Pensioner keeps green fingers busy

Alfonso Schrikker relaxes in his Bonteheuwel garden, which boasts more than 100 species.

A Bonteheuwel pensioner has transformed his backyard into a tranquil garden boasting more than 100 plant species.

Alfonso Schrikker, 71, says lockdown has given him a chance to work in his garden for even longer hours, often spending his time there from morning until 4.30pm.

His love for gardening started nearly 50 years ago, when his job then allowed him “lots of free time”, as he worked shifts.

“My mother liked carnations and gladiolas. Back then, there were a lot of flower shows, and I had friends who competed in these shows. They planted dahlias and I asked my friends to teach me how to grow them. One friend in particular, George Lamont, guided me. I remember the first dahlia I grew was a duet – it was white with maroon edges.”

Over the years, Mr Schrikker’s interest expanded beyond flowers, and he started growing plants as well. His collection now also includes succulents and indigenous plants.

Anyone in Bonteheuwel who has an organ pipes cactus can trace its origin back to him, he says proudly.

He is known as the “plant man” at his parish, St Matthews Catholic Church, because every year at its bazaar, Mr Schrikker sells plants and donates all the proceeds to the church.

Another plant in his garden, called cow tongue, is not often spotted, he says.

He did not always know the names for the plants, but he’s spent time over the years learning them.

These days, Mr Schrikker gets help from the younger generation in his family who uses technology to identify a plant he is not familiar with.

“If I am not sure how to care for a plant, I buy three of it,” he says. “I put the one in the shade, one in semi-shade and one in the sun. That is how I get to know what works best for that plant.”

He has not ventured into food gardening yet, but he recently started a herb garden, after being nudged by his wife, Flori, who is one half of the Kook Saam Kaaps cookbook, which received international accolades. The other half of the book, her friend, Koelsoem Kamalie, died in April. The two also released another cookbook, Soettand, and had two televised cooking shows.

Mr Schrikker says he would encourage anyone to start a garden – especially the younger generation. He is currently guiding another Bonteheuwel resident with her garden.

As a pensioner, he cannot afford to buy pot soil or compost, but he has learnt over the years how to do things more cost-effectively. “The best thing I can do now is to share my knowledge I have learnt over the years. People who want to start a garden must have a passion for planting, and they must remember, like most things in life, growing a garden is not an overnight thing.”