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A peek into Mandela's memorial garden abloom with symbolism

By Robyn Curnow, CNN
updated 11:29 PM EST, Sat December 14, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A peek at a garden designed to symbolize a meandering life
  • There are no straight paths and more than a few rocky patches
  • There are plenty of aloes, the plants that flower in winter

Qunu, South Africa (CNN) -- Nelson Mandela was buried Sunday in a garden overlooking Qunu, the ancestral village where he played and herded cows and goats as a child.

The garden has been carefully cultivated by landscape architect Greg Straw, who filled it with plants native to Mvezo, the village on the Mbashe River in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, where Mandela was born.

The garden is designed as a perennial journey through the life of Madiba, the clan name for Mandela.

Straw, who gave CNN an exclusive peek at his work, said he tried to create a garden consistent with Mandela's values and to keep from attracting attention from the reporters who have been cruising the area: "Obviously we had to keep it as rustic as possible so that we didn't raise any eyebrows. We had to just do the basics, earthworks, no finishing."

Finishing touches were being applied to the memorial, which was abloom with symbols of the life of the man who spent 27 years in prison for his anti-apartheid efforts, then became the nation's first black president.

"Everything that we did and designed in the garden always had another little meaning wherever we could find something," Straw said.

Those symbols include more than a few rocky patches.

The garden includes an abundance of native plants including aloe which flowers in the winter.
The garden includes an abundance of native plants including aloe which flowers in the winter.

And the paths meander, as did the life of the man who died December 5 at age 95. "Yes, and it meanders, and then, all of a sudden, when he got incarcerated and arrested, in the corner of the property, that's when it starts to turn."

A walk here is designed as a journey through Mandela's life. "What I wanted to do was, every time somebody came to the garden, you had to walk through the life and times of Madiba, to pay your respects to him and you learned something new every time," Straw said.

"It wasn't an avenue; it's a journey. So there's no shortcut. He went though so much that you should go through the same amount to pay your respects to him walking through his garden, his memorial garden."

The native plants in abundance here include aloe, which was transported from his birthplace. Mandela, to whom the purpose of the garden was no secret, once invited Straw to his house and asked him about his choice of plants.

"He called me and he said, 'Ahh, I see you're busy up there,'" Straw recalled. "'Using lots of aloes up there?' I said, 'Yes.' He said, 'Well, I like that. I like them. They flower in winter, don't they?' I said, 'Yes.'"

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