My parents are both very proficient, yet very different, gardeners in their own right. Dad is all about neat straight rows, planting by the moon, side dressing, and crop rotation. Mum‘s veggie garden, on the other hand, consists of irregular-shaped round-edged raised beds scattered with Oamaru stone chips (the filings from the sculptures she taps into relief with a tomahawk) and dotted with marigolds and poppies, with the odd giant silver beet plant that’s been intentionally left to go to seed. Straight lines and curved edges: maybe that’s why they didn’t work out as a couple.
My garden contains certain elements from each parent – the cherry tomatoes are evenly spaced, de-lateraled and wound carefully around the baling twine that ties them to tall bamboo stakes. The coriander and spinach are planted in neat diagonal rows, but the self-seeded sunflowers which are remnants from last year’s gardener have come up in random spots, which doesn’t bother me at all.
I’ve made a haphazard trellis for my sugar snap and snow peas to climb up: it’s a bit wonky and trailed with little scraps of string which I’ve attached to try and guide my little babies in the right direction. One of my zucchinis is looking awesome, but the other, only half a metre away, looks like it would be happier pulled out and thrown over the bank, which is probably where it will end up soon. This is good, because then I’ll have more room for basil, sweet and Thai – I love basil.
I also scattered marigold seeds from a small brown envelope that I’d been carrying around with me for the last two years, given to me by a friend. I wasn’t sure if they’d still be any good but a few have come up, again in random places. I made a tripod of bamboo and wound string around it for my Lebanese cucumbers, and I have sweet peas growing in pots on the verandah; the first flower opened today and the smell is amazing. I love how peas send out their little tendrils, reaching blindly for something to grasp on to, and how, once found, they cling on for dear life, wrapping those tendrils up into tight little ringlets.
I also have a very hot chili plant (a rocoto) in a pot on the verandah. It survived travelling by car from Auckland to Nelson, and the four subsequent house moves since then. There was another, even hotter chili but it didn’t quite make it. After waking up in the middle of the night with my hands on fire from the vapours released by dropping the freshly chopped pieces into the pan hours before, I have to admit, it was probably for the best. I love chilies, but even I have limits. The rocoto is manageable as long as I don’t use more than a quarter in a meal for one. They’re so juicy that flecks of fire water sometimes try to jump into my eyes when I cut them – I’ll have to remember to either stand well back or wear sunnies when this season’s ones ripen.
I was watching a short clip on YouTube the other night. It was of a guy (a proponent of the ‘primal’ diet) showing how quick and easy it is to make a delicious and nutritious salad for lunch. He opened his refrigerator and pulled out a myriad of Tupperware containers filled with pre-washed and pre-chopped salad ingredients, threw it all together with some leftover meat (for the protein factor of course) and voila! What the hell is primal about that? If you didn’t hunt or raise the meat yourself, the least you could do is grow your own veggies and pick them fresh for each meal.
There is something infinitely rewarding, calming and satisfying about growing your own food. I’m grateful that gardening is in my blood, and much of what I do is either instinct or intuition rather than acquired knowledge – I own one gardening book, which I’m yet to read. Usually I just give the plant what I think it needs; what I would need if I was that plant. If that fails I ask Dad.
Even in the crummiest places I’ve lived, even in the shadiest corners of Dunedin, I’ve pretty much always managed to put a few plants in the ground. I can’t wait to get to a place where I know I’ll be staying for a good while, then I can make a real garden, one that I know I won’t have to walk away from. One more move should do it.