Beauty revealed


When I first arrived in my new Cape Town home, I really didn’t much like the plants in this garden – too many spikes, cacti and succulents. They seemed aggressive, harsh, not beautiful. I wanted to see more colour, more flowers, a softer beauty. I contemplated planting roses and other flowers. Until someone pointed out they are not indigenous.

That stopped me in my tracks.

I felt shamed by my unintended horticultural imperialism. De-valuing the unfamiliar and imposing my perception of beauty. Tempted to change it and dominate it, before I had really seen it and known it.

So I sat with it as it was. And watered it.

After a few weeks I now see more beauty and more flowers.

Maybe the flowers were there before and I didn’t see them, only seeing them now as my eyes are accustomed to this garden, its particular indigenous beauty, having stopped subconsciously but arrogantly expecting it to look like an English garden. I can see the beauty in the shape and structure of the African non-flowering plants too – different to the colourful, showy, soft beauty of flowers, but beautiful none the less.  

Or maybe some of the flowers have bloomed since we arrived, as we have watered the garden and loved it.

I think it’s been a bit of both.

Forgive me, my African friends for my ignorance and arrogance. I am learning.

Not wanting to stretch a point but this has made me think. Maybe the plants aren’t so dissimilar to us. Showing our beauty to those who truely see us, who care and nurture. Beauty seen in difference as the lens of expecting familiarity is removed.

3 responses

  1. This is a great post, Hils!

    It really struck a chord with me as I felt exactly the same way when I first came out here all those years ago. Aloes, succulents, cacti… I simply saw sharp spikes, harsh edges… and associated each of them with aggressive survival in dry, arid and barren lands. They grew in desert landscapes and made my mouth dry just looking at them. And yes, I confess, I thought they weren’t very beautiful looking through my ‘soft’ English lens.

    But, like you, I soon came to the realization that I was blinded by my very limited Northern Hemisphere palate. I too have come to love the beauty of these plants, their amazing strength in harsh climates, their sculptural beauty, their many healing gifts, and… yes, the occasional bright splash of colour that they produce.

    They are, as you say, a wonderful reminder from nature as to how we as humans should be on guard not to judge others, especially those from other cultures, those with whom we are unfamiliar.

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