WORDS: ANNE SCHAUFFER | IMAGES: SHUTTERSTOCK
Ben Getz, MD, Urban Harvest, has designed, installed and managed over 350 successful edible gardens. His ﬁrst piece of advice? “If your edible garden is out of sight, it’s out of mind and probably neglected – you’ll be growing veggies for insects and wasting your time. It should be front and centre – a beautiful feature for your home or office and should attract regular, positive attention. Whether you DIY or call in professionals, having your garden visible will encourage you to invest in its aesthetics and maintenance, and result in a fully rewarding and sustainable garden.”
Choosing a good position is fundamentally important – ideally one easily accessible with plenty of sunlight and, where possible, wind sheltered. Getz believes raised beds are essential, especially for a small garden. “Aside from aesthetics, these allow for depth of quality soils, abundant growth and ease of maintenance. The basic design elements are beds of (max) 1,2m wide, pathways of (min) 0,5m wide and a layout allowing easy ﬂ ow throughout the garden. Fill beds with lots of compost, potting soil and soil conditioners like bone meal, and pelletised organic chicken manure.
“When planting, employ seasonal and companion planting guides – have fun planning your layout. For smaller spaces, start out with easy, highly productive crops like soft leafy greens (lettuces, spinach) and perennial herbs (thyme, marjoram). If you have space, experiment with seasonally appropriate edibles.” Getz’s favourite easy-to-grow winter crops are broccoli, leeks, spring onions, Swiss chard, lettuces, parsley and radishes.
Tracy Cole of Village Gardens suggests starting small (one square metre). “Begin with easy, fast-growing, seasonal, and low-maintenance crops such as spinach, lettuce and wild rocket. If you have space, plant in the ground, in an area with morning sun. Once you’ve mastered salads, then grow companion edibles like herbs – they detract insects. In between those, grow root edibles like turnips and parsnips, but bear in mind, these take longer to grow (those quick and easy crops keep you entertained in the meantime!). The best starters are salads, chives, spring onion, coriander and parsley (most herbs).”
Says Getz, “A short daily stint of maintenance is ideal for success. If not daily, then at least a check-in three times a week. Prioritise weeding and feeding. There are a number of organic fertilisers available, or make your own. Ensuring your plants are well fed and loved will minimise pests, but if you do have a lot (a few are natural and ﬁ ne), manually remove some (like snails and larger caterpillars). Spray Pyrol or home-made remedies when necessary – when it comes to pests, ‘a stitch in time saves nine’.”
Cole says edibles need more care and attention because they’re prone to more damaging insects. “That’s why so many people give up quickly. Invest time. Once your edible garden becomes stronger and healthier with more companion planting, it will help itself combat bugs.”
Pretty and practical?
“Edibles don’t grow to form,” says Cole, “so creating a good-looking edible garden in the ground is a challenge. But you can plant in patterns like circles, or install a wall trellis for peas or cucumbers. Even add pavers in between as stepping stones.”
Raised wooden planters, wall pots or large planters – if arranged and positioned well – can look superb anywhere from your kitchen patio to your front door.
Hanging gardens or green walls?
“Vertical gardens are a great aesthetic and space-saving feature,” says Gertz. They can be used for edibles, but need regular watering and feeding. “It’s time-consuming. I would initially stick to hardy indigenous plants, or at a stretch, culinary herbs like thyme, oregano, parsley and so on. If you’re feeling brave, mix it up and plant salad crops and annual herbs like coriander and rocket. If they’re well-installed and maintained, a vertical garden can be very productive, but is deﬁnitely more expensive to set up per square metre initially.”
Cole suggests hanging baskets for certain edibles like mixed herbs. “Not so much for salads as once you’ve picked them, they’re over. Trailing money-maker tomatoes work well in hanging baskets. Vertical gardens are great, but the space is constricting for edibles. They also need good soil and nutrition because green walls and hanging baskets – much like small planters – leak nutrients when they’re watered.”