The Portuguese Market Gardens


Trevor Jones grew up in The Gardens. He recently shared his memories of the Portuguese Market Gardens with us...

"The Portuguese Market Gardens were a significant feature of my childhood from the early 1960s. According to my late dad, although I’ve never researched for confirmation of this, the Market Gardens were on what remained of a larger agricultural set-up that became The Gardens (which was proclaimed in 1902), and the street names of the suburb reflect these bucolic origins - Plantation Road, Grove Road, Nursery Road and so on.


They stretched in the west from High Road opposite Our Parents Home and the bowling club to The Avenue and then across the road all the way to what is now the extension of African Street that borders Cheltondale Park. In this map, dating back to before 1926, the position of the Market Gardens is indicated by the void east of The Gardens.


From 1926, when the Hilson Bridge was constructed, up until the mid-70s, Sixth Avenue came down from Louis Botha Avenue and turned diagonally left where an entrance now is to the Hypermarket, coming out onto The Avenue in the dip just before the Hilson Bridge. This kind of road set-up where three downhill stretches came together was not ideal and the intersection was the scene of many an accident. We at least established that the stone work on the bridge itself was pretty solid.


So, there was a triangular piece between The Avenue and the diagonally flowing Sixth Avenue. You could say then that the Portuguese market gardens were in three pieces. The upper border of the eastern part of the market gardens was roughly where the Highlands North Boys rugby fields end. This aerial from the 1950s clearly shows the contour lines of cultivated land.


There was one of those characteristic red tin roof buildings with cream walls on the triangular piece of land, accessed from both The Avenue and the diagonal part of Sixth Avenue by a dirt track. This was one of the green grocers on the property. To the east on the other side of Sixth Avenue there was a similar green grocer right next to the road.

Each had a fading red polish floor and little light. It was cool inside and filled with the smells of fresh vegetables. Most of these were grown across the property, or so the proprietors said. They were highly skilled with one of those knives that’s almost big enough to be a machete. They would grab a bunch of carrots and with one swift sweep could lop off the green parts, an amazing and somewhat frightening feat when you’re still a small child.


Roughly where the Builders branch is now there was a farm dam with a pump house and pipes to irrigate the land. This dam lapped up against what was then the cul de sac of African Street. (The extension was built only when the Hypermarket came along.)


The farm dam ringed by willow trees was the scene of childhood adventures and misadventures featuring swinging on the willows, whips made from willow, makeshift boats and lots of mud. The farmers declared it out of bounds, so it was always touch-and-go as to how long one could mess around by the dam.


Then, sometime around 1970/1 part of the dam wall came down. Legend at H A Jack Primary had it that three of the naughtiest boys in Standard Five had been messing around on a piece of a cable drum when the wall broke and sort of surfed the wave down. It was only some years later that I appreciated this legend for what it really was.


The farmers employed part-time labourers to tend the fields and do the picking. They would work fairly close together in groups. In the early mornings their singing would waft across to where we lived a couple of blocks up at 43 The Avenue opposite George’s Café (now an Indian restaurant). Around lunch time the singing was replaced with the practising of the Highlands North Boys cadet band. There was something quite moving about hearing the Last Post bugled out across the valley, even when one was small with no idea what it was about.


The Portuguese Market Gardens produced tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, beetroot, spinach, radish, celery and so on. There was a patch just to the south of the spruit, bordered by what is now the vet, that was devoted only to mielies. This is what this area looks like today.


The first wind of change blew in in the early 1970s when the western section was cleared and graded. Soon after, construction began on what is now Norwood Garden Village, but was called Sanlam Park at first.  A couple of years after that, one of the green grocer stores was demolished so that Sixth Avenue could be straightened and become what it is today.

Construction started on the Hypermarket in about 1976. Some residents complained to The Star about the development and the destruction of habitat for birds and so on, but activism was barely even a word in those days. I actually remember the newspaper article in The Star. We can now replace the word “may” in the headline with “did”; we can re-write the caption and say with certainty that the dam “did” disappear and that the development was not “carefully planned”.


In my middle teens by then, it was traumatic seeing an integral part of your childhood give way to development and “progress”.


To this day I feel poorly disposed to Raymond Ackerman, although I don’t consider myself a fanatic and do still use what is now somewhat grandly called Norwood Mall. I’m also still irritated by the “Norwood” part. It’s not Norwood and never was. Perhaps there is a reasonable explanation though: You’d always get mystified looks when trying to explain that you live in on the number 10 Waverley bus route in a suburb called The Gardens, which is next to Orchards, which is next to Norwood, which is next to Orange Grove. Eventually, most people would at least have heard of Orange Grove.


My mother, on the other hand, would try for a higher level association. She would give our phone number to people and explain that the 728 prefix was “on the HOUGHTON exchange”. Which is ironic given that we were by some distance the least well-off people in a decent area.

Part of that thinking must have rubbed off and I eventually understood the idea of buying the most ramshackle place in the best possible suburb and spending years upgrading and renovating. Which is how, after living in Hillbrow, Birnam, Berea, Malvern, Windsor West and Sunninghill I came to live in Parktown North in what started out as the stables to the original farmhouse.


The bits and pieces added over the decades, with no approved plans to show for it when we purchased, would perhaps cause concern among heritage circles. However, in some dream-like anticipation of a council official one day confronting me, I have waiting a decades-old tirade that starts like this: “Yes, but what about what you people let Pick n Pay get away with in 1975 . . . “ "


Do you have information on our neighbourhood's history that you would like to share?  Contact us on