See how his garden grows - and, with it, his community

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See how his garden grows - and, with it, his community

Meet the man who has transformed a stretch of urban wasteland into a beautiful garden

Journalist

On 3rd Avenue in Melville, Johannesburg, a suburban street has sprouted a green gem – a beautiful, lush garden running along about 150 metres of pavement. What was once a sandy, dry patch of ground with a graffiti-filled wall behind it has been completely transformed thanks to resident Andrew Mashilwane.
“This is my office, you see. I like to sit here,” said 53-year-old Mashilwane as he perched on the bench and deck in the middle of the thin stretch of greenery.
Green, yellow and white pot plants hang from the trees and odd bits of old furniture also serve as decoration.
“There was nothing here when I started,” he said.
A couple of years ago Mashilwane came up with the idea to clean up the street and approached resident Richard Smith for help.
“Initially we just cleaned the street up a bit. There was terrible graffiti on the wall and it was a big mess. It moved from there to ‘let’s put a few plants in’ and then Andrew just got this vision of what it should look like,” said Smith.“I thought ok, well, how are we gonna do it? We decided to let’s try and get all the neighbours involved, so we sent a letter around to all the neighbours to try to get everybody to contribute. Not many people could, but it was still quite nice to get everybody involved. Everybody started paying more attention to the street itself.”
Mashilwane has been renting a room at the back of one of the houses in 3rd Avenue for about 12 years.
“I'm actually a painter but because the painting jobs are not easy to get, I just keep myself busy with the flowers.”Originally from Graskop in Mpumalanga, he has been in Johannesburg for close to 30 years and said he has had a love of gardening since he was young.
He is taking a slow, but steady approach to the pavement garden.
“It’s not a rush; it happened over time. Because if you rush into a job like this you'll never win,” he said.
Known to all, he can often be found sitting in his garden, relaxing for an hour or two.
“I talk to them (the plants), you see, and one day they will talk back,” he chuckles.
A couple walking by compliments him on the garden, and he brims with pride.
“I feel so proud,” he said.
“I like my flowers to be nice and my street clean. If I see a piece of paper it bothers me.”
He said he usually wakes up at 4am and tends to his garden till 6am. So even if he has another job lined up for the day, he knows his garden has been taken care of.He never worries about his plants getting enough water because he relies on God to provide.
“If the rain doesn't come my plants don't die. I know and I pray that one day it will rain, and then it does,” he said.
Nicknamed the “peace street”, Mashilawane said: “When you walk by the flowers, you just feel something different.”
Residents have also started asking Mashilwane to help with their own gardens and to look after their houses when they go away.
Smith said the community is pleased with what the garden has done for the street.
“I think one of the things it does, is make the cars slow, which is really nice because I was really worried before. Specifically with the school kids, people were using this as a quick move from 7th Street down to Beyers Naude Drive.
“It also means there are people sitting on the deck for the neighbours to be doing something together. It’s so much better than people isolating themselves.”
Now Mashilawane is looking to expand, possibly around the corner along side the school.
He also has plans to start a vegetable garden.
“I wish all streets were like this,” he said.

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