One of my goals this year is to grow a vegetable garden. To be honest, I’m not very good with plants. I’m good at admiring them, speaking to them, and generally loving them, but growing them has always been a daunting task. The great irony is that I’ve spent most of my life around farmers, whether in lecture halls at university, working with specialists on international development projects, or covering articles on women’s agri-business associations in Papua New Guinea. I should be a person well placed for knowing what to do, but the tragic tales of my dead cacti say otherwise.
I decided to take on the challenge.
I started with the beds. I chose a sunny spot in my garden in Hout Bay and wanted the process of growing vegetables to be a living meditation. Using broken tiles and bits of brick, I laid out the pathways of a large spiral, and standing on the yellow tile directly in the centre, you get the most gorgeous view of the Atlantic Ocean. Next to the spiral, the pathway continues to form a heart, and using old burglar bars as a frame for climbing plants, the shape of my garden started to emerge.
While laying the pathways, I soon realised that the soil was essentially beach sand and nothing was going to grow. After days of carting in compost, mixing it in with the sand, watering it and adding more fertiliser, the garden was ready to go and the eager little seedlings waiting in their trays were delighted with their new home.
Then came the wind. That really shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did considering I’ve had to fix my roof three times (guess where all those broken tiles came from), so, we constructed a bamboo fence. Then came the sun. As the poor seedlings started to cook in the scorching summer heat, up came a shade cloth, attached to the bamboo fence and hooked onto the burglar bar frame.
But plants are resilient things. After a few weeks of being watered and spoken to lovingly each day, those little seedlings started to grow into real plants. First came the lettuce with its crisp, light green leaves. Then the spinach, with their rich darkness, and soon what seemed like endless amounts of eggplant. There was basil, rocket, tomatoes, cabbage, strawberries, spring onions, and even a head of broccoli. The more things grew, the more I was inspired, and soon every evening meal had at least two home-grown veggies picked straight from the garden.
How did this miraculous transformation happen? I can assure you, it wasn’t me. Most of the growing was done by my dear friend and tenant Richenda, and it was under her steady watch and tending that the garden has blossomed to its full potential.
Inspired by the success of our first planting season, a whole new range of seedlings are ready to take their place for autumn. Carrots, beans, beetroot and even brussel sprouts will soon be happy co-inhabitants at our humble home. Now when I cover stories in Papua New Guinea, I tell the women that I too am growing a garden, and while mine only supplements my food and theirs entirely sustains them, we have found a new way to be connected in a world that separates us.
Farmers are truly the backbone of all societies and every person should participate in growing their own food. It is humbling to realise the amount of work that it takes, but also so incredibly satisfying to literally eat the fruits of your labour. I look forward to this next season and to spending more time in my ever-growing, ever-evolving garden of happiness.
Do you have your own garden? Any tips for how to grow things? Please share your stories and ideas here!