In 1918, Batho was founded as one of South Africa’s first so-called “model locations”. In addition to sound town planning and layout, brick houses, and public amenities, Batho also became known for its “generous” plots or “garden areas of 50 ft. by 75 ft.” and the ornamental front gardens that were laid out on them. The Bloemfontein municipality’s decision to provide residents with “garden areas” was motivated by a number of reasons, most of which were of a political nature and embedded in the segregationist ideology of the time. This article discusses the “garden areas” and the gardens that were laid out on them by Batho’s gardeners. Furthermore, the article investigates the city council’s efforts to turn the “model location” into a “garden location” and the Batho gardeners’ own efforts to this effect during the period 1918–1939. The gardeners’ front gardens resembled the English-style gardens that were popular among Bloemfontein’s whites during the 1920s and 1930s. Information obtained through archival research, field work, and oral history interviews point to the gardeners’ preference for a simple formal axial garden layout enclosed by clipped hedges and often adorned with topiary. A fondness of topiary encouraged Batho’s gardeners to create hedges, edges, and a variety of other topiary styles which had gradually evolved into a style of topiary that may be described as “township topiary”. Over time “township topiary” became a tangible expression of a unique garden identity among Batho’s gardeners. Due to the processes of acculturation and intercultural influence, which involved the Dutch, British, and African cultures, Batho’s historical and present gardens are described as semi-vernacular or “hybrid”. Most gardens display an unmistakable English cottage-garden style but a distinctly African accent is also visible.
Keywords: Batho, ornamental gardens, “garden location”, “garden areas”, topiary
Batho,1 also known as Batho location, is Bloemfontein’s2 oldest existing historically black3 township4 or “location”.5 Established in 1918, Batho is one of South Africa’s first so-called “model locations”. Apart from boasting proper town planning and layout, brick houses, public amenities, parks and squares, Batho also became known for its “generous” plots (stands) and the gardens that were laid out on them. While black people’s garden history and gardening culture have received attention from academics in countries such as the USA,6 it is a neglected research field in South Africa, particularly in South African historiography. One is left with the impression that black people’s gardens and gardening culture are not worthy of academic study. As a result, only a few studies have been completed on the subject.7 The garden history of South African locations and townships such as Batho has been a “hidden” and “forgotten” history for the past century. This state of affairs may partially be blamed on the widespread ignorance and negative stereotypes which reinforced a historical perception, particularly among whites, that black Africans are not interested in gardening and, therefore, lack a gardening culture. The French explorer, René Caillié (1799–1838), expressed this sentiment as follows: “the natives [Africans], accustomed to live in idleness, in their hot and even scorching climate, do not trouble themselves with any thing [sic] of the kind [gardening]; the Europeans alone have gardens.”8 More recently, South African garden writer, Sima Eliovson (1919–1990), argued that “the history of the black population of South Africa does not reveal horticultural influences, except in their knowledge of the medicinal, poisonous and edible qualities of wild plants”.9 This article intends to challenge popular misconceptions and conventional understandings of black South Africans’ garden history. It is suggested that black people’s garden history and gardening culture should be considered in their own right and, therefore, should be studied on their own terms. This argument also holds for studies of black people’s garden history and gardening culture in other countries. Archival research conducted by the author on South African black people’s gardens and gardening culture revealed that, contrary to the biased views expressed in some historical sources, a gardening culture existed in Bloemfontein’s oldest locations, particularly in the old Waaihoek location,10 since the city’s pioneering years.11 Although not nearly comparable to the huge and lush ornamental gardens of Bloemfontein’s white residents, the black and coloured12 residents who lived in Waaihoek and other smaller locations13 laid out both ornamental and food gardens. Waaihoek’s gardens – described as “garden patch[es]”14 – had to be fitted onto “plots of land 50 x 50 [feet]”.15 By the time Batho was laid out as Bloemfontein’s new racially segregated location during the late 1910s, a gardening culture had already been established among its residents.16 This gardening culture was transferred from Waaihoek to Batho and found its expression not on “garden patches” but on “garden areas”.
The main focus of this article is the plots or “garden areas of 50 ft. [feet] by 75 ft.”17 that were provided for Batho’s residents as part of the Bloemfontein municipality’s efforts to establish Batho as a planned and orderly new location for the city’s black and coloured residents. Why were the “garden areas” provided and how did the gardens that were laid out on them look like? The focus will be on the first two decades of Batho’s existence (1918–1939), a period considered to be Batho’s “golden age”. Batho’s present gardens, many of which were laid out during the 1920s and 1930s, will be discussed in the last section to illustrate the historical continuity of the Batho gardeners’ preference for a specific garden style.
