A Bouquet Every Day
By “Awake!” correspondent in Rhodesia
AFRICA! What is the first ‘thought that comes into your mind when you read that word? Animals? Well, if the questions that both adults and children ask of the returning traveler who has been favored with a trip to Africa is any indication, then, yes, you thought of animals. Home folks eagerly ask: “Did you see a lion? An elephant? A snake?” But few inquire: “What exciting flowers did you see?”
Rhodesia, in the south-central part of Africa, has both animals and flowers in abundance, so, for a change, let us have a picture of the plant life, starting with the urban community.
Looking on the Cultivated Side
A quick overall view of what can, and does, grow under cultivation by way of blossoms is found at the flower market in Salisbury’s Cecil Square. From across the street you see it as one great dazzling splash of color, but, now, draw closer. Buckets and half barrels filled with water hold the tightly tied bundles of many-hued snapdragons; lavender and pink lupines; yellow and orange calendulas; and many others too numerous to mention. Some of the more exotic blooms are incredible in their petal-and-leaf arrangement and their color combination. Some may remind you of the head of a long-beaked bird; others may give you the impression that they are artificial because they are so perfectly fashioned of the most costly royal-purple velvet.
The African sellers vie with one another for your patronage: “Here! Madam, very nice carnations! You want white? Pink? Maybe red?”
“Here! Sir, here! The best cornflowers, red, white, pink, blue! Roses, too, very nice! Buy now. Cheap, very cheap!”
“Please, Miss, these strawflowers last a long time and are cheap too. Do you want brown, orange or yellow?”
There are attractive, covered, brick stalls, but most sellers prefer to be in the open right next to the sidewalk. Here you will see them in sunshine or rain every month of the year. You have no excuse to be without a bouquet every day.
Too costly, perhaps? Then you are in for a pleasant surprise, I’m sure. Tell me what you fancy most. One dozen beautiful, half-opened, perfectly formed, pink rosebuds? Very well. The seller says he wants just 45 cents (U.S., 78 cents). Do you not agree that the price is reasonable indeed?
You will want to see the city park, but on the way take note of the gardens of the private homes. They are so much like miniature parks, and if we had the time to tour all this widespread city, or any other community, you would see a similar scene many times over in varying dimensions. Depending on the time of the year, trees that will delight your eyes are the purple jacaranada with their thick blossoms, lacelike and bright-red flamboyant (well named!), fragrant and creamy franjipani, and the African flame, which produces huge, lily-shaped, red-orange blooms.
Householders have a wide choice of hedges, but the favorite is the bright-green hibiscus showing its pink or red flowers as though someone had pinned them on in just the right places. Enterprising homeowners camouflage rock outcroppings with aloe gardens, and how surprised we are at the seemingly endless variety of cacti putting forth flowers to compete with roses for beauty! Paths and drives are often bordered with neat shrubs, perennials, annuals or a combination of plants that lead you to the “Welcome” mat at the front door.
Now, if you roll all these home gardens into one you will have a description of the city park, and what a breathtaking blend it is! Skilled horticulturists and their helpers, working in harmony with laws set in motion at creation, have learned when, where and how certain plants and flowers will bloom. They are, therefore, able to set before us a panorama of color patterns such as an artist might do with oil paints. At any season of the year there are always bright and cheerful floral arrangements awaiting you in the park.
While shopping in the heart of the city, one is happily confronted with shrubs, aloes and flowers in every possible place—in window boxes, in built-up curbs between walkway and road, in out-size vases and tubs placed in vestibules and foyers. And were you to return in three or four months the sight would be different but equally beautiful. It seems that, while one plant is putting on a showy display, another is waiting in the wings for its own turn to perform.
Vital electric-power structures with their ugly network of wire and steel, and oft-unsightly concrete water-supply tanks are softened, if not hidden, by green or flowering creepers, bougainvilleas in orange or red, climbing either right on the structures or clinging to the tall protective fencing around them.
Four thousand miles of smooth-topped roads in Rhodesia are made enjoyable for the motorist by cultivated patches of vivid-red poinsettias, bottlebrush trees, and flowering pomegranates. All of this soothes the passengers but, at the same time, does not distract the driver.
Should you wish for a roadside picnic, there are stopping places (called “laybys”) with sturdy tables and benches under shady fig, msasa, acacia, or other indigenous trees.
