Get in touch with nature

2009-04-08 00:00

IN her 20s Jane Griffiths wanted excitement. She went down the Congo River on her own, climbed the Mountains of the Moon, came face to face with a gorilla and got jailed in Kinshasa. “If someone had said I would become a gardener, and write a book about it, I would have thought they were smoking something,” she says.

But they would have been right. Jane’s Delicious Garden: How to Grow Organic Vegetables and Herbs has just come out, and is already causing a stir — here is an accessible, local and beautiful book that will inspire even the least green-fingered couch potatoes to get out there and have a go.

Griffiths grew up in Pietermaritzburg, going to school at Clarendon Primary and Girls’ High before heading off to Cape Town for university. In the eighties, she had a couple of years working in The Witness advertising department, and now she now lives in Johannesburg where her “day job” is being a television producer. She and her husband run a television production company, and have been responsible for numerous broadcast and corporate programmes, including the Carte Blanche piece on hyperbaric oxygen therapy which was filmed in Pietermaritzburg. She has also done a programme on a fashion shoot in the middle of the Sahara — another chance to indulge that taste for adventure.

But the gardening genes have always been there. Her mother is an avid gardener, as was her grandmother, and when Griffiths visited a friend in California in the nineties, she was inspired by all the chillies he had growing in his garden. “All we could get here at the time were the little, hot red ones. His looked so beautiful, that I bought seed. I came home, dug up a patch of lawn, put in compost — and I had a crop of over 20 different varieties. All colours.”

Turning the lawn into chillies was where it began. Now Griffiths has 50 or 60 square metres of vegetable garden and, while she admits that she doesn’t grow everything they eat, something she has grown makes its appearance at every meal. Living in a big city means limited space, so she has experimented with growing veggies on tripods, and has learned how to position the plants, what to grow next to what, how to deal with bugs as well as how to encourage the ones that are beneficial. It is all in the book.

Back in 2007, before the food crisis and the power cuts, a friend asked Griffiths for help in planning a vegetable garden. “That was when I realised I knew a lot about it — I didn’t realise how much. And there was nothing on local organic vegetables and herbs on the bookshelves. I started out thinking I would put it on a DVD, but once I began, it just poured out, and I realised it would have to be a book.” She approached Jonathan Ball who were delighted, and three days after sending a sample chapter, she had a publishing contract. She also writes a column for Garden and Home, which has a wide following.

All the photographs in the book were taken by Griffiths and her husband, and she did the drawings as well. “The whole process has been as rewarding as gardening — in a different way,” she says.

Inevitably, there are setbacks. Any gardener knows that there will be disasters along the way. Griffiths says she has learned not to count the harvest until it is on the kitchen table — and even then, you have to look out for the cat. “But I’ve never lost interest, because it isn’t easy. That’s what makes it so incredibly rewarding, and the thrill of seeing those little green leaves popping above the ground is magical. Especially living in the city, we lose touch with the seasons, and the moon, and the soil. It’s a way of getting back in touch with a part of ourselves.” It is why Griffiths, when she has to put her religion down on a form, describes herself as a spiritual gardener. It is how she gets in touch with the creative force.

But there is a practical side as well. This is a book for busy people. Griffiths says she goes into her garden every day, but sometimes just to sit on a log and smooth off the day’s rough edges. It is not the sort of gardening manual that, if followed to the letter, would leave you no time for anything else — certainly not sitting on a log. But, as Griffiths says, it is worth making the time to grow a few vegetables. “See the price of rocket or lettuce in the shops? Rocket is a weed, and lettuce is easy to grow. You’ll save a huge amount of money.” And it will be all your own work.

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