“A HIGHER STANDARD OF HOUSING”:18 THE “MODEL LOCATION” INHISTORICAL CONTEXT
Because South Africa’s garden history and the country’s socio-political issues are interconnected, these issues and the appearance of South African gardens are also interlinked. This argument is especially applicable to South Africa’s black inhabitants because foreign invasion, occupation, dispossession, colonialism, racism and the concomitant policies of segregation (pre-1948) and apartheid (1948–1994) severely affected their domestic environment. Therefore, Batho’s garden history should firstly be viewed in the broader context of South Africa’s colonisation by the Netherlands (1652–1795; 1803–1806) and Britain (1795–1803; 1806–1910) and, secondly, in the specific context of the 1920s and 1930s. Thus, Batho’s gardens and their history do not stand in isolation from developments, trends and changes in garden history at local (Bloemfontein), national (South Africa) and international (Africa, Britain and Europe) levels.19 During the 1920s and 1930s South Africa was still a British dominion and, as a result, British political, social and cultural practices and preferences influenced every aspect of governance, including racial policies. Although less draconic than the apartheid policies, racially based spatial segregation was rigorously enforced by the Union20 government’s municipal authorities. During the period in question the idea of “home and garden” was considered the exclusive domain of whites, while black people were subjected to a position of manual and menial labour. These types of labour were mostly performed by black domestic and garden workers who maintained white-owned homes and gardens.21 Ironically, the racial discrimination and socio-economic deprivation from which black people suffered as a result of segregationist policies, compromised but did not prevent the development of a gardening culture and garden identity among South Africa’s location residents.22
Batho location was established in 1918 after the then Bloemfontein Town Council decided to demolish the old Waaihoek location. At that time, Waaihoek was still the main location for Bloemfontein’s black and coloured residents. The decision to demolish it was triggered by a number of factors. These included: Severe overcrowding and slum conditions which had developed in Waaihoek; the substantial growth of Bloemfontein’s black and coloured population primarily due to urbanisation; and Waaihoek’s close proximity to Bloemfontein’s white “Town”.23 Another reason is the so-called “sanitation syndrome”,24 namely the perceived threat black people and their “unhygienic” living quarters posed to white people’s health. The “sanitation syndrome” became an urgent issue after the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918 that hit Waaihoek’s residents particularly hard.25 A year before Batho was established the council decided that a new location had to be developed east of the Johannesburg-Cape Town railroad (Fig. 1). The railroad served as a physical barrier which separated black Bloemfontein from its white counterpart on the basis of the government’s policy of racially based territorial segregation.26 On the one hand, the council saw Batho’s establishment as an opportunity to resettle black and coloured people farther away from “Town” to give effect to the segregationist ideology but, on the other hand, it also wanted to establish Batho as a so-called “model location”. It was no secret that Bloemfontein’s council harboured ambitions for the city to become the Union’s “model city”. It was reasoned that, as a model location, Batho would be the model city’s black equivalent and, as a result, raise the city’s national profile.27
While the council’s model location philosophy had its political undertones and ulterior motives, if only to cast the new location in a positive light, it had tangible “benefits” for Batho’s residents. In practical terms, being a model location meant that Batho’s general layout, the quality of the houses, the public amenities provided, the general administration of the location and, importantly, the size of individual plots allocated, adhered to what was then considered to be the “best town-planning lines”.28 It meant, in the segregationist language of Mayor D.A. Thomson,29 that “a hygienic Native township” with “a higher standard of housing than that usually associated with locations”30 was to be developed. Thomson’s mention of “a higher standard of housing” is significant. In practice, it led to the council’s implementation of the “Bloemfontein System”,31 which meant that residents were allowed to build their own houses with the financial assistance of the municipality.32 Although black people were not allowed to own the plots on which their houses had been built, they were allowed to own the houses.33 Ironically, the prospect of home ownership encouraged them to also take “ownership” of their plots, so to speak, by laying out gardens. This emphasis on beautification by laying out gardens contributed significantly to Batho’s development as a model location and, in due course, as a garden location. During the 1920s and 1930s, Bloemfontein became nationally known for its “exemplary” location and it became, to a certain extent, a “blueprint” for an idealised South African model location. Although admired for several reasons, it was indeed Batho’s layout that attracted the most attention. As will be discussed in the next section, Batho’s grid-type layout allowed for the provisioning of broad streets, generous sidewalks and, most importantly, sizeable plots big enough for two-, three-, four- and five-room houses, backyards and, of course, front gardens.34
“GARDEN AREAS”35 AND “GARDENING FACILITIES”:36 THE MAKING OF A GARDEN LOCATION
According to Mayor Thomson the council’s main objective with the new Batho location was, among others, to improve black people’s “everyday conditions of living, housing and cleanliness”.37 There happened to be a direct link between “everyday conditions of living, housing and cleanliness” and the council’s intention to develop “a hygienic Native township”, to quote the segregationist language of that time. In addition to providing a clean living environment, the council also intended to offer tangible benefits in the form of “sanitary healthy houses”.38 The terms “sanitary” and “healthy” not only referred to the quality of the houses but they also implied the beautification of Batho by considering aesthetics and “aesthetic values”.39 Although seemingly well-intentioned, these patronising terms stipulating hygiene and cleanliness were, in fact, directly related to the “sanitation syndrome”. In order to practically implement the above- mentioned ideals, Thomson explained that Batho’s “sanitary healthy houses” were to be “set in their own plot of ground 50 ft. by 75.”40
The council’s blueprint for Batho – the Location Plan41 – stipulated minimum requirements of which the most important was the prescribed size of individual plots. Batho’s plots were indeed larger than the minimum size of 50 by 50 feet prescribed by the national Model Location Regulations42 but they were still substantially smaller than the stands in Bloemfontein’s whites-only suburbs, which averaged 50 by 100 feet.43 Although the increased size of Batho’s plots allowed for the building of bigger houses, the primary reason for expanding the size was to allow residents enough space for laying out proper gardens. For this reason, Thomson keenly reported that “garden areas of 50 ft. by 75 ft.”44 had been provided for Batho’s residents.45 The use of the term “garden areas” instead of the customary “plots” or “stands” indicates the premium that was placed on gardens and gardening. Bloemfontein’s dynamic superintendent of native locations, Mr J.R. Cooper46 (1881–1946), a born and bred Englishman, explained that the “larger frontage to the stands” afforded the residents “extended gardening facilities”.47