A Visit with African Friends
But let us branch off onto the graveled roads and to the Africa you have visualized. As we enter what is known as Tribal Trust Land we see clusters of thatched pole-and-mud huts strung along the roadside. We could stop at any one of these “villages” and the people there would make us most welcome, but since we do not understand their language and there is not always one on hand who understands ours, we shall go on until we reach a schoolhouse. Then, perhaps, a teacher will consent to accompany us as interpreter and guide.
Oh, did you notice that baobab tree? “Not much beauty there!” you say. Granted, at times during the year it resembles a giant, upside-down turnip with its roots to the sky, but there are other times, when its leaves and large white flowers appear, that it is quite presentable, and it is best (so children will tell you) when it bears its hard, coconut-shaped fruit containing edible white pulp.
If it is shade and beauty that appeal to you, then look over there in the pasture. That is a wild fig tree, and if you note the twenty or more cattle standing under its leafy branches you will appreciate the great size it must be. I don’t recommend its fruit to you if you are squeamish about worms.
The long, low building made of home-burned bricks that we are approaching is the school, and do you not think that the children have done a good job beautifying it with those pretty daisy bushes? However, it is their vegetable gardens that receive the most attention. Remembering that there is no running water, and that often water must be carried a great distance, we will understand why that which feeds the stomach comes ahead of that which feasts the eyes.
I want to introduce you to the headmaster, Mr. Mubata. He suggests that we leave the car now and take a twenty-minute walk to the village of his friend. He promises that the jaunt will be botanically educational and that you ladies will have a bouquet—the most unique in your life! His only regret is that there are no flame lilies at this season. It has become the national flower of Rhodesia, and gets its name from the six elongated red petals reaching up like tongues of fire.
Our guide is offering you the first blossom for your nosegay, the foxglove orchid. With six lovely, delicate-pink, cuplike flowers on one stem, it is almost a bouquet in itself. To add to it is this yellow-blended-with-pink sweet pea and a spray of lavender-colored lupine—all of them wild, of course.
Mr. Mubata says you may admire this five-petaled, mauve bloom called “donkey weed,” but he himself would be glad to see the end of it because it is a very real pest in the vegetable garden.
Here are two more floral gems: Five rounded, reddish-orange petals form this hibiscus. I pressed one in a textbook years ago; the flower has long since gone but the bright-colored imprint is still there on the pages. How would you describe this wild gentian? As a tiny pink starfish with a yellow tassel protruding from the center?
Do look at these purple banners. How many flowers can you count on one stem? Twelve! They remind one of a violet-painted snapdragon, but I understand that they are no relation to that flower.
At this point I want to ask you a question: How many of these flowers did you spy before our guide picked them and brought them to you? One? Two? I thought so. What may appear to be a drab countryside can really come to life with the aid of one who has (and loves) his home in that area. Thank you, Mr. Mubata!
These half-dozen round buildings comprise the village of our teacher’s friend. Come, the folks are beckoning us into the kitchen hut.
You see no modern conveniences as you may know them. Nevertheless, what is here is convenient for the African housewife. There is an open fire for cooking in the very center of the room. On both sides of the door are built-up seats made of mud and plastered shiny and smooth with cow dung. The floor has a similar polished surface. And do not turn up your nose, for if I had not told you how such waxy smoothness had been achieved you would have felt only admiration.
On the walls, hanging from pegs, are axes, hoes, leather harness for the oxen, dried cobs of maize, wooden stirring spoons and a picture calendar. And do you see what I see? A bouquet of wild flowers similar to yours. Our hostess says, no, she didn’t pick them for our benefit, for, after all, she didn’t know we were coming. It was her young daughter who gathered the posy when she went to collect wood this morning.
Now that we are on our way back to town, I’d like to ask if you noticed that “pocket handkerchief” patch of green grass near the main hut in our host’s village? Do you realize that there hasn’t been any rain for over two months and the only reason the grass is so verdant is that the housewife and her children carried water from a distant well to irrigate that little scrap of lawn each day? And wasn’t it a pleasing sight, those moss roses by the old grandfather’s hut, the marigolds by the maize crib, and the cosmos and asters growing in profusion at the fringe of the village? How kind of Mr. Mubata to introduce us to his friends, with whom we shared a common interest flowers.
We Say, “Thank You for the Flora”
We do hope you have enjoyed this peep into the world of flora. The next time you see an animal that thrills you, be sure to have a look at the flowers and shrubs at its feet and the tree or the vine that shades its back, and you will be doubly thrilled.
Truly, there is not a race of man who does not love the beauty of trees, shrubs and flowers and this is right and proper, because variety of vegetation is a gift from the Great Creator. We are thankful to have such a bountiful supply in Rhodesia.