Plant geek

It could be my husband’s farming genes that rubbed off on me, or perhaps it was a decade of living in smoggy, congested cities that did it, but a few years ago I planted a veggie garden. At the time I knew nothing about growing and googled things like:

What does a garlic plant look like?
How do you grow something from seed?
Do pineapples grow on trees? 

I was, in a word, botanically illiterate. 

Just as my baby fig tree was getting it’s first leaves and the kale seedlings were pushing through, the fierce Cape Town drought hit and, without a wellpoint or borehole, my fledgling plants withered and died within weeks, which broke my heart. But I learnt a whole lot about composting and mulching and propagating, and fell totally in love with growing things.

My garden became my happy place. 

Now, it’s not the sort of garden that’ll be featured in House & Garden any time soon. You know the ones— sweeping, ornamental, dramatic, breathtaking in their beauty.

Out here in the deep south we get lashed by the south easter which rids the air of every trace of moisture—plants have to fight to stay upright and things are a little parched.

Our garden, a compact space where we experiment and often fail, needs to be robust and resilient. What we stick in the ground can’t be too thirsty or fiddly & fussy. Delicate roses will wilt. Pansies and petunias—far too naff.

In these parts, it’s the hardy succulents and fynbos that thrive.    

Writers are often encouraged to write about the things they’re scared to write about. That’s where the meaty stuff lies; the fears and frailties that make us human. When we peel back the layers and show our true selves, it gives others permission to do the same and we can all breathe a little easier. We realise we’re all in it together and are, as Ram Dass so beautifully put it, ‘just walking each other home.’

The meaty stuff is the important stuff, but so too is the light and the frivolous, and these days, whenever I sit down to write, it’s plants I want to write about. They are just so very beautiful.

I can’t wait to tell you about how we transformed our dull lawn into a characterful higgledy piggledy patch of fynbos and aloes, about why I love the grubby mess that is composting, and why I’m nuts about succulents.

Meantime it’s a brand new decade. Happy New Year! May 2020 be planty, abundant, packed with growth, with as much sunshine as there is rain.

Bees love the brilliant blue flowers of the borage plant. This was our first borage plant and it self-seeded like crazy (they’re so rampant they’re known as ‘spatial bullies’). They’re also great companion plants for cabbages and strawberries (my three attempts at growing strawberries have failed dismally). It’s the sweetest thing, the way these two branches kind of leant in and the flowers intertwined.
Sam in our wild and unruly gooseberry bush (also a bit of a bully, as it’s thrust itself on our lemon tree in the back and is inching it’s way into our fig tree). Having made a few jars of gooseberry jam from our homegrown berries, I now consider myself a homesteader.