In fact, Cooper – a keen gardener himself – argued that the “frontage” (space for front gardens) afforded to the plots should have been even larger and Batho’s streets narrower. He was also concerned that, in some cases, the position of the houses on the plots compromised the space available for front gardens: “the houses might have been erected deeper in the stands, which would have allowed space for [bigger] front gardens and limited the space for Panthokies [shacks] and the erection of outside rooms.”48 Cooper’s concern regarding the space available for gardens related to both practical and aesthetic considerations. Both were equally important, especially if the dynamic relationship that normally exists between a house and the street it faces, and how and where the garden fits into this relationship, is applied to Batho. Since Bloemfontein’s founding, garden design trends among the city’s white residents49 had had a major influence on the style and layout of the gardens of Bloemfontein’s black residents. This was even more so in the case of Batho’s gardens, not only because of the processes of acculturation and intercultural influence between the white and black cultures,50 but also because most of the garden labourers who maintained the white people’s gardens were black and lived in Batho.51
The influence of Bloemfontein’s white residents’ garden taste on black people’s gardens was particularly evident in the changing relationship between the house and the street during the years between the two World Wars (1918–1939) and the space(s) allowed for the laying out of gardens. Since Bloemfontein’s founding until the end of the 19th century, most white residents’ houses were built right on the street or sidewalk with only a narrow strip left open for a row of trees or rectangular flowerbeds. Most ornamental gardens were laid out behind houses, along with orchards and small vineyards. By the time Batho was established, the relationship between house and street in Bloemfontein had already changed to the point where the ornamental flower garden had moved from the backyard to the front of the house and, in some cases, also the sides of the house.52
Following the trend in Bloemfontein’s white suburbs, the overwhelming majority of Batho’s newly built houses were not positioned right on the street as had been the case historically with the city’s early Dutch- speaking residents.53 Instead, they were placed in a more or less central position on the plot. Consequently, enough space was made available between the house (and its stoep54) and the street for laying out ornamental front gardens. A small minority of Batho’s residents preferred to have no front flower gardens in order to allow space for bigger backyards and the laying out of vegetable gardens, small orchards and maize (Zea mays) patches behind and, in some cases, beside the houses. Following the authentic Dutch custom, some of Batho’s houses were built right on the street. This arrangement allowed just enough space for narrow flowerbeds and often only a clipped hedge or fence- hedge (Fig. 2).55
It was, however, not Dutch but English (British) cultural influence which had exerted itself in Bloemfontein and Batho during the inter-War period. This growing English influence, which may be ascribed to the dominant position occupied by the English-speaking component of Bloemfontein’s population in local decision-making bodies, social structures and in society at large, reinforced the trend towards bigger front gardens. Concerning garden design and layout, the English-speaking residents, who had been strongly influenced by garden design trends in Britain, set the tone. By the time Batho was being established and its gardeners started to make their gardens, Victorian-style cottage gardens had, to a large extent, made way for the structured gardens of the Edwardian period (approximately 1900–1910).56 As will be discussed in more detail later, it did not mean that the Victorian style had gone out of fashion completely, at least not in Batho’s gardens. Cottage- style informality was often combined with Edwardian formality to create a unique “hybrid” location garden style characterised by informal planting in formal flowerbeds, clipped hedges, edges and topiary.
The prevalence of historical terms such as “garden area” and “gardening facility” in archival sources often used in conjunction with the terms “plot”, “stand” or “erf” but also as substitutes for these terms, is significant because it underpins the changing relationship between a house and the street it faced. This formal language – popular among municipal officials – indicates, among others, the importance attached to substantial ornamental front gardens as a means of beautification. For example, Cooper stated that through the provisioning of “garden areas” and “gardening facilities”, “every encouragement is given”57 by the municipality to convince Batho’s residents of the importance of laying out gardens. In addition to ornamental front gardens, residents were encouraged to lay out vegetable gardens in their backyards. The recommended standard plot size, which extended Batho’s plots lengthwise so that the width of the plots were 50 feet and the length 75 feet, indeed allowed backyard space for the laying out of vegetable gardens, orchards, maize patches and even small vineyards.58
While the provisioning of “garden areas of 50 ft. by 75 ft.” might have been considered a significant act of “generosity” by the municipality, it was characterised by a stark anomaly. On the one hand, Batho was envisaged as a model location but, on the other hand, its residents were still subjected to the same racist policies that applied to other black location residents. As members of a dominated and oppressed race group, Batho’s residents had little control over their own lives outside the new location. In fact, they were subjected to stringent social control mechanisms, including a range of permits meant to control the movement of black people to and from the locations. As a result, the “garden areas” were the only spaces over which Batho’s residents had personal control. These “garden areas”, which could never be privately owned, practically established the parameters of control within the confines of the location.59
The council’s idea of “garden areas” and “gardening facilities” extended to spaces other than Batho’s domestic plots since the Location Plan also allowed for open spaces among the plots. These open spaces were developed into public parks and squares, including Mapikela Square and Mogaecho Square – both named after prominent Batho “blockmen” (ward councilors) and community leaders of the inter-War years, namely Thomas Mtobi Mapikela (1869–1945) and John Dixon Mogaecho (?–1937). Another provision made in terms of “garden areas” and “gardening facilities” was the “granting of allotments”60 on the outskirts of Batho in order to encourage market-gardening. This development strengthens the argument that gardens and gardening received special consideration in the planning and laying out of Batho as a model location. Importantly, the novel idea of Batho as a future garden suburb – or, more precisely, a garden location – added a significant new dimension to the model location philosophy, namely, the “model-location-as-garden- location”.61
The concept of “model-location-as-garden-location” raised the bar for model locations elsewhere in the Union and it elevated Batho to becoming a “model” for other similar locations, including Langa (Cape Town),62 McNamee Village (Port Elizabeth)63 and Lamontville (Durban).64 The same arguments that applied to Batho’s gardens also applied to the gardens of many older South African townships, particularly to those laid out next to towns and cities which boasted substantial English-speaking populations such as the ones mentioned above.65 However, the garden location idea should be viewed both in its South African context and in its broader international context. The garden location concept was, to a great extent, inspired by the dominant town planning trend of the Edwardian period, namely the “garden city”66 and “garden suburb”67 philosophies of the influential British town planning visionary, Ebenezer Howard (1850–1928). The influence of Howard’s philosophies on the garden location idea will subsequently be discussed.
