I believe gardens are a lifelong experiment merging nature, composition, functionality and joy. I love my garden and I host an eclectic plant community that seems to reflect my ideas about how a space should look, feel and evolve over time. The one and only, Sir David Attenborough, might agree that biodiversity in any ecosystem is a good thing — even if it’s as micro as an urban backyard.
Gardening is the ultimate lesson in surrender, slow, and finding patience, perseverance and presence. It’s the perfect antidote to our fast-paced modern lives, where we push, force and seek out the quick-fix or speediest end result.
For me, the garden is my refuge and one of the calmest places I can be in. For you, it might offer a place to slow down from the crazy pace of modern life. A place your mind can unwind, reflect and allow pause to appreciate the simple beauty of nature. As life becomes more hectic and the relentless pursuit to “do it all” dominates our daily lives, growing your own food is a rewarding antidote, and a quiet escape for so many people for good reason.
Growing my own food has opened up a whole world of genuine connections among people from all walks of life. I’ve been lucky enough to live in wonderful communities that share our ethos and raise their hands to swap a bunch of fresh rocket for a jar of pesto any day of the week. Sharing your bounty is another great benefit of growing your own and keeps you connected with your local community.
A greener future
For me, doing something for the greater good and protecting the environment is a no brainer. Teaching people to slow down, grow food, include neighbours and consider the community and environment around them is a step towards a greener future. I think 2020 is time for us to make a change and stand up for the benefit of future generations so they can enjoy what we’ve had.
The unparalleled taste
I’ll never forget the first time my brothers and I helped Dad harvest our first row of corn, roast them in the oven, lather them in butter and then crunch our little teeth into the bursting yellow morsels. The sheer delight of having watched these juicy cobs grow from seed, and to then be able to enjoy them with my family was something pretty special.
If you have an appetite for good produce, then creating a little edible garden with some key herbs and leafy greens is a rewarding starting point. Once you taste produce from your own backyard, your taste buds will no longer find the tasteless, snap-frozen supermarket produce all that desirable anymore.
How to start and care for your first garden
On a fundamental level, you will need five key ingredients to get growing: Sun, soil, seeds, water, and the time to be immersed in it. Growing food doesn’t require much “stuff”, it’s an easy-entry hobby for everyone. Here are my top five tips to start your veggie patch today.
Ensure your fruits, veggies and herbs are planted in full sun. Move any edibles in pots into sunnier locations if possible and if you’re just starting out, allocate the sunniest spot possible for your new garden bed or clear out a section of garden where you’ll get at least six hours sun per day. I use an app called Sunseeker to help determine how many hours per day your chosen spot will receive any month of the year.
Your soil type should suit the kind of plants you are growing. Bagged soil, potting mix and compost products will usually specify a general plant group that it is best paired with. The pH level, fertilisers and organic additives (as well as drainage capacity) will then further provide foundations for a happy and healthy plant. Add your own compost, seaweed extract and worm castings to any mix to improve soil biology, plant vigour and therefore your plant’s immunity against pests and disease.
Seeds and seedlings
Some plants are better grown from seeds or seedlings and some are best planted as more mature plants. Do some research; planting the appropriate sort will ensure you get strong plants with less time spent waiting for growth.
Water your new seeds daily or at least enough to keep the soil on top damp. Pots placed out where they can receive rainfall (not under an eave) will keep the leaves clean and deter pests. As an added bonus, the rain from lightning storms carries a small amount of nitrogen, which aids in producing healthy green leaves. Your hungry edible plants will also love a liquid fertiliser every few weeks, plus a powdered seaweed extract mixed in a watering can. If you have a worm farm, use the liquid diluted with water to pour over your new seedlings as they emerge. This will improve soil structure and biology and lead to healthier, stronger plants.
Always ensure you get your plants in the ground at their favoured time. Generally speaking, September is best for warmer coastal cities and waiting until October is recommended for cooler areas (after frost). Grab a planting calendar online for a general guide on what to plant when. Local knowledge will also help you, so chat to local growers at the markets about when they sow and harvest produce.
Some easy plants to kick things off
For a quick return on your efforts, make sure to grow lots of leafy salad greens. There is life beyond cos lettuce so try to experiment with new flavours and textures. Try growing red or green leaf chicory, endive and rainbow chard from seed. A favourite among the little people in your lives is the zesty lemon sorrel and, for looks, the red vein sorrel. Watercress, dandelion and kale have high nutritional benefits. And let’s not forget the heat of salad rocket or wild rocket — just scatter from seed.
Another family of quick growers are the oriental greens. I’m always exploring these cultivars as they do well in the cooler months and can be cut often for use. They’re best grown from seed as they tend to stress and bolt to flower when transplanted. Try your hand at pak choi, bok choy, mizuna or mibuna.
Climbers are another great option to get in now for a speedy return. Peas grow in winter (beans for summer) and the young leaves and tendrils can be used in salads. Soak your seed for a night before planting to ensure good germination rates and remember to provide a trellis for climbing support.
Nothing grows faster or is as much fun to harvest than the array of colourful radish varieties — a quick four to six weeks to harvest! Other root vegies like carrots and beetroot are great to get in the ground now too. Again, these do well when seeds are soaked overnight before planting.
Gardening is one of those hobbies, passions and tasks that will transport you into your flow, keeping you pottering outside in the rain or sun for longer. Being connected to the simple things in life is where we’ll all turn for real satisfaction and fulfilment.
Nothing makes us happier than seeing people become more in touch with the seasons and cycles of nature. We believe keeping our connection to place through the soil or sea is fundamental to caring for the earth and sharing resources fairly with each other.
Rosemary and Rocket Pesto Recipe
Who can resist a freshly baked loaf of warm sourdough with a thick lashing of pesto? Not us. We are often seen on a Sunday morning at our local bakery tearing off handfuls of the stuff. It’s a newsworthy day if our loaf makes it home in one piece! But for when it does make the journey home, we generally have a jar of this rocket and rosemary pesto waiting in our fridge to lather on. Rosemary absolutely thrives in our garden; it’s an easy herb to grow and such a great flavour to add to any meal. The addition of rocket in this pesto makes for a peppery palate with a uniquely bright flavour.
Makes: 1 small jar
6 large sprigs rosemary
2 cups rocket leaves
⅓ cup toasted pine nuts
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ tsp sea salt
½ cup olive oil or macadamia oil
Shred the leaves from the rosemary stems and place in a food processor with remaining ingredients. Pulse until desired texture (we like ours coarse and slightly crunchy).
Scoop into a sterilised jar and store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Tip: This recipe is also delicious if you exchange the rocket leaves for lemon sorrel. Just make sure to replace the lemon juice with extra oil so that it doesn’t become too zesty.
The best time to plant a tree was 100 years ago. The second-best time is today.