How Upper Liesbeek River Garden Began

In the heart of a once-neglected area, a remarkable journey has unfolded, driven by the unwavering passion of Dr Joan Parker. Her story is a testament to the transformative power of dedication, community, and the pursuit of a shared vision.


It began with a sense of urgency, sparked by the need for security in the neighbourhood. As armed robberies plagued the area, Dr Joan, along with her husband and daughter, decided to take matters into their own hands. They formed a residents’ association, focusing on security and, in the process, discovered the beauty that lay hidden beneath the surface.


The area was a dump, filled with tar and bricks, with only a few scattered pine trees breaking the monotony. But Dr Joan saw potential. She rallied her fellow residents, and together they embarked on a journey to clear the land of alien lantana and bramble. The initial clearing was just the beginning, as they set their sights on creating a path to the river. The challenges were immense, with the area overrun by alien lantana and bramble, concealing its potential for biodiversity. Undeterred, Dr Joan and a dedicated group embarked on a mission to clear the land, revealing a barren landscape devoid of indigenous flora. What started as a modest endeavour to create a path to the river evolved into a grand vision that captured the hearts of the community.


As the years passed, the project evolved, and Dr Joan’s passion only grew stronger. She secured funding from estate agents and residents, employing a gardener and eventually a horticulturist, Miranda Alexander. Miranda’s expertise and dedication were instrumental in transforming the area, and her legacy continues to inspire.


The project’s impact extended beyond the immediate community. It inspired other groups along the river, such as Paradise Park, to take action and develop their own green spaces. The ripple effect of Dr Joan’s passion and vision is a powerful reminder of the impact one person can have.


At the core of Dr Joan’s drive is a deep sense of purpose. She wants to show people that even the most daunting tasks can be accomplished with determination and hard work. Her mantra is simple: “Just don’t go and sit on committees for years and years, rather just get down to it.”


Her passion is contagious, and her love for gardening is evident in the way she speaks about it. Her dear custodian and grounds keeper, Nephta Phiri, shares her enthusiasm, and together they have created a haven where people can find peace and joy. The area has become a sanctuary, where people can escape the stresses of daily life and connect with nature.


At 84 years old, Dr Joan’s spirit remains unbroken. Though she can no longer do the heavy lifting, her dedication to fundraising, planning, and morale-boosting keeps the project thriving. Nephta and Miranda continue to nurture the space, guided by her vision and the community’s support.