“HAVING FRESH AIR AND A WIDER OUTLOOK UPON LIFE”:68 THE GARDEN CITY MOVEMENT’S INFLUENCE ON THE GARDEN LOCATION IDEA
Ebenezer Howard’s thoughts and principles influenced town and city planners not only in Britain but also in the British colonies and dominions, including South Africa. Bloemfontein, with its predominantly English-speaking city council, was no exception.69 The important point is whether and, if so, to what extent, Howard’s philosophies and, specifically, his idea of the “garden suburb”, also influenced the layout of South African locations such as Batho. The novelty of Howard’s ideas resonated with South African town and city planners, who happened to be mostly Englishmen, many of whom were born and educated in Britain. Consequently, the Garden City Movement, of which Howard was the chief proponent, was particularly influential in South Africa during Batho’s early years, namely the late 1910s and early 1920s.70
As a matter of fact, the Movement was so influential in South Africa that many of the Union’s location residents, including readers of the popular Umteteli wa Bantu,71 were familiar with it. In a leading article published in the paper in 1921, the question was raised as to whether the principles of the Movement would also be applied in the Union’s locations as had been the case in some whites-only suburbs of Cape Town (Pinelands) and Johannesburg (Parktown).72 Consideringthe fact thatmunicipalhousing for location dwellers was widely debated among the Union’s black urban residents, including in Bloemfontein, the paper stated that “we [black people] are assuming – and we take it that our assumption is justified – that they [municipal authorities] do not contemplate placing seats in these gardens [public gardens laid out in white garden suburbs] for the Natives upon whose services they are entirely dependent”.73 The paper not only commented on the practice of providing racially segregated public parks for blacks and whites but also wryly suggested to the Union’s “city fathers” that “instead of speaking glowingly of the Movement, whereby the people would grow up in liberty, having fresh air and a wider outlook upon life, would it not be better if they gave their attention to the housing of Natives in municipal areas?”.74
As far as Batho’s layout is concerned, the influence of the Garden City Movement and Howard’s philosophies is obvious, whether in the sense of a “garden location” based on the “garden suburb” idea or, at least, a “location with gardens”. The municipality’s insistence on increased plot sizes to accommodate domestic gardens, the provisioning of English-style allotments for market gardens and, importantly, the allocation of open spaces for the laying out of public parks, gardens and squares, reveal the Movement’s influence. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the idea of a garden location and the value presumably added to a location by the laying out of domestic and public gardens, remained a guiding principle for Bloemfontein’s municipality.75
Towards 1939, when Batho approached the end of its “golden age”, the council’s vision for this location as a garden location had not faded yet. It also seems as though the majority of Bloemfontein’s white residents supported such a vision for Batho since the idea of Bloemfontein as the “Union’s Garden City”76 did much to improve the city’s image and status in the eyes of the Union’s larger cities such as Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. Those among Bloemfontein’s white residents who concerned themselves with location matters were generally in favour of the concept of the “great native location” as an idealised future black location characterised by “ample open spaces” and “large, gardened areas”.77 It was argued that the creation of such a location, that is, a garden location, would ultimately have been to the advantage of not only Bloemfontein’s black residents but, seen from a health perspective, also its white residents. In terms of “sanitation syndrome” thinking, a garden location was also considered a “sanitary” location that posed a reduced threat to white people’s health. From the council’s point of view, Batho exemplified the “great native location” because it was “sanitary” but, above all, because of its gardens.78
“LITTLE ORCHARDS AND GARDENS SURROUND THE HOUSES”:79 IMPRESSIONS, DESCRIPTIONS AND RECOLLECTIONS OF BATHO’S ORNAMENTAL GARDENS
One of the earliest descriptions of the gardens that were laid out on Batho’s “garden areas of 50 ft. by 75 ft.” dates back to 1922, when Emilie J. Solomon, a Capetonian who attended a labour union convention in Bloemfontein, visited Batho at the invitation of the mayor, Mr W.M. Barnes.80 In an article, which she had written originally for The Cape Times and which had been published in Umteteli wa Bantu, she gave detailed descriptions of Batho’s gardens. Solomon wrote that she and other delegates saw “little orchards and gardens surround the houses” in a location “well laid out with broad streets”.81 She also noticed “much healthy competition in building and gardening”,82 a significant observation that must be viewed against the backdrop of the relative economic progress made by Bloemfontein’s black residents during the 1920s. As a result, a sizeable class of “educated and advanced natives”83 such as Mapikela and Mogaecho emerged and became emblematic of Batho’s “golden age”.
Bloemfontein’s class of literate and semi-literate black people made up the bulk of Batho’s residents. They included tradespeople (tailors, dressmakers, shoemakers, masons, blacksmiths and carpenters), semi-professionals (shop assistants, chefs, waiters, clerks, messengers, interpreters and other low- ranking civil servants) and professionals (nurses and teachers), and because of their improved economic position, they were able to spend more on their houses and yards. Consequently, an increasingly visible class distinction began to develop between this group and the so-called “unsophisticated types”,84 namely those who were either unemployed or who had to make a living as low-paid domestic servants, manual labourers and garden labourers working for Bloemfontein’s whites. Cooper considered this socio-economic trend as significant, especially the financially able group’s ability to contribute to Batho’s beautification, ultimately turning it into a class-differentiated garden location. He argued that this group’s “laying out of flower and vegetable gardens is an indication of a class distinction as pronounced among the natives as among the Europeans.”85
In 1934, a local black court interpreter, John Mancoe, published a comprehensive guide on Bloemfontein’s black and coloured residents. The First Edition of the Bloemfontein Bantu and Coloured People’s Directory contained information on the social lives of the location residents and was written by a black person from the perspective of the location residents, specifically those who lived in Batho. Based on Mancoe’s descriptions of Batho’s man-made landscape, it is argued that despite the economic depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s, an influential black middle-class had established itself there. The preferred status symbols of this economic class included a house with a stoep and, importantly, a well laid-out garden.86 Some noteworthy private houses and gardens listed in Mancoe’s directory deserve mentioning, including the house and garden that belonged to the blockman, John Dixon Mogaecho and his wife, Emily. The Mogaechos’ residence was singled out for its impressive “front verandah and cemented stoep”87 (Fig. 3). As had been the case with the Mogaechos’ house, stoeps served an important practical purpose in Batho and should be considered in direct relation to ornamental front gardens.
