In The Garden: Creating a Kitchen Garden
'The journey begins'
Come with me, I'm taking you on a little journey. I lie, it's not going to be little. Once you taste this journey, once you dare to tread on this garden path, you will want to wander amongst food forests and literally sample the fruits of your labours indefinitely.
Cliché after cliché I know, but there is a reason why our language unashamedly borrows imagery from our green spaces, our gardens of eden.... because they are beautiful, they are healthy, they are soul mending, they are delicious - they are life giving. Why wouldn't we want to conjure up such visions of nurturing, of vibrancy and wholesomeness in the rest of our lives?!
But let me pull you back from that rather over grown path of thought and onto another.... an avenue of edible art. Have you got your basket? We are about to pluck some words of wisdom off the verdant vines that weave around the abundant food growing world and give you and your basket a little nudge down your own kitchen garden lane.
If you are enticed by the allure of eating from your own garden, you are not alone. Whether it be in response to design trends, environmental awareness or the latest cooking show, it seems many are hankering for a bygone era of being aware of where our food comes from, what is put on or more importantly what is NOT put on our produce, and of an ability to turn quality products into nutritious and delicious food.
For local garden designer and horticulturalist Peter Morgan from Plant Life, kitchen gardening is all about human health. He says “Growing food and nurturing a garden is an education for ourselves and our children. It's a lost art, an important part of our past culture that needs to be continually made aware of”. Peter is passionate about food quality, food waste and food awareness, and advocates that a component of all of our living spaces should be set aside for a kitchen garden or food garden”. He says “The main reason people are choosing to grow plants to eat is that they know fresh is best, no fresher than in the ground outside your house.… And then there's the x factor. The practice of gardening is a rewarding, reciprocating outdoor experience ... and that just makes you feel good”.
Here in the Southern Highlands we are fortunate to have an ideal climate for growing wonderful produce from large scale farms down to a few herb pots on your windowsill. The first step of your food growing journey should be to assess what you want to achieve and how much time you have to dedicate to the process. Start small so you don't become overwhelmed and disillusioned, but plan big so you leave scope for expansion when your hobby becomes your obsession!
The look you love
Personally I'm a big believer in aesthetics. I love to hang out in beautiful spaces, and if I make my garden attractive, I want to be there more and as such my plants will benefit from my time and attention. So work out what looks you love. Visit your local library and rummage through gardening books and magazines, dive into the depths of Pinterest and build your vision for your dream garden... then create it. Beauty should be tempered though by practicality, affordability and most importantly sustainability.
The good news is that beautiful gardens by nature are all these things. Old logs, rusted out watering cans, tree cuttings, shredded clothes all sound like a jumble of junk, but are essentials of a rustic country garden.
If you need any assistance a garden designer's job is to interpret people's dreams, to work with their architecture, site, local climate and their aesthetics. Local designer and horticulturalist Peter Morgan says “There is a formula involved with planting a garden that will thrive, if you really need help, there are professionals to do the thinking, but if you choose to have a go there is a learning process that will give you a deeper connection to your garden and your food”.
The perfect spot
While you're dreaming up your patch of paradise, go for a wander. Work out where in your world you are going to create this vision. Take into account the sun (most plants need about 6 hours of full sun), access to water, protection from strong winds and heavy frosts, where there is good soil (not essential as you can always improve the soil or plant in pots), and very importantly, where you have easy access to picking your crops. Imagine yourself mid cooking a stew and you realise you've forgotten the all important sage, or you want to garnish your eggs on toast with some freshly chopped chives...your garden should be close enough to your kitchen to make that last minute dash achievable.
A close garden is a well groomed and well plundered garden. And trust me, you need to keep an eye on those sneaky zucchini... I'm sure they triple in size over night! So hunt around for that perfect spot. And as your garden will be beautiful, don't discount your front yard.
All about the soil
Fruit and veggies give us nutrients, but they have to draw their nutrients from somewhere. Feeding your plants with good soil full of compost and well rotted manure is paramount to the health of your garden.
For Peter Morgan good soil is vital for plants and for the ongoing cycle of using food 'waste' in our lives. “We need to keep the two guys together, soil and food waste. Soil improvement is extremely important – our food plantings need organically dense, friable, nutrient rich and well drained soils. If there is one thing you do to your food garden it is provide a soil environment for microorganisms especially bacteria and fungi, and worms, bugs, beetles, to enable them to continue the cycle of processing and releasing nutrients into the soil for your plants to grow. Dig down to the clay if you have it and break it up, or build above it, then incorporate lots of well rotted compost and make sure water can drain away from the soil. Part of the process towards sustainability is minimising your our own waste and a great way to do that is to get your own composting system established at your home” he said.
Grow what you love
Before you put anything in the earth, you need to decide what to plant and the best way of doing this is to look at your current shopping list. What foods do you and your family eat that you could grow? How about herbs, lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, silverbeet, tomatoes, rhubarb? There is no point growing kale if you hate kale. Don't grown capsicum if no one in your family will eat it. As for what to grow when, your local nursery will be a wealth of information and beautiful seedlings to get you started.
Getting to know your plants will reap better results. When you plant and whether plants are near their 'friends' will determine their success. Crop rotations and companion planting is really beneficial, but topics for another garden ramble. For now, just stick something in the ground, love it and watch it grow! Peter Morgan says “People don't realise how easy it is to get a kitchen garden started. Just get some plants in the ground, get it going and see what happens. If you look after them, then they’ll look after you. There is a whole world of life out there in your garden”.
So grab your basket... your idyllic kitchen garden awaits - where herbs spill over the edges of garden beds, and each night you can wander the paths and pick the succulent morsels of your own endeavours to feed your home and your heart.
Pics by Kirstine McKay and Pete Morgan