Dash of flair in veggie gardens
Vegetable gardens can be both functional and beautiful, writes Alice Spenser-Higgs
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.