Due to the modest size of their houses, most of Batho’s house owners had to integrate their front gardens and outdoor spaces around their houses into their indoor living spaces. This practice was, of course, not unique to Batho. The same phenomenon was also noticeable in the domestic environments of black people elsewhere, for example, in the 18th and 19th century slave yards in the American South where yards functioned as “extensions of the house”.88 Batho residents, including the Mogaechos, socialised in the open air, most often on the sidewalks, and preferred to live around their houses, especially during the hot summer months. Furthermore, extended families were big; therefore, they had to create additional outdoor living areas in order to maximise the available indoor space. No matter how small, stoeps provided this much-needed living space. For Batho residents stoeps also functioned as both transitional and living spaces: On the one hand, the stoep served as a transitional space between the house and front garden, while on the other, it became an extension of the house and functioned as an additional room. The addition of tall-clipped hedges and green “walls” further extended the outside living spaces by creating outdoor “rooms” (Fig. 4).89
Apart from its veranda, the Mogaechos’ house was also known for its attractive ornamental front garden that was laid out during the late 1920s. Emily Mogaecho hailed from a family to whom gardening was “an in-bred thing”,90 to quote her sister, Pinky Mokgele (born 1928). According to the Mogaechos’ grandson, Mogrey Mogaecho (born 1969), his grandparents’ garden was a typical English-style garden known for its flower varieties, including oleanders (Nerium oleander) and roses (Rosa spp.). Mogrey, who cherished fond memories of the garden and maintained it the way his grandmother did, remembered that the single outstanding element was the impeccably clipped privet (Ligustrum spp.) hedge or fence-hedge, which spanned the entire length of the property facing the street. Planted on the inside of a wire netting fence, the hedge screened the veranda from the street in order to secure privacy for the family.91
“Our hedges was [sic] famous”92 Mogrey remembered, referring not only to the clipped hedges in his grandparents’ garden but also to clipped hedges in other Batho gardens, thereby confirming the strong influence that these formal front hedges had exerted on Batho’s garden landscape. It appears as though gardening had been “an in-bred thing” not only for Emily but for many other Batho home owners as well, since attractive gardens were in no short supply during the 1920s and 1930s. One of the best-known gardens belonged to the health inspector for the locations, Temba Msikinya. According to Mancoe, Msikinya’s house was complemented by a “nicely- planned garden”.93 Not far from Msikinya’s garden stood one of the location’s landmarks, namely the double-story house of Thomas Mapikela. This house, with its two verandas, was built “according to modern tastes”94 and complemented by a handsome garden that, according to the popular taste, was enclosed by a clipped hedge. When the Mapikela garden was laid out in the 1920s, the most popular hedging plants were privet, specifically Ligustrum vulgare and Ligustrum lucidum, as well as cypress (Cupressus spp.).95
The gardens mentioned in Mancoe’s directory were, of course, not the only attractive gardens in Batho during its early years. According to information obtained through oral history interviews conducted by the author with 57 Batho residents during the period 2008–2016,96 ornamental gardens abounded in the garden location in the 1920s and 1930s. “Batho was a beautiful location in those days – it was green and there were many beautiful gardens everywhere”97 remembered Sarah M. Mahabane (born 1927). Of all Batho’s gardens, she had the clearest memories of the ornamental flower garden made by her late father, Malachi Seleka, at the family’s home in Lovedale Road. Seleka, who worked as a gardener and groundskeeper at Grey College in town, “did not mind to come home and also be a gardener there.”98 Seleka was very fond of hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) and dahlias (Dahlia pinnata) – two types of flowers that were popular among Batho’s gardeners during the 1920s and 1930s. According to Mahabane, the Selekas’ vegetable garden was situated behind the house as was the case with most vegetable gardens in Batho. Most of all, Mahabane remembered the clipped hedge in front of her parents’ garden. Maintained by her father, the razor-sharp privet hedge was not very high: “you could see over it”,99 Mahabane recalled.
Another long-time Batho resident, Joy M. Direko (born 1944), vividly recalled the stories her parents, Michael and Nancy Mochochoko, told her about Batho’s gardens. Both her parents were teachers, and her father was the principal of Mangaung Primary School in Batho’s Fort Hare Road. During the 1920s and 1930s, black learners in the lower grades of primary school had to take vocational subjects, including Gardening and Nature Study. Extensive flower and vegetable gardens were laid out on the school premises, and the Mochochokos’ garden, which had been laid out in 1935, benefited from the school gardens. Direko explained: “My mother’s garden was an ‘extension’ of the school gardens because the plants in her garden were leftovers from the school gardens.”100 The Mochochokos’ garden included a formal, ornamental front garden with rectangular flowerbeds containing, among others, hollyhocks, dahlias and roses.101
While attractive front flower gardens had certainly been the norm in Batho during the 1920s and 1930s, not all of Batho’s gardens were memorable as a result of their flowers. Some gardens were remembered for their topiary and the way in which it defined those gardens. Most interviewees closely linked topiary and formality. Moreover, they associated the concept of formality automatically with the clipping and pruning of plants. Herbert Rampana (born 1957) was candid about the fact that he had found inspiration for his own garden from a portrait of a formal European garden that he displayed in his Batho home. Like many other Batho gardeners, Rampana expressed a personal fondness for the straight lines and round shapes according to which the plants in the picture were clipped. He explained how he aimed to replicate the crisp and dense look of the topiary depicted in the portrait in his own garden: “I cut them [shrubs] so that they must come together”.102 Another Batho gardener, Eugenia Ngatane (born 1969), explained that to Batho’s gardeners the clipping of plants into topiary is “a way of pruning so that they [plants] can’t grow bigger than they were supposed to”.103 Ngatane argued that certain plants were not meant to grow big and by clipping them she gave them “a better shape”.104 Simon Ditema (born 1960), an entrepreneur who sold plants from home, reasoned that a gardener should not only focus on individual plants but should also consider the big picture. He viewed the clipping of plants into topiary ultimately as a “way of shaping your garden”.105
Other Batho gardens were remembered specifically for their clipped hedges, and often for their hedges only. One such garden belonged to the Sebegoe family (Fig. 2), who lived next door to the Mochochokos. The Sebegoes’ granddaughter, Florence K. Segoe (born 1940), explained that the house had been built by her husband, Jacob Segoe’s grandfather, during the late 1930s. The house was situated on the street with only a small space between the sidewalk and the house’s veranda. Behind the Sebegoes’ house was a big backyard with a huge vine arbour. This typical Dutch-style layout allowed room for only a clipped hedge and, in some cases, narrow flowerbeds. In the Sebegoes’ case, there were both but it was the beautiful clipped privet hedge that happened to be the main feature.106 According to Florence, the hedge in question was planted by the Sebegoes’ son-in- law, Peter Segoe (Jacob’s father), who lived with his wife, Nellie (née Sebegoe), and her parents. Florence recalled that the hedge had always been clipped “the same way my father-in-law clipped it”,107 namely a rectangular shape with a flat surface. In fact, the hedge’s shape had become a family tradition.108 It seems as if this shape had become traditional for many Batho gardeners because of their shared preference for straight lines and sharp corners. Concerning the hedge in her front garden, Keabecoe Zim (born 1962) was adamant about its preferred shape: “I like the square shape very much”.109 In a similar vein, R.P. Moiloa (born 1947) insisted that his hedge “must be square”,110 while Abednego Loape, a fourth generation Batho gardener born in 1983, expressed his preference as follows: “the lines must be straight – I like it that way”.111 These Batho gardeners’ stylistic preferences point to a taste for a specific garden style that will be the subject of discussion in the next section.
