The Society of Herbs

David Leevers,  April 2000


Far from the Physic Garden of London Town

Medicinal herbs and herbal medicines

Lies a garden in the shadow of a table

The therapy garden of fair Cape Town


I sit under its arches sustained by its branches

as I struggle with the collisions of British psychocultures


Oh to be young again,

to give my king’s shilling to bob and bubble beneath the breakers

of ever crashing cross-currents of complementary oceans.


Where is the clarity of my younger times,

the mono-culture of the British Empire,

red in toff and carte, with no resting place for the sun?


Here, every planter tells a story, every seedling honours a client.

Over a time of years they slowly strut and languidly fret their cycle

under the greening mantle of the table mountain


Transformation and reflection, growth and accommodation,

calming each fevered clock-hour of emotion and outpouring

with an anchoring aroma of calming perfumes


Yes indeed it IS a physic garden,             

The winding walk to the therapy space

opens each mind to multiplicity and eternity.

The reflective return through complementary views

validates the experience, and client, restored, plunges

once more into the tangled web of Cape Town plurality.



From the Web:


In exquisite detail, the Physic Garden in Chelsea features healing plants which provided medicine long before the Greek and Roman Empires. Within beautiful circular paths are the traditional medicinal herbs and flowers from England's Medieval, Tudor and Elizabethan periods.


The Southern Cape is beautiful. Cool and wet in the winter, warm and dry in the summer, it's a paradise of a unique kind. Kelp, whales, dolphins add to a sea life rich and varied. Verdant mountain ranges - covered in a thick green mantle of indigenous and cultivated forest - form a spine that sweeps upwards towards the Eastern Cape. With names like the Boland, Outeniqua, Swartberg, Underberg, Houwhoek, it has a richness in heritage, and a vast botanical variety unlike any found on the planet, comprising a stunning array of fynbos (fine bush) species, protea, pincushion, restios, erica (heather).


If Cape Town were a cocktail, it would be equal parts San Francisco and Los Angeles, with a splash of Zulu culture and a dose of bitters. The city is a happy collision of many things: The Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet here, as well as vineyards, beaches and all types of Mediterranean cuisine, all cradled by Table Mountain.


“What magical trick makes us intelligent? The trick is that there is no trick. The power of intelligence stems from our vast diversity, not from any single, perfect principle.

-- Marvin Minsky, The Society of Mind, page 308



With thanks to Leslie Swartz and Louise Frankel for the use of their garden