HAVE you ever considered a ‘foodscape’; turning your herbaceous borders and rolling lawns into a bountiful and beautiful food garden, a stroll through which provides the sustenance for body, mind and soul?
The conventional idea of a garden – weed-free, manicured lawns, a variety of ornamental and, very often, sculptured plants with a veggie patch in a corner, screened from sight and very often out of mind. Consider your options. Creating a landscape that feeds the family is the most practical solution to rising food prices, poor health, increasing stress levels and a whole lot of other troubles that are prevalent in modern society.
An edible landscape gives you the benefit of good, fresh, safe food every day of the year; it gives you the opportunity to experiment with new and exciting varieties of fruit and veggies that you seldom, if ever, see in the shops; it re-connects you with nature in all its glory, and your soul. The colours and smells attract a plethora of birds and butterflies, bees and beetles which in their turn bring the frogs and lizards, praying mantids and dragon flies.
Spend some time on research. There are many books available in book shops and libraries that will give you an insight into the exciting world of food plants. Don’t be tempted to stick with tried and tested varieties. Experiment with colours, textures, tastes and smells. Remember the greater the variety of different foods you consume each day, the more likely you are to obtain all the essential nutrients for optimum health.
Look at plants as visual and structural elements in your garden. Find out about their root systems – shallow, deep, spreading – how tall they grow and how large their canopies, whether they can tolerate partial shade, wind and frost, when they produce flowers and are likely to give you a colourful display, and when you can harvest the fruits of your labour. The more you know about their growth habits and needs before you start planting, the more likely you are to be a successful at turning your garden into a foodscape.
You will also need to decide whether you’re going to create an entirely edible garden or just incorporate food (and muti) plants into borders, among existing plants.
Here are a few ideas: • Plant a fruit or nut, not a shade tree; • Grow a pot of herbs on the stoep; • Grow grapes over your pergola; • Grow cherry tomatoes in a hanging basket or a window box; • Grow edible flowers (nasturtiums, calendulas, violets, pansies, day lilies); • Grow red cabbage, curly and ornamental kale, red Chinese mustard, fancy lettuces and chillies, and Bright Lights Swiss chard; and • Start a vertical garden on a wall.
Around the world, people benefit from foodscaping. In Shanghai there are over 600 000 food gardens, 66% of the families in Moscow grow food and in Havana, Cuba, over 80% of the produce in the city comes from urban gardens. Why can’t we do the same?
Pat Featherstone runs Soil for Life, a Cape Town-based NGO that teaches about growing one’s own food. Phone her on 021 794 4982.