The garden at Lizard’s Leap

When we first came to live at Lizard’s Leap, in Kloof, KwaZulu-Natal, I was a newly qualified horticulturist and I thought I knew all there was to know about growing food. I was so arrogant that I didn’t even bother to put my “knowledge” to the test. It was so much more fun to grow pretty flowers, and I poured all my energy into starting a fuchsia nursery. We cleared a large area, erected a shade house, brought in loads of potting medium and I went into the nursery business.
The fuchsias were beautiful, and I must have sold thousands. Initially, all went well, but after two or three years I noticed that the pesticides and fungicides we were using were no longer effective. I blamed the “difficult season” we were having and doubled up on the poisons and fungicides. The pest and disease problem did not, however, go away. Economic pressures mounted and I sarted to get headaches.
Someone suggested that I might look at using herbs rather than buying all those expensive chemicals. To be quite honest, the herbs were no more or less effective than the chemicals, and we seemed to spend more time unclogging the spraying equipment than actually spraying the plants. On the upside, I started to feel better and it dawned on me that the stress and financial problems that come with running a nursery were not the sole cause of my headaches. In the meantime, more and more herbs found their way into our food, and we started experimenting with pesto, herb butters, herb vinegars and oils, and making bouquet garni. We became passionate about cooking and I decided to give up the fuchsia nursery and to grow a herb and vegetable garden instead.
In the nursery we had grown all our plants in potting medium in containers. The plants were fed on artificial fertilizers and heavily sprayed with various concoctions at the first sign of disease. I decided that, in keeping with the rage for organic food, my new herb and vegetable garden would be totally organic. I had, after all, already used herb-based insecticides in the nursery and now that the plants were to grow in garden soil, there should surely be no need for fertilizers.
Imagine my surprise when herb after herb just rotted away, and the vegetables either keeled over with disease or came under such severe insect-attack that very few of them made it to the table. I consulted all the vegetable growing manuals, only to find lists of chemicals. But knowing that my family was going to eat the plants, the idea of saturating the crops with poisons didn’t appeal. I came to the conclusion that I had an awful lot to learn about food gardening.
What a humbling discovery; what a challenge. I had the training, and I was assumed to have the knowledge; but did I know how to apply it? I went back to my horticulture notes. I read and reread every book on gardening that I could find. I went on vegetable-growing courses, permaculture courses, studied soil science, and spent hours surfing the net. Most importantly, I kept on gardening and eventually I learnt to use the knowledge I’d gained to really look at the garden and re-think the way I was going about growing my plants.
Fortunately, I also met people who not only enjoy their food but also care about what they eat. They want to know where their food has come from and how it has been grown. Where animals are involved, they want to know who tended the animals, what they were fed on and what kind of lives these animals had. These are kindred spirits who are passionate about the environment and concerned about the future of the earth. They taught me to be more aware of what was happening around me and reminded me that people also need to grow. I came to appreciate that whilst gardening is a privilege to be enjoyed, it should not encroach upon the time we need to develop to our full potential in other fields. As you can see, developing the garden at Lizard’s Leap has been an ongoing growing experience – in every sense of the word.
In the last ten years, our garden has come a long way since those first disheartening pest-infested crops. Every year we harvest more and more wonderful-tasting vegetables, despite doing less and less work in the garden. I still grow fuchsias, as well as roses and other flowers, but I’ve learnt to grow them without resorting to poisons. We also spend more time enjoying the garden, eating al fresco, bird watching, or just dozing in the sun.
The book, Cultivating Flavour (published by Lizard’s Leap Press) is based on some of the practical lessons I’ve learnt so far. It is not intended as a blueprint of how you should build your own garden, since your own particular needs and garden environment are bound to be quite different to mine. It is offered merely as a guide, with the hope that it will inspire other kindred spirits to build and enjoy beautiful, productive, eco-friendly gardens.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Kathy Schwager on May 11, 2014 at 8:39 am

    I’m looking for two copies of your book – I live in claremont, where can I order it from?


    • Dear Kathy,
      Sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. I regret I do not have any copies of the book left. I am however hoping to publish a second edition soon.
      With best wishes,


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