Everard Read Gallery, Johannesburg

Everard Read Gallery

One of the oldest art galleries in South Africa’s interior is one of the first to complete a circle by showing what Johannesburg veld might once have looked like along the slope of Jellicoe Avenue.

After close to 30 years of conforming palm trees, gallery owner and botanist Mark Read decided that it should become ‘‘a place that is ‘free to travel in space and time’” (as quoted on their website; he’s actually speaking about Circa on Jellicoe, their new separate wing.)

The gardens at the gallery (that along the pavement, those within atria) are accentuated and unusually easily accessible. He is, Read tells me, ‘‘very very passionate about plants, women and art”.

They went the whole hog of Highveldness. A kiepersol (its crooked stem on the left) is common enough in Highveld gardens. For Everard Read’s garden, think: resin-tree (Ozoroa paniculosa), ghwarrie (Euclea crispa), wild raisin (Grewia flava). The scragglier, the more authentic.

And grass: the right grass. Not just easy Eragrostis curvula (weeping love grass) and not the not-really-grasses Elegia tectorum, the Cape reed now seen everywhere, or Natal’s Anthericum saundersiae. Wesley de Wit, designer of the exterior garden, rues the lack of fire on the pavement of 6 Jellicoe; recreation of a ‘‘real veld situation” is virtually impossible in the absence of grazing animals and fire.

Be that as it may, the rectangular strip of veld outside the gallery is as close as dêmmit to a Highveld koppie. There I’ve noticed a shrub punctuated with so many praying mantis egg mounds that it looked aflower. Read says one or two chameleons have made it their home; the pavement ‘‘gets thought about a lot”. His father, Everard Read, collected the light yellow clivias in the atrium, above.

(Odd then, that the single photo of their exterior on their website is still that of palm trees ankle-deep in agapanthus atop an ugly low wall.)