“A FORMAL LAYOUT WITH STONE EDGES”:112 SEMI-VERNACULAR ENGLISH-STYLE, FORMALITY, AND TOPIARY IN BATHO’S ORNAMENTAL GARDENS
Apart from the fact that all the previously mentioned ornamental gardens were originally laid out on Batho’s “garden areas of 50 ft. by 75 ft.”, they had something else in common: They may be described as semi-vernacular or “hybrid” and, as such, most of them shared three key characteristics. Firstly, because Batho’s gardens were the products of acculturation and intercultural influence, they displayed a blend of patrician (European/British) and vernacular (African) influences. For the purpose of this article, the terms “semi-vernacular” and “hybrid” essentially refer to a garden that appeared to be English because it contained typical English elements. At the same time, however, it was adapted to local conditions and displayed African influences. Secondly, Batho’s gardens displayed a predominantly formal and regimented layout and thirdly, they contained topiary in the form of clipped hedges, edges and other shapes, which served either a functional or an aesthetic purpose, or both.
Concerning the first characteristic, it must be emphasised that the English gardening trends and styles that had been influencing Bloemfontein’s gardens since 1846 still predominated when Batho was founded. As a result, English influence became increasingly visible in the style and layout of Batho’s gardens. While the influence of the English cottage- garden style113 was still popular in white-owned
gardens, Batho’s gardens had become more structured and formal. As it had been the case with Batho’s houses, the Edwardian style,114 with its preference for simplified formality and sound proportions, also seems to have influenced Batho’s ornamental gardens.115 The basic design of the houses built in Batho during the 1920s and 1930s was often based on the classic axial principle, which meant that the front door and passage were aligned with the back door. Typically, this arrangement reinforced the occurrence of what may be described as a simple formal axial garden. This garden style, which has its roots in the late Medieval Ages and early Renaissance,116 refers to a formal framework in which an equal number of square or rectangular flowerbeds with narrow paths in-between were aligned to either the north-south axis or the east-west axis, or both. Batho’s version of an Edwardian garden and a classic simple formal axial garden are strikingly similar.117
In Batho’s ornamental gardens, the customary garden path was usually aligned with the centrally positioned front door. This layout automatically created a formal front garden consisting of two symmetrical sections separated by a straight garden path. Inside the two sections, the flowerbeds were usually rectangular, square or circular. Inside the flowerbeds, the planting was either formal, that is, in rows, or informal, that is to say in the random fashion of English cottage- style planting. While the basic design of Batho’s gardens was simplified Edwardian, the planting was often of a cottage-style nature, as still happens to be the case in many gardens today (Fig. 5). Importantly, though, these English styles found expression within an African context. This trend is comparable to the way in which British colonists have influenced the appearance of traditional African vernacular gardens in former British colonies such as the Gold Coast (Ghana), British East Africa (Kenya), Tanganyika (Tanzania), Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) during the 19th and 20th centuries. Due to these foreign influences, a semi-vernacular or “hybrid” garden, which featured a predominantly formal layout with flowers, clipped hedges and topiary, had evolved in colonial Africa.118 Batho’s gardens display characteristics that are comparable to black gardens in the afore-mentioned former British colonies. At the same time, however, Batho’s gardens differ from black people’s gardens in other parts of the world, notably in the USA. For example, research conducted during the 1970s by Gene Wilhelm among African-American gardeners in Brushy, Texas, revealed mostly informal garden layouts with no or very few examples of clipped hedges and topiary.119
The “hybrid” English garden which had evolved in Bloemfontein’s white suburbs since 1846120 is also applicable to Batho in the sense that Batho’s English- style gardens also appeared to be “English”. Owing to the influence of acculturation and intercultural influence, typical English garden elements had found their way into Batho’s gardens, including flowerbeds edged with overlapping bricks (Fig. 6) and fashionable decorative elements such as metal garden arches and garden gates. At the same time, however, Batho’s gardens contained elements that rooted them in the local context, that is, the local natural and man-made environment as well as the climate. These elements included, among others, a variety of indigenous shrubs and trees, as well as flowerbeds edged with local blue stones and/or iron stones121 (Fig. 6).
While Waaihoek’s gardens came about in a rather haphazard and unplanned fashion, Batho’s gardens were generally better conceived, better planned and better laid out. In many cases, the same care that went into planning the houses also went into the gardens – a trend that may be ascribed to English cultural influence. The one important English element that defined Batho’s gardens was the prevalence of topiary, specifically clipped hedges of various heights, which enclosed gardens and yards. This quintessential feature of the traditional English (and Dutch) garden was transferred from the gardens of Bloemfontein’s white residents to Batho’s gardens by the black and coloured garden labourers who were responsible for maintaining the white people’s topiary. The age- old concept of a garden as a hedged-in or fenced-in entity122 appeared to have become characteristic of the semi-vernacular or “hybrid” location garden in general and Batho’s topiary gardens in particular. During the 1920s and 1930s, a garden and yard without a hedge or, at least, a fence around it was considered undesirable. Importantly, topiary – whether in the form of a clipped edge, hedge or standard (“lollipop”- shaped) tree or shrub – was the patrician element that influenced the style of Batho’s gardens and essentially defined their semi-vernacular or “hybrid” character123 (Fig. 7).
