Greg Straw is a world traveller who takes his gardening expertise to the extreme by providing the landscaping for major projects across the world. We chatted with Greg at the new location of his Fourways Farmers’ Market at Taroko Farms, Modderfontein, to hear more about his life.
A green thumb from his young days, Greg always knew he would work in landscaping one day.
“From when I was a child, I walked in the gardens,” said Greg.
“When I was young I was selling the cucumbers and tomatoes from my very own garden. When I was in Grade Three, I won a general knowledge prize and they asked me what I want and I said a book on gardening. The headmaster phoned my parents because they thought there must be something very wrong.
“My late father was an architect, so I definitely think I got the design side and the gardening from him.”
His work as a horticulturist and landscaping architect has taken him all over the world. His company, Land Arch, has, among other places, worked in Seychelles, Mozambique, Zambia, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, the Congo, Ghana and now they are busy working on the landscaping of Mark Shuttleworth Hotels on Príncipe.
“The absolute highlight of my career was working on the Nelson Mandela Memorial Garden,” said Greg.
A true outdoorsman
Travelling forms part of what Greg enjoys most. The perfect holiday for him, his wife, Zoey, and two children, Sam and Grace, is sailing around abroad.
“We have done sailing in our own capacity off the coastline of Turkey, Croatia, Greece and Italy. That’s one of our favourite things to do. We sail on a yacht we man. It is one of the most amazing things.
“You are stuck together, cleaning together, cooking together and working together. It’s the best holiday and the best way to bond, far from other humans.”
Aside from his travelling and bonding with his family, Greg is an avid fly fisherman.
“I fish for trout and tiger fish, as well as do saltwater fly fishing,” said Greg.
“I’ve fished on the Zambezi, in Tanzania, in Mozambique and in Seychelles, to name a few places. The best experience was fishing for the Goliath tiger fish in the Selous Nature Reserve in Tanzania. That day I caught a 22,5 pounder that was a bit of a record for that year.”
More than a job
What makes Greg’s work so enjoyable for him is the fact that as a horticulturist and a landscape architect he can be part of the process from start to finish.
“It’s the egg, caterpillar, pupae and butterfly,” he said.
“You don’t need to hand over to someone and hope they don’t drop the ball. It is amazing. It’s like having your own restaurant, being the chef and having your own farm.
“I think this is the key to our success and why we have been able to receive such crazy projects as the Queens Garden in Abu Dhabi, the Mandela project and now Mark Shuttleworth Hotels. I just love designing something beautiful.”
While the job is fulfilling, there is one difficulty that comes with his work.
“In many respects, unfortunately, landscaping is seen as a luxury, but it is not. When the economy is not doing well the first place people cut is in the landscaping.
“Some people understand the garden is just as important as the house, but not all people realise that. I re-educate people and convince them it is not just a luxury, but an essential part of the building.”
A love for the farmers’ market
Greg is expanding his Fourways Farmers’ Market to a new location, which as he refers to the 18-hectare piece of land as a “monster undertaking”.
His love for farmers’ markets has deep roots.
“I love a picnic,” said Greg. “I would do a picnic any day of the week rather than go to a restaurant. Packing a picnic basket is my favourite thing in the world. That’s when I thought let’s create a picnic park with a market in it. By creating the farmers’ markets, you are creating a private picnic park with a group of people who are selling as a passion.
“I believe in grounding yourself, thus standing on the ground or the grass rather than being on a patio or inside a building.”
Despite this monumental undertaking, Greg is already looking towards the future.
“We are looking at pieces of property across the country. I want to create a new concept of outdoor supermarkets in parks that become your new shops. I want to create a space where artisanal people come together and sell their products. Not just for an event or for fun and games but where you can do your grocery shopping.”
* Text: Roedolf Walker. Photo: Mike Turner Photography.