Green fingers

Gosh, it has been an awfully long time since I’ve written a post, and ever so much has happened in the last few months… I’d figured I’d like to start with something happy, fresh and positively green, as it’s mid-Summer here in South Africa and our garden is full of flowering roses, lavender, raspberries, blackberries and our herbs are going “bos”* as we say in Afrikaans, and the difficulties experienced seem, fortunately, far away.

We had an odd piece of bricked up ground, that we turned into a beautiful thyme patch with citrus trees when we first bought our house, it has been through a couple of incarnations since then, although some of the thyme remains and the trees are growing happily, if somewhat slowly for now. Realising that our existing herb garden behind our kitchen was quickly becoming overrun with gooseberries, strawberries and rose geranium, and wanting to build a water trough for our waterblommetjies**, we decided in September last year, to re-appropriate the thyme patch and set about designing a herb garden with raised beds and a gravel pathway.

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We both loved the gardens at Versailles and the wonderful practice of planting flower beds interspersed with herbs and veggies through the public gardens in the Marais District, and this set the tone for our project.

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We had fantastic wrought iron arches made for our roses and blackberries to trail up, built sturdy wooden boxes, from reclaimed wood, for our raised beds and dug and laid a gravel path to make walking through, and picking our herbs easier. Next on our agenda, is finding or designing trellises for our potted grapes.

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We planted heaps of sweet basil, garlic chives, parsley and chervil, mint julep that has spread like wildfire, spicy peppers, rocket, tarragon, sage, onions, coeur de boeuf tomatoes and coriander throughout this little patch. We created height and interest in the garden by planting a variety of standards; we grouped olive trees, rosemary, bay and orange blossom jasmine in each of the boxes.

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We planted pennyroyal through out the walkways and it has threaded itself through any and all gaps, it’s such a pleasure to walk on as it seems to stay cool and releases the most pungent, minty smell as you bruise the leaves. Roses add a lovely soft dreamy pink touch of colour to the mix of plants, climbing side by side with the blackberries & reaching towards the sun.

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This little garden is such a happy place and reminds me of the hidden garden in the book “The Secret Garden”. Other than our sage, which appears to be struggling with the recent heavy rains we’ve had, everything is growing beautifully – big, green and deliciously savoury in scent. There really is nothing quite like the vivid green smell that tomato plants give off as you brush past them!

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Suffice it to say, best laid plans and all, we never managed to add the trough for our waterblommetjies, and although they appear to be quite happy in their original spot, they do need more space, so I’ll need to come up with another idea soon.

I’m sitting outside on the stoep, quite close to our Parisian inspired garden, and there are all sorts of happy birds hopping around in there – Cape robins, Piet-my-vrou’s and LBJ’s and the occasional lizard baking in the sun. It’s hard to believe that it started out looking sparse and now it is a veritable green paradise. I’m hoping to harvest our beefsteak tomatoes in a week or two- the cherry tomatoes are ripe and surprisingly sweet, and have been sustaining me as garden snacks while I prune and plant when the weather’s cooler. I’ve been scattering the dried seeds from our rocket and coriander plants in the garden, in the hopes that they will reseed themselves for the next summer season.

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Companion planting was a happy discovery for me years ago, and I still believe firmly in the results it yields, and of course our bees are happier for it too. If you’re looking for a fantastic reference book, I’d suggest reading Jane Griffiths books, they can be found on her website: http://www.janesdeliciousgarden.com and she’s ever-ready with hints, tips and advice for dedicated & aspiring gardeners alike.

I’ll introduce you to our bees soon, as we had our first crop from our industrious hive recently and the honey we got was simply amazing. There is nothing quite like home harvested honey – the taste far exceeds anything I’ve ever bought, and you know that what you’re getting isn’t half sugar syrup or worse. I loathe cutting trees down, and sadly, one of our espaliered figs broke in a recent storm. I’ve retied it, and went so far as supporting and taping the broken limb together, in the hope that it might recover, but the leaves are wilting and I think I may have to cut it after all. Horrid business that. I’ll let you know how that goes next time. Have a super weekend all!

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*Bos: direct translation is “bush” or wild **Waterblommetjies: also known as Cape pondweed or Hawthorn, is an edible aquatic flowering plant

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