I am a television producer, writer, artist and traveller. I've been growing organic vegetables and herbs in my Johannesburg garden for nearly thirty years.
However - I wasn't born with green fingers - in fact, if someone had told the wild 20-something-year-old me that I would one day become a gardener and then write best-selling books about my garden, all I'd have wanted to know was what were they smoking from their garden!
Yet today I can't imagine my life without my garden . . .
In 1994 I visited a friend in California whose garden was bursting with red, yellow, purple, brown and orange chillies. It was the first time I had seen (or eaten!) such a variety. In South Africa at that time, all we could get were little hot red and green ones. Jalapenos were hardly on the culinary radar yet. I knew that the only way to have these chillies in my kitchen was to grow them - even though I had never grown anything before.
Back home, I dug up some lawn, threw in compost and sowed the seeds. That summer I had about 20 varieties of chillies growing and quickly earned the nickname "Chilli Queen." They grew so fast and were so prolific I felt obliged not to waste the harvest. Jane’s ‘Hot Diggedy Chilli Jelly’ soon became a firm favourite amongst friends.
This was the beginning of a passion which has never abated. Every year I dug up more lawn. The chillies were soon joined by herbs, tomatoes, lettuces, eggplant and more. I knew I’d become addicted to gardening when I started bringing back seeds, seedlings or slips from wherever I travelled.
Medicinal plants swelled the ranks and soon I ran out of room. I began experimenting with vertical gardening to maximise space and planting herbs and fruit trees in every available space. I might dream of having a large homestead, with a wisteria-covered wrap-around verandah and a huge vegetable and herb garden in the sun out the back. However, the reality is I'm an urbanite who likes living in a city and if I did live out in the sticks, I would probably miss the vibe, energy and activity of the city. So I garden as well as I can, right where I am.
Once the cultivating bug bites, you will keep growing, and no matter where you live, gardening stretches your body and expands your soul. I might not have the homestead with a huge vegetable garden garden, but the blissful burst of flavour from the first tomatoes of the season is the pure taste of a farm summer.
It has not all been easy. However, after much heartbreak and many mistakes, I have accepted that triumphs make up for losses, that it will never be perfect and I might never finish my ‘to do’ list. Yet I have tasted the benefits of being able to slow down and wait. I know my greatest discoveries are often the result of accidents and to garden is to open my heart to the heavens.
When I am asked to fill in ‘religion’ on a form, I write: ‘Spiritual Gardener’. As I snap off the first asparagus spears of spring (so fresh, they still have liquid dripping from them) and crunch them right there in the garden, it is a spiritual moment.
The simple process of taking some tiny little seeds that look like grains of sand, putting them in the ground and watching them grow into an abundant feast, is miraculous. The childlike anticipation of rushing out in the morning to see what has popped its green head above ground is invigorating.
Above all, it is extremely gratifying feeding family and friends with wholesome, organic food from my garden. I can’t change the planet – but at least I can take care of the small patch of which I am the guardian. Even if you live in the city, and even if you only have a tiny space, you can also create an oasis of this magic.
Jane’s Delicious Garden is about taking a small step towards a time we once knew, a time when we were in touch with what we ate. It’s about remembering what we have forgotten. It is about returning to our roots.