Dash of flair in veg­gie gar­dens

Veg­etable gar­dens can be both func­tional and beau­ti­ful, writes Alice Spenser-Higgs

Business Day - Home Front - - FRONT PAGE -

VEG­ETABLE gar­dens come in all shapes and sizes, and the size of one’s prop­erty is no longer a lim­i­ta­tion. On my re­cent tour of Jo­han­nes­burg’s rose gar­dens I no­ticed that each also boasted a veg­gie gar­den, from a cou­ple of pots in the kitchen court­yard to a full blown potager com­plete with fruit trees and ducks. The kitchen court­yard gar­den in the Sand­hurst home was typ­i­cal of most ar­eas lead­ing off from the kitchen; not par­tic­u­larly at­trac­tive and with limited morn­ing light, but bak­ing sun in the af­ter­noon.

For the own­ers, how­ever, it was wasted space beg­ging to be used and be­ing just one step away from the kitchen they felt it was the most con­ve­nient place to grow herbs and veg­eta­bles.

Hav­ing de­ter­mined where the sun fell dur­ing the day and for how long they were able to work out the num­ber of pots that could be ac­com­mo­dated, they opted for at­trac­tive deep and wide pots, com­ple­mented by some dec­o­ra­tive wall ac­ces­sories so that the area would be aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing as well.

The de­ci­sion to grow baby toma­toes, let­tuce, Bright Lights spinach and a se­lec­tion of herbs re­ceived the nod from Kirch­hoff’s Mar­laen Straathof, who en­cour­ages gar­den­ers also to grow beet­root, car­rots (if the pot is deep enough) chill­ies and sweet pep­pers and eggfruit in pots.

“The most prac­ti­cal are the salad veg­eta­bles be­cause they can be picked on a daily ba­sis,” says Straathof. “Be­ing at the kitchen door, it is eas­ier to care for them, monitor their wa­ter re­quire­ments and move them if the sun be­comes too hot.”

For a well-bal­anced pot­ting mix that drains well but also al­lows air to the roots, make up a 50-50 mix of com­mer­cial pot­ting soil with palm peat. Add in a con­trolled re­lease fer­tiliser like Os­mo­cote or Plan­ta­cote. The medium sized veg­etable gar­den in Waverly was ide­ally placed, re­ceiv­ing morn­ing sun with some af­ter­noon shade.

The soil had been well pre­pared and was lav­ishly com­posted, pro­vid­ing a fer­tile en­vi­ron­ment for the veg­gies, which are gen­er­ally heavy feed­ers. Rather than mak­ing in­di­vid­ual beds, the whole area had been dug over and step­ping stones pro­vided ac­cess through the gar­den.

The step­ping stones were also used to di­vide one veg­etable va­ri­ety from an­other. The ben­e­fit of this ap­proach is that when wa­ter­ing there is no wastage of wa­ter on path­ways be­cause ev­ery­thing runs into the beds.

Run­ner beans (Lazy House­wife) trained up te­pees and not only added in­ter­est to the veg­gie gar­den but made good use of space. Run­ner beans are more pro­duc­tive than bush beans be­cause they bear through­out sum­mer, pro­vided the beans are picked reg­u­larly.

Ice­berg roses, some spec­tac­u­lar ar­ti­chokes and a mass sow­ing of nas­tur­tiums gave the gar­den ex­tra char­ac­ter. Nas­tur­tiums are good com­pan­ion plants as they act as a trap crop for aphids. Jen­nifer van der Linde’s Park­town North gar­den, which was open to the pub­lic last year as part of Gar­dens of the Golden City, in­cor­po­rates a potager — orig­i­nally an ad­join­ing prop­erty — and is about four years old.

The beau­ti­fully laid out gar­den is di­vided ver­ti­cally by a flow­ing chan­nel of wa­ter that tum­bles into a pond and then down an­other level into a larger pond be­low.

A third of the gar­den is for the aviary and fruit trees, and two- A mix of spinach, herbs, sweet peas and erigeron in Jenny van der Linde’s potager. thirds for veg­eta­bles, herbs, flow­ers and roses, with an out­door din­ing room at its heart.

Arches of roses pro­vide the hor­i­zon­tal axis, cre­at­ing a rosec­ov­ered walk­way the full width of the gar­den. On each ter­race beds are lav­ishly planted with herbs, old-fash­ioned peren­ni­als like Ver­bas­cum and del­phini­ums, masses of an­nu­als and tum­bling My Granny roses.

The veg­etable sec­tion, which is en­closed on one side by a wall smoth­ered in sweet peas, con­sists of beds of car­rots, cab­bage, green peas, spinach, let­tuce — al­lowed to go to seed — and herbs such as fen­nel, mar­jo­ram and thyme.

Jenny makes her own com­post and many of the flow­ers that come up year af­ter year are self-seeded. All the cut­tings from the gar­den feed the com­post heap. The in­ter­plant­ing of herbs, flow­ers and veg­eta­bles ad­heres to the com­pan­ion plant­ing ethos of a potager, cre­at­ing a haven for bees and other pol­li­na­tors.

No mat­ter the size, the com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor for all the gar­dens was an eye for beauty as well as func­tion­al­ity. Whether a gar­den al­lows only the pick­ing of a few salad leaves or a big­ger hand­ful of car­rots, the sense of plea­sure must be the same.

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