would come out just to see these veld flowers in spring.
I am sorry not to have been present also because the last time I was in the Castle which was about 60 years ago, I attended a Military Ball. Another visit would have brought back many happy memories.
In conclusion I wish SAGIC success in its endeavours and thank you all for including me in your HonoursRoll.
SAGIC Honour's Roll 2012 Recipient: Una van der Spuy
Author of 12 books on plants and gardening.
Owner of the famous Old Nectar Homestead and Garden in Stellenbosch.
Una Dorothy van der Spuy was born on 20 July 1912 at East London, South Africa.
Until the age of nine years she lived on a farm in the Stutterheim district. She then started school in King Williams Town (Bisho) and matriculated there in 1928, after which she studied at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, and later with Unisa. Her subjects were Economics and International Politics, with the objective of, at some future date, making a career in politics.
From 1938 to 1941, (during the first part of World War II) she lived in London and experienced the trauma of the bombing, both with incendiaries and high explosives.
She returned to South Africa in 1941 and she and her husband, General K.R. van der Spuy C.B.E., M.C., bought the property Old Nectar, an old Cape Dutch House with a few hectares of ground. As there was no garden she immediately set about trying to create one worthy of the house. In this, despite having no knowledge of plants when she started, she succeeded admirably, as the garden in due course was declared a National Monument, the only private garden to have been thus honoured to date. From 1950 she has opened the garden each spring to raise funds for various charities and it has become well-known and featured in magazines and books in many countries of the world.
Ten years after she arrived at Old Nectar Una started contributing gardening articles to magazines and a few years later she wrote her first book, Gardening in Southern Africa. In order to illustrate her books she learned photography and, over a period oft 12 years, she took about 10 000 pictures of flowers in order to produce pictures of good enough quality to use in the books. For many years she was active in the field of conservation and preservation, particularly with regard to old buildings which were being demolished at an alarming rate.
In 1992 the Cape Tercentenary Foundation made an Award of Merit to her for outstanding services to Conservation in the Cape. Una also received a medal from the Nurserymen's Association for Meritorious Service to Horticulture".
Her latest book, on her favourite plants, will be published soon.
In a months time Una van der Spuy, the legend and inspiration to the Green Industry and gardeners everywhere, will turn 100 years old. In 2012 SAGIC would like to recognize Una for her outstanding contribution to gardening in South Africa, by adding Una van der Spuy to the SAGIC Honour's Roll.
A Walk at Old Nectar with Una van der Spuy
On Thursday 7 June 2012, a month before her 100th birthday, Una van der Spuy became the latest addition to the SAGIC Honour's Roll at the SAGIC 2012 Banquet @ the Castle in Cape Town. Una's son David van der Spuy accepted the Award on her behalf, and read out a note from Una.
After an amazing evening at the Castle, a perfect ending to our exciting 2012 Convention, I was on a high! Of course we ended up going to bed at three in the morning, celebrating a successful Convention. On Friday I set off with my wife Gillian to visit the legend Una van der Spuy at her historic homestead in the Jonkerhoek Valley.
What flowers do you get a lady who has written 12 gardening books and whose garden is the only private garden in South Africa to have been designated a National Monument? We settled on a beautiful bunch of Iris and Casablanca lilies, and made our way to Old Nectar. Una was waiting for us when we arrived at her beautiful home."The flowers are lovely! I approve. They will last three weeks." And then she immediately set of to the kitchen in order to put the flowers in water.
Over the next 90 minutes, we were enthralled by the interesting stories Una relayed, living alone at home while her husband was away at war...no electricity or bathrooms, and young children. The "mountain" in front of her home was transformed in to a garden with spades. Not listening to our objections, Una decided we had to go for a walk in the garden, even though it was drizzling. Her only comment...."I'll just walk faster".
In the garden Una pointed out some beautiful flowers & trees, and showed us where she recently planted a new tree. Yes, she is still planting trees in her 70 odd year old garden! And when she ran out of space, she started planting trees on her neighbors garden. Una walks around sprightly in her garden, pointing out where we must be careful not to fall over a pipe. It is an experience to be shown the different aspects of the historic garden. "When selecting new plants at the nursery, you must rather like the foliage than the flowers, as that is what you will see for most of the time."
Back in the house, some of her comments included:
Why do nurseries sell such a small variety of plants?
Why are the flower exhibitions disappearing? Stellenbosch used to have a lovely Rose Show!
Her health and old age is as result of her passion for gardening.
People started gardening less with the introduction of televisions in the country!
You have to consider the four regions in the country separately when compiling the Invasive Species list.
Paging through her new book on her iPad, she asks me to read the final paragraph of her Foreword. "Read it out loud!" I won't reveal it now, but the words are inspiring.
It was a privilege to meet and visit with Una. Una van der Spuy is an inspiration. I feel even more motivated to promote gardening in South Africa after this visit.
Who would have thought that after the incredible Banquet last night, and several highlights over the past few days at the SAGIC Convention, my highlight of this Cape Town visit would be 90 minutes spent with a 99 year young lady, a true legend?
Rudi Kruger - 8 June 2012