It lined up perfectly. Meeting uncle Charlie and visiting his wholesale nursery outside Atlantis. I was pushing a trolley back from the dump thinking about the hot Monday morning sun when Andrew called me over through the busy parking lot. Work at Stodels basically involves everyone constantly calling you over. Either the calling is from a supervisor (being new here means I have a lot of them) for a task to be done, or from a customer who needs advice. Falling in the former category, I rarely get excited when Andrew calls. When he introduced me to Charlie Rom my mood suddenly changed. In the back of his bakkie he had an assortment of plants, passionately pointing over them describing their uniqueness. Indeed, uncle Charlie specialised in growing plants or rather varieties which you don’t see often. Geranium palmatum, for example, I haven’t seen before. He grows them slowly in sand, adding nothing but compost so they adapt to the harsh West Coast conditions.
As my dad and I are currently browsing what feels like a hundred places to source plants we need for projects, I was keen to add this uncle Charlie’s Bloemendal Nursery to the list. Fortunately, I was off the next day and we were able to fit in a quick visit to Atlantis while driving around for some errands and a quote we had to do – the kind of adventure my dad is a master of. Uncle Charlie gave us the grand tour and besides the plants and the unique way he grows them, which seems in stark contrast to that of glamorous wholesale nurseries that pump their plants full of chemicals to make them look good, his life story inspired me. He never had any formal education in horticulture and learned everything from Rondebosch public library. Reading. Everything about plants he could get his hands on. That and of course, experience. He spent 12 years growing plants in bitter and bleak Cape Flats conditions before relocating to Atlantis in the early 1990s. “I like what I do”, Charlie says simply, in the most earnest and believable way I’ve ever heard those words uttered. – Guillaume
Photos: Guillaume Marais