When I first came to Grahamstown, I was told that people in Grahamstown East weren’t interested in gardening, and it was a fool’s errand to try. I struck on anyway, and found out that this was only half of the truth.

The fact is, people are mostly quite interested in growing a few veggies or flowers. What they’re not interested in is growing something that will be attacked by the number one local garden predator: goats.

Goats are the bane of any gardening in Grahamstown East. A lot of people have goats, and they mostly roam free. They’re also cunning, and determined. They’ll find a way through a wire fence if they can see something tasty on the other side. This means that, if someone leaves a gate open or they break through a fence, then your carefully tended garden can be wiped out in a matter of moments.

A case in point is Sakhuluntu, an art project in Grahamstown East. Twice, we’ve built a garden there which Vuyo and the kids have happily planted and maintained, only to have goats force their way through the fence and destroy it. This was extremely annoying, and so we decided we had to wait until we had a goat-proofing solution.

Vuyo Booi, the director and manager, suggested bamboo, an idea which I originally thought wouldn’t work. Bamboo is expensive, and the only kinds that grow around here are either extremely invasive, or grown for commercial purposes, and too difficult to easily harvest or work.

As it turned out, I was wrong about that. There’s bamboo all over the place, of just the right kind to be extremely useful. The Eastern Cape is home to South Africa’s only indigenous kind of bamboo, Berg bamboo or thamnocalamus tessellatus. You’ve almost certainly passed by some in the last day or two – It grows in watercourses all over town, and a lot of people have it in their garden. Look for tall, thin reeds, reaching a maximum of 4 metres tall and 4cm wide.

Having found some, we dove in, and cut some. If you’re going to do this, be careful – the leaves break into very small, very sharp splinters, so you’ll need to properly wash your hands afterwards. We wove it through the existing wire fence, and trimmed it at the top, leaving the off-cuts there.   There are lots of garden uses for small pieces of bamboo.

We started off with just a few members of Feeding The Self and Vuyo, but almost immediately the children joined in. Soon afterwards, various members of the community had appeared to help out, seeing a chance to do something interesting and useful.

Since then, the bamboo has shown its worth repeatedly. Something that has always been a nagging concern for me is how caged people, especially children, are. In the name of security, most schools and preschools are surrounded by nasty-looking fencing. Using the bamboo achieves the same security effects as razorwire, but without the same psychological effect. Instead of barbs and blades, people see a natural fence that blocks the view from the street. People can’t see in, and it deadens noise coming from the street.

What we’d achieved was to create a psychological safe space, rather than a defensive one. For a children’s project next to a shebeen in extension 9, that means a big impact for not much more than pulling a few volunteers together.

There’s a very good chance that you’ve got some bamboo in your garden, or very close to you. It grows very commonly around town, and propagates quickly if you can get some of the rhizome. You can build all sorts of things with it – Vuyo and the kids have been making simple instruments and strictures out of it, and it works very well for making simple garden structures like trellises.

Do you have a project you’d like to see featured in Gardening in G’Town, or a gardening question? If so, please get in touch. Feeding The Self is a cross-NGO project focused around building gardens and using them for teaching and community building. You can find out more about us from our website, and if you’d like to get involved please email me at chirag.patel@feedingtheself.org or send a message to me on 0735 578 909.