Vegetable gardening isn't for sissies

Organic vegetable gardens are all the rage. It's not just about providing nourishment for your family and savings on your grocery bill; it's fashionable. Admittedly, when I created my first potager garden, I wasn't particularly interested in the nourishment part, I just wanted it to look pretty. I am all about aesthetics and a potager garden appealed to my senses. I love wood. Seasonal flowers. And, watching things grow. It ticked all the boxes. 

What I didn't know was that vegetable gardens take time. More time than tending even a rose garden. Constant vigilance is how I think of it now. You have to plan what you're going to plant, where you're going to plant it, and what you're going to plant it next to. You have to think about your soil. What nutrients do different vegetables need. What are their water requirements. You have to find ways to kill nasty bugs without using toxic pesticides. You have to harvest regularly, make sure it gets enough light. You have to fertilise organically. Jeez. The list is endless. So my advice to you is be prepared to work hard. Or hire someone to do it for you. 

Companion planting with herbs and edible flowers is definitely the way to go. This natural method of controlling pests, disease and weeds helps to eliminate the need for pesticides, but it is not foolproof. Pair plants that have the same moisture, nutrient and sun needs. Basil and tomatoes are great companions. They love hot weather, lots of sunlight, rich soil and moisture. Basil is great for repelling milkweed insects, aphids,and mosquitoes and it acts as a fungicide. Soil borne diseases are most often caused by fungi and nematodes (round or thread worms). Dahlias and white marigolds repel nematodes. They're pretty and edible, so put them in. Other tomato companion plants are carrots, parsley, asparagus, alliums (leeks, onions, shallots), borage and celery. 

I am an advocate of watering your own garden.  I find it therapeutic. You get to learn the rhythm of your garden. The different patterns that occur.You discover hidden treasures buried under bigger plants, you see what needs attending to and you don't waste water. But, for busy people and large gardens it is often a trial. Drip irrigation systems are best for vegetable gardens, but make sure the roots of your vegetables are being watered. Watering from above can cause leaf diseases and encourage pests to attack the plants. As I said in the beginning, vegetable gardening is not for sissies.

There’s no certainty in gardening. That’s what I love about it!

I think garden design is an ephemeral art. I aim to create layered effects with plants, wood and other elemental materials, but the force of nature is often stronger than my will and I am constantly reminded that I’m merely a pawn on nature’s chessboard.


Potager recently designed a garden which appeared to be a simple project, yet proved to be a test of our mettle. The passing of years had made this garden a Fort Knox of sorts. Yuccas, palms, bamboo and adamantine soil had carved its way into the foundation of the earth making it nearly impossible to excavate tenacious roots and unyielding, compacted soil.


The garden before bedlam struck
The garden before bedlam struck


Day after day, my team of sinewy, young men swung their pick-axes, hauling 80-tons of soil and debris out of the garden. It was hard labour – no cranes or front end loaders – just back-breaking-man-power.


The existing garden was raised a metre above ground level  and we needed to remove the tiled retainer wall and build another retainer wall to protect the foundations. We waterproofed and painted all the boundary walls in a gorgeous Plascon shade of French Clay and cut electrical chasings into the wall pillars. New irrigation was laid prior to planting. 

Finally, we were left with bare ground, newly nourished with loam and compost.

We created extravagant plantings of clematis, lavender, petrea, durante, leopard trees (caesalpinia ferrea), salvia evolution, iceberg roses and David Austin’s fragrant Sharifa Asma roses. The end result - a gentle canvass of ivory, chartreuse, blush, Byzantium and absinthe.    

5 days old
5 days old

We built a water feature from bricks and concrete, with curvaceous rusted spouts. We transformed mundane store-bought lanterns into retro antiquities. We planted rolls of fresh Kikuyu grass and made a statement bed border using American oak sleepers. 

We did a whole lot more including a vegetable garden and balcony container garden but that's a story for another day.