Getting back to their roots

Durban - Living in a flat or duplex in the city may be convenient and cut the commute to work, but it also means you don’t get a chance to exercise your green fingers as you would if you had a garden. Many city dwellers say they miss the satisfaction of digging, planting and watering, and a garden also means you can grow your own vegetables, trimming your grocery budget.

Nature lover Steve Haskins, who lives in a flat in Durban North, experienced the frustration of not being able to tend a garden and, realising he was not alone, set about finding a solution. He formed a growers’ club, based on the allotment system that is popular overseas, in which a plot of land is made available for non-commercial gardening and for growing food plants. His club is fast becoming a hit with city dwellers.

Steve Haskins, co-ordinator of the growers club, and Janita Stievenart, transplant wild garlic, a natural insect repellent.Philippe Renaud and Noelene Nassi grow most of the vegetables they eat in their 50m2 garden plot.Jared, Portia and Kassia Rowling have some fun amid broad beans and peas.Monique Riekert and 5-year-old Erin pull carrots in the shade of runner beans.

Located in Assagay in the Shongweni Valley, on Heidi’s Farm, the Grow-’n-Go club is a half-hour drive from Durban, not far from Hillcrest’s Old Main Road.

“Most of us have little or no experience in this but we have a desire to grow our own vegetables, herbs and flowers,” says Steve.

Members grow what they like to eat – one has carrots, leeks, brinjals and rhubarb, while another is tending spinach and chard and red peppers. Yet another has a plot with an appetising mix of tea tree, royal basil and Chinese vegetables. Runner beans climb up a frame in one garden, with winter peas underneath in another area.

“It is good to experiment and if someone is new to gardening, more experienced gardeners are willing to give advice.”

Vegetables are grown organically, with natural insect repellents, such as marigolds and wild garlic, keeping pests at bay. There are ingenious methods of keeping pests away – one member has tin foil plates suspended on string to deter curious geese.

The farm is alongside the Madwala Nature Reserve so buck, butterflies and birdlife add to the picturesque landscape.

Membership fees are based on the size of the plot, from 50m2 to 100m2, and members can share a plot if they wish. A small cottage doubles as a clubhouse for members and there is access to staff for anyone who needs help.

Philippe Renaud and Noelene Nassi are two happy growers who are reaping benefits and tasty vegetables.

“We live in the next valley and for the past four years we have struggled to grow vegetables at home,” says Philippe.

“We have limited growing space, which is shaded by trees and a troop of monkeys visits us daily, so growing food has been a difficult and frustrating process.

“Since we started planting on the allotment we have harvested lettuce, cucumber, spring onions, courgettes, radish, beans, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, mealies, leeks, beetroot, spinach, various herbs and also peanuts – all organically grown in just 50 square metres.”

Jared Rowling, who works in IT, and his wife, Portia, a musician with the band Nje, live with their daughter Kassia, 4, in a flat on Durban’s Berea. They found that flat-dwelling robbed them of the enjoyment of gardening and growing vegetables, so a year ago they became part of the growers’ club.

They have two plots totalling 200m2 and have planted peas, beans, cabbage and cauliflower for the winter months. At other times of the year they harvest lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers, courgettes, carrots, brinjals and potatoes.

They have an extensive herb garden and as both are foodies, cooking well at home and eating out, these are put to good use.

“We go up at least once a week, usually on a Sunday for several hours and we love it,” says Jared.

“Kassia enjoys it too and we have bought her tools, too, so she can learn the joy of growing vegetables.”

Monique Riekert, a student nurse, and her husband, Morgan, an artist, have been growing vegetables since September. They live in a garden cottage in Umbilo, Durban, but space is limited and both love gardening and growing.

“We also wanted our son Erin, five, to learn where food comes from,” Monique said.

“Many children think vegetables come from shops and do not realise they come from the ground.

“I have also learnt about seasonal produce. Most vegetables in supermarkets are available all year round and we have lost a sense of what is seasonal. I have had to research which plants are grown in which seasons and I have loved doing that. We have planted our winter crops – cabbage, carrot, potatoes and other vegetables.

“We go to the allotment at least once a week and Erin gets so excited when we do. It provides a good balance to our lives – it is work, but not ‘work’. We love it.”

Lindsay Ord, Daily News

Pictures: Supplied