Thursday, January 26, 2012

Cape Town Mystery #1

[This post has been updated to reflect Constantia Village's response (see end).]

I offer you the first in a series of Things that Puzzle Me in Cape Town.

The Constantia Village Shopping Centre is about five minutes from my parents' house. It is ground zero for grocery shopping, from high end, overpackaged Woolworths with its sterling produce and zero in-house recycling, to more day-to-day Pick 'n Pay. Both are major national retail chains which have enourmous spaces in the mall. They make New York supermarkets look really, really backward (Wholefoods excepted). Wide aisles, friendly and professional - for the most part - cashiers, excellent fresh produce, on site bakeries, wine, meat (though I have heard recent mutterings about Pick'n Pay's butchery whose standards have dropped significantly), you name it. In the rest of the mall there are clothes shops and boutiques, a book shop, coffee shops, a biltong shop, a camping supply shop, jewellers, banks, hairdressers and stationary shops. It  is always busy and is surrounded by a vast parking lot to house all the cars that bring people to shop.

None of this is mysterious, though it is certainly interesting. I find mall culture fascinating, not living near one in Brooklyn, but doing my shopping the old fashioned way - butcher, baker, mango maker.

What is puzzling is the trees. Trees are planted between every nose-to tail row of cars. That's nice. Trees green and cool the bricked lots and provide shade in the very hot summers. You'd think. I mean, otherwise what's the point? Many of the trees are the karees pictured (Searsia leptodictya, formerly Rhus). Now, every single summer, around this time, just as their new growth is starting to make them look like trees again the karees are shaved. Into these weird little flat-topped, jug-headed...things. All their nice new growth is chopped and their shading ability reduced to a spot on a bonnet (that's hood in local parlance).


For crying out loud.

Who can explain this to me? By now, decades after the centre was opened, these should be gorgeous, shady trees. What is the point of the contorted pompoms?

It is a mystery.

Unless: Has it been discovered that the karees make a fruit to which birds are very attracted? Are the trees lopped to within an inch of their lives just as they begin to produce this fruit? Was there one fatal year in which fruit was produced, when redwing starlings descended and when all hell broke loose on the windshields below?

Or is someone who signs cheques just a complete neat freak? Like the man for whom I designed a garden who got angry when it grew.

I'd like to know.

[In my quest for an answer I visited the new website for Constantia Village which now calls itself  "The" Constantia Village...uh, OK. Their introductory blurb reads: "There are very few places in the world where vineyards hug every street corner..."

Yep, and Constantia isn't one of them!

Really? Every street corner. Every. Street corner? C'mon. I hadn't intended to give them a hard time, it's just the trees that bother me but...vineyards hugging every street corner? That's just bad copy. I've thought of three street corners but otherwise am coming up empty. I may have to go out and count. If you know of a vineyard-hugged street corner in Constantia please tell us where it is. If you want to help look via satellite, here's the link.

Quite unwittingly it seems I have stumbled upon Cape Town Mystery #2.]

Update: 1-25-12, 11.56am - Constantia Village responds, and the mystery is solved:

Dear Ms Viljoen

Thank you for your email.  We have for a long time deliberated the benefits of shade versus security. We have strategically placed cameras that monitor the activities in the car park and the growth of the trees would render these cameras useless.  We would love nothing more than to have beautiful shade-providing trees, but we are concerned that this would be at the cost of security.  We have investigated alternatives regarding the placement of the cameras, but it would mean many, many more cameras, which would make monitoring even more difficult.

I trust that you understand our dilemma. Please feel free publish this response on your blog.

Kind Regards 
Jani Hugo

Marketing Manager
The Constantia Village


  1. The "why" is similar to the bright idea of a flowering tree by the swimming pool in my apartment complex. A landscaper thought it would: look great, provide shade, smell heavenly, etc. Maintenance had to scoop petals out of the pool every summer and finally cut the tree down.

  2. Or, perhaps they are keeping the grounds crew busy. Here in Virginia you can find grounds crews cutting back all sorts of things that don't need it (or shouldn't have it), especially the poor, poor crepe myrtles. I am convinced that half the reason is simply employment. I agree with you, tho, they look scary!

  3. Perhaps someone saw the word "rhus" and thought of hideous skin rash. But in that case, why not replace them with something non-itchy?

  4. Maybe the trees just become an art statement.....

  5. These poor abused trees are one of my biggest bugbears. EVERY year I ask myself why???? Shade would be wonderful in summer...
    I know who the Centre Manager is - I don't "know" her (subtle difference) and she seems to be a VERY prim and proper lady, maybe thats why. BTW the Centre is owned by Growthpoint, maybe they should be contacted to find out the story behind this tree abusing policy.

  6. I vote for the birds & fruit theory...! Great post (and ma-in-law's house is also like 5 mins from there. We're practically neighbours-by-proxy! Have to say though that in all my time in Constantia I have not seen a single intersection where all the corners are hugged by vineyards...

  7. Read the reply - how depressing! I find that car park an absolute disgrace in terms of design. A few years ao it was completely replanted - with the same dismal outcome (bleak car park with no shade and struggling plants). Why? Because they are raised beds, with poor sandy soil and the plant beds are too small. The result? a hot bleak environment (far removed from the oft quoted vineyards). Grrrrrrr.
    If they had taken the trouble to use permeable paving, and created lowered beds (swales) without curbing, the place could've been lush and green without all those awful drip lines everywhere. And surely a bit of design forethought could deal with the security issue whilst creating shade. Personally I like the idea of a massive decorative vine covered piazza, or lush leafy plane trees (they create the coolest shade)

    Village - my foot!?

  8. Maybe it's time to return to NY?

    I was on the bird theory myself. But security, yeah, that trumps birds. I grew up in the land of p-lots, and before there were so many cameras.


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