Another characteristic English element which featured prominently in Batho’s gardens was the choice of plants and flowers. Typical “English” flowering plants such as hollyhocks, foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea), dahlias, lavender (Lavandula spp.) and roses proliferated in gardens. The preference for “English” plants and flowers was particularly evident in the garden laid out by the Mogaechos. According to Mogrey the story of his grandparents’ ornamental garden began in the late 1920s when the couple laid out a rather small front garden to complement their veranda house. The Mogaechos’ garden displayed the mentioned characteristics of a typical English- style garden, complete with clipped hedges and a garden arch over the garden gate (Fig. 3). According to Mogrey, English influence on his grandmother (Emily) became notably strong after she befriended white English-speaking women in Bloemfontein. Through them Emily developed a fondness not only for English gardens in general but also for old- fashioned “English” roses.124
Concerning the second key characteristic that Batho’s gardens had in common, namely a predominantly formal layout, research findings are based on oral testimonies and tangible evidence provided by remnants of original garden layouts found on a number of Batho plots. One of the interviewees, Sarah Mahabane, reported that in the case of her parents’ garden, both the flower and vegetable beds were rectangular in shape. “My mother liked straight lines”125 Mahabane remembered and, according to her, this preference resulted in a regimented and formal garden layout. The same trend was visible in the gardens of Batho’s public buildings such as schools and churches. Although these gardens are beyond the scope of this article, an example worth mentioning is the garden that was made in front of the Mangaung Primary School in Batho, where Joy Direko’s parents were teachers. According to Joy, the garden “had a formal layout with stone edges around the flowerbeds”126 (Fig. 6). This garden provided the plants for Joy’s parents’ garden and also inspired its formal layout.
Tangible evidence also provided design clues and, in some cases, a number of Batho’s existing historical gardens still reflect the original layout or design blueprint such as the afore-mentioned school’s front garden (Fig. 6). In other cases, the original garden had vanished completely, but remnants of former brick-edged flowerbeds and the original boundaries of the garden reveal the basic outline of the authentic design, which is usually a simple formal axial layout. In this study, the focus was not on tangible remnants of below-ground features, which falls within the sub- discipline of garden archaeology127 but on the above- ground features. Brick and stone edges, garden paths, terrace retaining walls, steps, irrigation channels, drains, wells, metal water tubs, old standpipes with taps and decorative masonry were found useful as pieces of physical evidence to visually reconstruct the original layout of some of Batho’s gardens.
Finally, regarding the third characteristic, namely topiary, sources such as historical photographs (Figs 2 & 3), living remnants of privet hedges planted during the 1920s and 1930s128 and oral testimonies indicate the presence of topiary, particularly clipped hedges and edges, in Batho’s early ornamental gardens. Since the laying out of gardens in Batho commenced in all earnest, the municipality encouraged gardeners to enclose or fence-in their gardens by means of wire netting or alternative fences of an approved type, which included living hedges. In 1920, the city council approved an amount of £120 for “the purpose of fencing the gardens and grounds of the Locations”129 in order to prevent gardens, including allotment gardens, from being damaged by stray animals. Initially, many gardeners opted for wire fences because fencing material was still affordable. During the 1930s, especially after the economic depression of 1929–1933, wire became costly and, as a result, many Batho gardeners opted for a more affordable alternative, namely clipped hedges. On its part, the council argued that the absence of “fencing of a durable and attractive type, has a depressing effect both materially and aesthetically”130 on its efforts to beautify Batho and turn it into a garden location. To the council’s delight, the planting of hedges as a more attractive means of enclosing Batho’s plots than wire netting had increased manifold, primarily for economic reasons. Consequently, many of Batho’s “garden areas” became enclosed with neat clipped hedges.131
As is still the case in Batho today, clipped hedges not only served as a boundary between adjacent plots but also between the sidewalk and the street (public space) and the front garden and stoep (semi-private space; Fig. 8) during the 1920s and 1930s. Since the hedge was often perforated by either a centrally located garden gate (Fig. 8) or a side gate, or both, the hedge functioned as a threshold between the public space on the one hand and the semi-private spaces (garden, stoep and backyard) and private space (house) on the other.132 The practical function of Batho’s hedges should also be considered in relation to the fact that during Batho’s early years, the residents’ houses and gardens were surrounded by mostly bare veld.133 By laying out gardens and, most importantly, by planting hedges to enclose their gardens, Batho’s residents strove towards creating intimacy and a sense of security amid the vast expanse of the adjacent open veld. Once again, the ancient concept of the garden as an enclosed entity is applicable. However, despite the importance of the clipped hedge as both a threshold and an element which created intimacy, the fact that Batho’s residents spent most of their social lives outside their houses and street life was part of daily social interaction, must also be taken into account. Thus, the need for security and intimacy was balanced with the need for social interaction and interface with street life, as is still the case today.134
“TOWNSHIP TOPIARY”: AN EXPRESSION OF A UNIQUE GARDEN IDENTITY
While clipped hedges and edges of various heights and widths comprised a substantial percentage of Batho’s topiary, they were by no means the only types of clipped garden art that featured in Batho’s ornamental gardens. In fact, most of the styles and types of classic English-style topiary were seen in Batho’s gardens. Over time, as Batho’s topiarists became more skilled in the art of clipping, cutting and pruning, and developed more self-confidence as a result, their topiary creations became inventive and adapted to local conditions. Essentially, Batho’s gardeners took a classic European garden art and indigenised it or, to be more specific, Africanised it. After more than a century of gardening and topiary- making, generations of Batho gardeners have developed their own topiary style which may be described as “township topiary”. “Township topiary” is either characterised by simplicity, that is, simplified and scaled-down renditions of English-style topiary, or originality, that is, inventive and creative versions of classic topiary styles.135
Stylistically, “township topiary” results from a combination of the Batho topiarists’ personal preference, creativity, clipping skills and the domestic environment. The types of “township topiary” range from edges or dwarf hedges (Fig. 9), hedges (Fig. 8), fence-hedges (Fig. 2) and green “walls” (Fig. 4) to an extensive variety of shapes, including bonsai- like standards, spheres and domes, “cake stands” and other tiered shapes, block-and-planes (Fig. 10), arches and free-form creations such as figures, animals and other depictions, for instance, cloud formations (Fig. 11). A noteworthy type of “township topiary”
that had evolved in Batho’s gardens over time is the combination of hedges and shapes, for example, “lollipops” placed on top of a hedge in order to make it both functional and decorative (Fig. 12).
