Some small town stuff

Years ago when we were the owners of Soekershof Botanical Gardens one of our slogans was:

“Everything you always wanted to know about SEX … in the garden but never dared to ask”

Reason for the local tourism bureau to inform tourists not to go over there because it was all pornography … ūüėČ

Very prolific to me in that regard:

Prototype of a wooden Handbag

Some years ago, during our previous life at Soekershof, we managed some workshops on our farm where local artisans had the opportunity to hone their skills. Some beautiful things were created such as the huge wire baobab tree for the South African embassy in Berlin (Germany). Visitors from around the globe saw the people at work and it was always a nice exchange between cultures and it was selling on the spot; from wire work to seed boxes (with inlaid wood) with seeds from plants in our garden !!!

At the time Soekershof was Fair Trade accredited which meant that we could supply Fair Trade and similar shops (like Oxfam in the UK) with products. But you know what? These shops (including their umbrella organizations) wanted to have it all cheap, very cheap, while we had the impression that Fair Trade stood (stands?) for (e)quality and honest income for people from less privileged areas in the world. … One of ideas (from a Dutch Fair Trade organization) was to market wooden handbags so ‘Mr. Plaatjies’ (the woodworker) made a few laminated prototypes. Cost price of wood, leather, etc., (= just the materials) was around R 10,00 (1.5 USD); fairly cheap because we recycled rest pieces. Fair Trade offered us 1 EURO each including transport to Holland; less than materials costed us.

Well … we told them to buy in China. But this is not the end of the story.

We still have one prototype left. And that one will last a long, long,  time.

_DSC1277

Labyrinth key ring

… One of the few ‘left overs’ of our previous adventure (Soekershof, with maze, cactus labyrinth and succulent garden). In the workshop we had several local artists/craftspeople (one of them with an international reputation) who sold their (hand made) products to visitors who could appreciate true South African made arts and crafts. And it’s so fulfilling to know that all of them were able to uplift themselves from poverty and gathering an above average income from their own home and/or workshop.

The new owners transformed the workshops in a (money generating) trendy restaurant and accommodation. In South African tourism there is nowadays hardly any place for a truly mutual beneficial initiative between proprietors and artists/craftspeople. Most of the crafts for sale along the roads and on markets are from abroad … For the tourists there are also state and private funded ’empowerment’ initiatives where local people hone themselves in craft making… Some of these survive, most unfortunately not.

_DSC1109

First assignments…

Starting from scratch is what I like. When I started this blog (see ‘About’ page)¬†and this ‘new career’ at the age of 61 I never thought to make a lot of money¬†out of it. Let’s see where it all leads to, was more the idea. Yvonne, as always supportive, wasn’t sure about it either; neither was she with her own jewelry. Starting a business is always some kind of a gamble. I did it in the seventhies with dealing in second hand goods between England and Holland and when the market went downhill I got a job (PR) in Bath, England and there I was asked by a Dutch mayor newspaper as a journalist and started for the first time a very serious career that lasted for more than 20 years as a free lancer. Everybody in my surroundings declared me for mad for there was nothing more than dry pieces of bread to earn in that profession. And that is true but also a challenge to do it different. And I did, with patience and living soberly (=understatement…) and it took 7 years of battling against all odds before I got the more profitable assignments. Well to make a long story short; I stopped (at the end of 1999) just in time (before the Internet took over) with 30 well paid free lancers working for me. But retiring at the age of 48 is not in my blood and we both decided to take on the challenge to move from Holland to South Africa. Without the idea of what to do over here we bought a small neglected farm in the Klaas Voogds area near Robertson in the Western Cape where we discovered that the weed overgrown cactus garden was a historical one created by South African cactus pioneer and amateur botanist Marthinus Malherbe and one of the cacti dated back to 1910. Without any market research, botanical knowledge, business plan or whatever we decided to restore and extend this garden; just for our own pleasure. When that was on the rails and inspired as we were by the story-telling culture of our neighbors we also created a maze (well the 10 hectares needed to be filled up….) with story-telling objects as orientating points towering above the hedges. What did we know about mazes and thanks to this lack of knowledge we created a truly unique hedge-maze which was not only the largest hedge-maze in the world but also consisted a cactus labyrinth and did not have a central point but several story-telling areas where visitors were invited to find their way to the next visible one somewhere in the distance…. Later we added near the cactus gardens a Philosophers Garden and a hiking trail. The concept was unique and a cactus garden with an outdoor collection of over 2500 different succulent plant species from all over the globe attracted a lot of merely overseas visitors. VIPs of the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, AZ on a botanical tour in South Africa were unanimous in stating in diverse publications that ‘Soekershof’ was by far the best garden visit they experienced in South Africa. A reporter of the Sunday Times (UK) headed: “Best Garden in Western Cape” and notorious Irish landscaper Diarmuid Gavin (involved in Chelsea Flower Show) stated in public “Now I know where South Africans get their ideas from for their submissions to the Chelsea Flower Show”. But … it was not the success we hoped for. We hopelessy misjudged local tourism politics that does not like to deal/promote attractions initiated by foreigners. That we had to battle five years for a proper road sign was the least of all challenges; that the local tourism bureau liked to distract visitors to go to other (locally owned businesses) and provided wrong road directions was a severe problem and costed us dearly (modestly estimated: R 1-million in 10 yrs). And it was 7 days per week hard working. We were glad last year when on a Sunday afternoon a couple came in with interest in buying and 4 days later it was all settled at the attorney. We did not make money out of it neither did we have a loss except when we start to count our own invested time…. We bought a nice house in Stanford and a precious collection of succulent plants we took with us is growing nicely in our new small garden. We decided after the move to take one year Sabbatical and we loved all of it including the flight to Europe (hadn’t been there for 11 years) and Americas earlier this year. We needed a break for sure but also knew that we couldn’t sit down for the rest of our lives; even when we can afford it. Yvonne started to make her jewelry; earrings, necklaces and rings of sterling silver with objects made of South African Earth and crushed rocks (natural glued with plant material) and Swarovsky gems added. The latest collection made in co-junction (advice) with The Little Gem in Hermanus which shop also has the exclusive regional retail rights and also takes care for nationwide distribution. Although only in the shop for a few weeks the jewelry sells quite well (she is already ordered to produce a second larger range). Silly enough we understand that South Africans don’t like to buy locally made but people from abroad like to buy ‘Made in South Africa’…., well this is only a first impression but also supported by several retailers we spoke with in the past months…

In my career as journalist I learned to work with photo equipment (ended up with Minoltas, Canons, Hasselblad and Pentax 6×7 plus all lenses, filters, etc.) and I sold it all with the business. It was late 2007 when I bought a Sony snapshooter (Cybershot 7.2) to make some pictures of our garden for online marketing etc. Made thousands of pictures with it and you can see them on our FB-page (still garden related). If you scroll back to September of this year and earlier you will see the pics we made with it and since the purchase of present equipment you will see an increase in the quality of the photographs if I may say so myself. I am still educating myself with Photoshop and have to find my way in it and think it might be different directions: First pictures as is; second cartoon-like (photoshopped) pictures; third pictures with added graphics (see also yesterday posting) and fourth (and most challenging): photoshopped pictures that look (on first sight) as is. And this last ‘speciality’ of which you also see an example on top of this page, has caused some interested parties to pop up. Well one assignment is in and the second will be discussed later today. And there was an email enquiry coming in from a gallery-owner with galleries in Dubai and Marseille (for the graphical ones) but I’ve put that on hold; I’m not that far yet. Like to take it step after step.

In chronical order here an example of each: