IT’S HARD not to be envious of Jaime Main’s workplace. As one of seven gardeners tending three hectares of beautifully manicured grounds in New Zealand’s unique Sculptureum, overlooking the coast north of Auckland, she possibly has one of the best outdoor jobs in the world.
Once a dairy farm, the globally recognised tourist attraction near Matakana is now a breath-taking 10 hectares of galleries, gardens, outdoor sculptures, restaurants and a vineyard that produces 10,000 bottles of wine a year.
Jaime has been at the forefront of the property’s latest addition – an edible garden including a range of leafy greens used to feed the Sculptureum’s pet rabbits and other animals. She said come the Summer months, watermelon, brassicas and summer vegetables to be used in the Sculptureum restaurants on site will be added to the mix.
“We’ll just do it in stages, because if it works, there’s plenty of room to expand,” Jaime said.
“I work in a wonderful environment, and the most rewarding part is that I get to see how everything turns out, especially coming into Spring.”
How to plant your own edible garden:
Start small, with one plot, either in the ground, raised beds or in containers such as old bathtubs, large pots or wine barrels with holes for drainage. It takes a lot of effort and time to keep things growing and you can always add more beds next season. Choose a flat space with the best sunlight, protection from wind and a garden tap nearby, so it’s easy to water. Consider whether your space can be netted or fenced to prevent birds and other pests from pinching the harvest.
It’s very important to have good soil, and the quality of the food you harvest depends on it. Research the best ways to add compost to enrich the soil, or spend some money to buy quality soil from a reputable garden outlet. Dig it over until it is soft and crumbly, ready for planting, and add chicken, cow or horse manure to fertilise.
Ask your friends and neighbours for advice on what they grow and how. Some climbing plants like peas and beans can be grown up a north-facing wall or fence. Rosemary, chives and oregano are used regularly in cooking, so can be in pots. If you have pets like rabbits or guinea pigs, you can grow fresh leaves for them. Read seed packets or seedling tags to see what time of the year to plant, and don’t forget to label your crops, so you know what’s what and where. Plant flowers like salvia amongst or around your edible garden to attract the birds and bees to pollinate it.
Plants for an edible garden include:
- Flowers – borage, carnation, chamomile, marigold, nasturtium and salvia
- Herbs – rosemary, basil, chives, sage, mint, oregano, parsley and thyme
- Seeds and berries – blueberries, mulberries, raspberries and sunflower seeds
- Vegetables – lettuce, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, snow and sugar snap peas, silverbeet, corn, capsicum, zucchini, beans and pumpkins
- Fruits – rhubarb (stems are edible, but the leaves are poisonous), kiwi fruit, strawberries and passionfruit
- Plants and trees – all sorts of fruit trees, including lemons, feijoas and apples. The leaves from bay trees are great for use in casseroles and bolognaise.
If you weed once a week while they’re small, it’s much easier to keep on top of them. Learn to recognise pests and use organic sprays or home remedies to control them. Use mulch too. It smothers weeds and keeps moisture in the soil. Many gardeners use the no dig method of spreading layers of manure, then wet newspaper, then mulch. The only tools you’ll need to start with are a good pair of garden gloves, a trowel and a garden fork.
If a crop dies, do some research, ask around and work out why. Join a local garden club or find some like-minded gardener friends. Be open to learning and trying new things – the most successful gardeners are always interested to know more.