DIY Learn how to make your own themed containers and beds

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Jane’s Delicious Urban Gardening by Jane Griffiths

Sunbird Publishers

256 pages

R220 at takealot.com

With such a great choice of suitable plants, selecting a theme for each container or bed will help focus your planting, adding fun and interest to your vegetable garden. Colour, taste, scent and cuisine all influence the choice. The first thing to consider is what you and your family eat. It might be a great idea to plant a hot-flavoured Mexican garden, but not if you’re the only one who likes chillies. Also consider what plants like – don’t mix and match plants with completely different watering or sunlight requirements. And remember, companion-planting guidelines also apply to pots, so mix different plants together in containers.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

An Asian oasis

Love Chinese food and Thai curries? Then an Asian-themed garden is for you. Grow in full sun and provide regular, deep watering.

What to grow

Asian greens (bok choy, Chinese cabbage, mizuna, mustard and tat soi) grow well grouped together. They prefer cooler weather. During hotter months, use the lemon grass and Asian lime for shade.

Asian lime leaves add a distinct lemon flavour to coconut soups and curries. A small citrus tree, it does well in a container, as long as it’s fed regularly with slow-release organic fertiliser.

Chillies provide essential Asian heat. Plant near the front edge, where it is slightly hotter and drier.

Coriander also goes to seed quickly in hot weather, but the seeds are delicious. For continual leaf supply, sow seeds every few weeks.

Lemon grass grows quite tall, so plant it towards the back. It loves being cut regularly. It dies in frost, but will pop up again in spring.


Essential Italian herbs

The flavours of Italy combined in one place makes for easy picking, whether you are cooking pizza, pasta or creating a robust salad.

This container is filled with herbs that like full sun and don’t need too much water. Use a well-drained growing medium.

What to grow

Marjoram and oregano are undemanding plants. Marjoram is more sensitive to frost, whereas oregano is hardy.

Perennial thyme bears pretty pink and white flowers in summer. Plant a selection (such as lemon, golden and variegated) to provide colour and flavour variation.

Rosemary will grow tall, so keep it towards the back. It benefits from being pruned regularly to prevent it from becoming woody. Cut it back in late spring.

A gourmet salad box

A raised bed or container are ideal for salad ingredients. If you choose a large box, you can include a lime or lemon tree for a salad dressing. Position in full sun, or a spot with some afternoon shade.

What to grow

Place a tall tripod securely in the centre and wind a cherry tomato up it.

Sow a block of mixed loose-leaf lettuce on the southern side of the tripod to prevent the plants from getting too
much sun.

On the other sides of the tripod, plant basil and spring onions. Choose a selection of basils – from lemon-flavoured to mint. Leave some spring onions to flower and they will reseed themselves.

Around the edges, plant pansies and dianthus to add colour to salads.

Other ideas to try

Cottage garden (mixed edibles, such as parsley, rocket, Swiss chard and spring onions, planted with flowers, such as calendula, California poppy and cornflowers).

First aid box (herbal healing plants such as aloe vera, calendula and thyme).

Fragrant garden (lavender, mint, pineapple sage and rose pelargonium).

Mexican (chillies, coriander and tomatoes).

Vegetable soup (carrots, celery, chard and onions).

How to be water wise

Jane’s Delicious Urban Gardening author Jane Griffiths wasn’t always a gardener. In fact, she had not grown a thing in her life until, after a trip to the US, she fell in love with their many varieties of chillies and realised the only way she could get them in South Africa was to grow them herself.

After her first crop of beautiful, fiery, brightly coloured chillies, she “became hooked on that simple process of growing things myself. I steadily dug up my lawn and started converting it into food plots – growing herbs, medicinal plants and vegetables.”

Two decades and four books later, Griffiths is spreading a veritable vegetable revolution in South Africa, urging urbanites to reconnect with nature and grow their own food.

Urban gardening can make us more water-conscious. When you’re living in a city and clean water streams into your basin at the turn of a tap, you tend to forget this is our most valuable resource.

“Once you start on the journey [of urban gardening], it changes your awareness, perception and attachment to nature,” says Griffiths.

“Growing your own food – seeing the progression as it goes from the soil on to your plate, makes you immediately conscious of how much water is required in the process and how precious this commodity is.”

Recycling household water and collecting rainwater are two of the best ways we can save water. Grey water is the relatively clean water that goes down the drain from our baths, showers, basins and washing machines. Instead of letting it go to waste, you can use unfiltered grey water to wash cars and driveways, or flush toilets. Once you’ve installed a tank and filtered it, it’s also good for watering your plants.

Rainwater tanks can be installed above or below ground to collect the water that runs off gutters and rooftops. If you think rainwater tanks are eyesores, Griffiths recommends “covering them with vertical gardens”. Not only does this look pretty, but you can soon harvest even more veggies and herbs.

Another way urban gardening can help with water conservation is by enhancing the quality of our soil – healthy, fertile soil retains water. In cities where we pave over soil or have dusty, unhealthy soil, rain simply runs off and is wasted.

“Everybody can learn to have green fingers,” says Griffiths. – Grethe Koen

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