Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

While Mandela's Away, Garden Designers Play ; Thanks to a BBC-TV Crew, a Garden Sprouted around the Ex- President's

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

While Mandela's Away, Garden Designers Play ; Thanks to a BBC-TV Crew, a Garden Sprouted around the Ex- President's

Article excerpt

When Nelson Mandela, the former South African president, returned to Qunu, his home village in Eastern Cape province, shortly before Christmas, a surprise awaited him: a secret garden.

Even more startling for the statesman who gave up power in June was learning how, in his brief absence, flower beds, shrubs, and a stream had sprouted on the bare, sun-parched terrain around his house.

A BBC television team from England, which specializes in sneaking into properties while their owners are away and transforming dull patches of ground into glorious splashes of color, had done the trick.

Conspiring with Mr. Mandela's wife, Graca, the Ground Force team had given the statesman's garden a makeover while he was on a three- day trip to New York. The resulting program will be broadcast in Britain on Jan. 2.

When he returned to Qunu and saw what the team had achieved, Mandela was delighted. Grinning broadly, he turned to his wife and said, "We're not supposed to have any secrets."

Gardens have a special significance for Mandela. During his 27 years as a political prisoner on Robben Island in the apartheid era, his jailers allowed him to tend a small vegetable garden in the prison yard. The vegetables the plot produced were given to fellow inmates.

In his memoirs, Mandela wrote: "The sense of being the custodian of this small patch of earth offered a small taste of freedom. I saw the garden as a metaphor for certain aspects of my life. A leader must also tend his garden; he, too, sows seeds, and then watches, cultivates, and harvests the result." During the program, viewers will see the prison garden Mandela created.

For TV presenter Alan Titchmarsh, who designed the Qunu garden and describes the ex-president as "one of the world's most inspirational figures," the task was "a bit like planning a battle campaign." It took six months for the BBC to make the arrangements. …

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