One of the important side effects of the Bloemfontein city council’s efforts to turn Batho into a garden location and to develop a gardening culture among the residents, was the evolution of “township topiary” as a tangible expression of a unique garden identity. The “garden areas of 50 ft. by 75 ft.” did not only provide Batho’s gardeners with spaces for laying out gardens but also with opportunities for creative expression. It is argued that they derived a sense of identity from expressing themselves through their clipped art. As topiary became more established, this practice became entrenched in the Batho gardeners’ cultural identity. The hypothesis of French sociologist, Michel Conan, that dominated and oppressed groups “tend to stick to traditional gardens”,136 is applicable to Batho’s gardeners. However, not only did they adhere to the traditional; they also made it their own. Finally, it is argued that the Batho gardeners’ topiary creations, of which only a selection was discussed above, brought a unique character to Batho’s ornamental front gardens. There is no doubt that these gardens contributed hugely to Batho becoming a garden location, particularly the type of garden location the municipality had envisaged. After more than a century of clipping, cutting and pruning, topiary still defines Batho’s “garden areas”.137
In this article, it is argued that the Bloemfontein municipality’s decision to provide the residents of the new Batho location with “garden areas of 50 ft. by 75 ft.” was motivated by a number of reasons, most of which were of a political nature and rooted in the Union government’s segregationist ideology. An important reason was the city council’s desire to turn Batho into the Union’s prime model location and, ultimately, into a garden location. The quality which set the new Batho location apart from most other locations in the Union was the emphasis on aesthetics and the tangible efforts made by both the council and residents to beautify Batho. The council set the stage by providing the residents with “generous” plots in the form of what was described as “garden areas of 50 ft. by 75 ft.” The allocation of these “garden areas” encouraged and enabled residents to lay out ornamental front gardens as well as vegetable gardens in their backyards. The front gardens resembled the English-style gardens that were popular among Bloemfontein’s white residents during the 1920s and 1930s. Most of Batho’s gardens displayed a predominantly simple formal axial layout enclosed by clipped hedges and often adorned with topiary. A fondness of topiary prompted Batho’s gardeners to create hedges, edges and a great variety of other topiary styles which had gradually evolved into a style of topiary described as “township topiary”. “Township topiary” is considered the tangible expression of a unique garden identity that evolved among Batho’s gardeners over time.
Due to the processes of acculturation and intercultural influence, which involved the Dutch, British and African cultures, Batho’s gardens are described as semi-vernacular or “hybrid”. This description is applicable to Batho’s historical and present gardens. While most gardens display an unmistakable English cottage-garden style, a decidedly African accent is also visible. In most cases, the English and African attributes are superimposed onto a simple formal axial blueprint. Batho’s semi-vernacular or “hybrid” gardens and their history should be seen in their proper historical context. Therefore, it is argued that a better understanding of particular local garden histories such as Batho’s, also illuminates the larger issues of colonialism, racial oppression, segregation, acculturation and intercultural influence. This understanding is only possible through research that draws on historical records and on oral testimonies. Only then will it be possible to write garden histories that, to quote garden historian, John Dixon Hunt, “move from cultural contexts and intellectual climates to real gardens and actual gardeners”.138 The story of Batho’s ornamental front gardens that were laid out on “garden areas of 50 ft. by 75 ft.” aims to do just that.
I Archival Sources
FREE STATE PROVINCIAL ARCHIVES (FSPA), BLOEMFONTEIN UNPUBLISHED MATERIAL
Municipality of Bloemfontein (MBL):
MBL 3/1/19, Mayor’s minute 1919–1920.
MBL 3/1/19, Mayor’s minute 1921–1922.
MBL 3/1/19, Mayor’s minute 1926–1927.
MBL 3/1/19, Mayor’s minute 1929–1930.
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Native Advisory Board & Native Affairs Committee: Minutes
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MBL 1/2/4/1/6, Location Regulations 1924.
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Die Volksblad, 19.10.1922.
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III Articles in Newspapers
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WILHELM, G. Dooryard gardens and gardening in the black community of Brushy, Texas, Geographical Review 65(1), January 1975, pp. 73–92.
BOTHA, S. Die verandering en ontwikkeling van die woonhuisargitektuur in Bloemfontein gedurende die tydperk 1846–1946 met bydraende faktore. Unpublished M.A. dissertation, University of the Orange Free State, 1991.
CALDERWOOD, D.M. Native housing in South Africa. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of the Witwatersrand, 1953.
DU BRUYN, H.J. Gardens, gardening culture and the development of a semi-vernacular garden style in Batho, Mangaung, 1918–1939: A historical perspective. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of the Free State, 2018.
MELAO, L.N. Guidelines that determine low-income housing plot sizes and layout: A case study of Maphikela (Batho Location) and Bloemanda in the Mangaung residential area. Unpublished M.A. dissertation, University of the Free State, 2003.
NAUTA, A. Waaihoek community museum: Reconstructing the lost narrative. Unpublished M.Arch. dissertation, University of the Free State, 2013.
RAS, D.C. & I. COETZEE, ’n Ondersoek na die administrasie en grondgebruik in laerinkomstegebiede, met spesifieke verwysing na die effek van die amalgamasie van plaaslike owerhede daarop. Unpublished M.A. dissertation: Urban and Regional Planning, University of the Orange Free State, 1992.
SEKETE, A.M. The history of the Mangaung (black) township. Unpublished M.A. mini-dissertation, University of the Free State, 2004.
SHANNON, C. Library & community hall at Batho. The mental image: Identity & orientation. Unpublished M.Arch. dissertation, University of the Free State, 2011.
VIII Interviews & Personal Communication
DIREKO, J.M. Batho, 11.11.2014. DITEMA, S.P. Batho, 8.5.2013.
LOAPE, A.K. Batho, 5.4.2011. MAHABANE, S.M. Batho, 7 & 20.11.2014. MOGAECHO, M. Batho, 9.4.2013.
MOILOA, R.P. Batho, 30.3.2011. MOKGELE, P. Bochabela, 16.6.2013. NGATANE, E.M. Batho, 29.10.2014. RAMPANA, H.T. Batho, 28.3.2013. SEGOE, F.K. Batho, 4.11.2014.
ZIETSMAN, P.C. Bloemfontein, 25.7.2017. ZIM, K.M. Batho, 28.10.2014.