Jane's Delicious Garden
“To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves.”
“I believe in God, only I spell it Nature”
Frank Lloyd Wright
The large homestead, with a wisteria-covered wrap around verandah and a huge vegetable and herb garden in the sun out the back: now there’s a dream. However, the reality is I am a Johannesburg urbanite who likes living in a city and if I did live out in the sticks, I would probably miss the vibe, energy and activity of the city. So I garden as well as I can, right where I am. My vegetable garden is about 50m² and over the years I have grown a wide variety of vegetables, herbs and medicinal plants. Once the cultivating bug bites you, you will keep growing and no matter where you live, gardening stretches your body and expands your soul.
In 1994 I visited a friend in California whose garden was bursting with chillies. It was the first time I had seen red, yellow, purple, brown and orange chillies in such a huge variety of shapes, colours and sizes. At that time in South Africa all you could find were little hot red ones. Jalapenos were hardly on the culinary radar yet. Although I didn’t have my own vegetable garden I was so inspired by this rainbow vision I bought a packet of every variety of chilli seed I could lay my hands on. Back home I removed a section of lawn, dug in some compost, scattered the seeds and sat back to watch my chillies grow. That summer I had about twenty varieties of chillies growing in my garden and quickly earned the nickname of Chilli Queen. They grew so fast and were so prolific I felt obliged not to waste the harvest. Jane’s “Hot Diggedy Chilli Jelly” soon became a firm favourite amongst friends.
This was the beginning of a passion which has never abated. Every year I dug up more lawn. The chillies were soon joined by herbs, tomatoes, lettuces, eggplant and more. I knew I’d become addicted to gardening when I started bringing back seeds, seedlings or slips from wherever I travelled. Medicinal plants swelled the ranks and soon I ran out of room. I started experimenting with vertical gardening to maximise the space. I might not have the homestead with a huge vegetable garden, but the bliss of the burst of flavour from the first tomatoes of the season is the pure taste of summer.
It has not all been easy. However, after much heartbreak and many mistakes, I have accepted that triumphs make up for losses, that it will never be perfect and I might never finish my “to do” list. Yet, I have tasted the benefits of being able to slow down and wait. I know my greatest discoveries are often the result of accidents and to garden is to open my heart to the heavens.
When I am asked to fill in ‘religion’ on a form, I write “Spiritual Gardener.” As I snap off the first asparagus spears of spring (so fresh, they still have liquid dripping from them) and crunch them right there in the garden, it is a spiritual moment. The simple process of taking some tiny little seeds that look like grains of sand, putting them in the ground and watching them grow into an abundant feast, is miraculous. The childlike anticipation of rushing out in the morning to see what has popped its green head above ground is invigorating. Above all, it is extremely gratifying feeding family and friends with wholesome, organic food from my garden. I can’t change the planet – but at least I can take care of the small patch of which I am the guardian. Even if you live in the city and only have a small space, you can also create an oasis of this magic.
Jane’s Delicious Garden is about taking a small step towards a time we once knew, a time when we were in touch with what we ate. It’s about remembering what we have forgotten. It is about returning to our roots.