Joane Pim

She was given a massive, challenging canvas: the mines, amongst them Western Deep Levels west of Johannesburg, with the concomitant housing, recreational and administrative properties in what used to be veld, but had become dust bowls. A new gold mining town called Welkom would be developed as a garden city with sinuous streets, the Oppenheimer paterfamilias, Ernest Oppenheimer, had decided. (In a foreword to Flowers by the Roadside, Oppenheimer calls the appreciation of flowers ‘‘a foundation stone to our entire cultural existence”. These mining magnates appear so quaint today.)

It didn't happen easily but Ms Pim was not to be opposed. She recounts a ‘‘running battle” of more than 6 months with the Welkom town clerk and years of second-guessing of her choice of trees by those with ‘‘a curious psychological factor among those who had been born and bred in the Free State and in the Northern Cape”. Given her Johannesburg English liberal background, coupled with ‘‘a commanding personality” (her friend Michael Sutton, in the Moseley Wiesmeyer biography) and ‘‘a steely will” (Alan Huw Smith's The Brenthurst Gardens, 1988), her encounters with the Free State menfolk must've been explosive.

They probably had never met anyone so impassioned with the subject of humans and their landscape. ‘‘I could expand on this subject at length because I feel so strongly that we are neglecting this lovely country; we are not preserving it, or making it more beautiful, nor are we taking sufficient precautions to ensure that the rising generations will be able to enjoy what is our heritage today.” (And as example of thoughtless disuse and abuse, she refers to *sigh* Bronkhorstspruit.)

‘‘I have had considerable experience in large-scale planting for landscape effect over the dreariest areas one can imagine: 38 km² (24 square miles) surrounding Welkom and the Free State [province] gold-mines. ... There has been group planting for landscape effect on a bold scale. Approximately 200,000 trees have been planted to date” (Beauty is necessary). She set up her own nursery to accomplish this.

And, still today, Welkom is known for its Central Park and unusual town planning.

She shared her devout belief in landscaping for the betterment of the human psyche (‘‘a settled attitude of mind”, she calls it), and ‘‘its civilizing influence” in her Beauty is necessary of 1971.

Pim argued another point not widely enough discussed today: the need for landscaping - beauty - in a country beset by pressing socio-economic problems. State-employed landscape architects and horticulturists frequently tell me that they do their work on a shoestring budget because they provide a ‘soft service’. >>