Whether it is a tart granadilla or peppery rocket leaves, there are few things more satisfying than picking home-grown produce from one’s own garden and eating it minutes later. I recently visited the newly established Vegetable Garden in the Company Garden’s in Cape Town where an abundant array of magazine –perfect produce is growing slap bang in the middle of Cape Town. Thanks to the innovative Manager of the Company Gardens, Rory Phelan, and his team of 4 gardeners, the move to restore at least part of the Company Gardens to its original Dutch roots has taken seed.
It is a huge pleasure to come across the neatly laid out colourful patchwork of artichokes, quinces, spinach, brinjals, mielies, not to mention numerous fruit trees, hanepoort grapes and berries which the public is free to enjoy and which are thriving in the Company Garden’s – the original site of the Dutch vegetable garden. Over the past 350 years the nature of the Garden has changed. Originally it was established to supply food to the ships sailing around the Cape en route to the East. It then changed to a botanical garden enjoyed by the citizens of Cape Town and during the Victorian era became a pleasure garden. Started as a World Design Project in 2014 and given initial funding by Woolworths, the dream to reclaim hard surface and green the garden is being realised.
Through meticulous research based on etchings and paintings of the time, every detail from the ‘lei water’ system to the sand and pebbles surrounding the gardens has remained true to their Dutch period. There is also an endangered medicinal herb section, a reminder of the local knowledge on the ground which the original Khoi and San inhabitants of the Cape would have shared with the new arrivals. According to Rory, the three main driving forces behind the project were to re-green those parts of the garden which had been turned into parking, provide a snapshot of the roots of the garden and establish an avenue of food security. The spectacular gardens at Babylonstoren are of course based on the Company Gardens and a lovely collaboration project exists between the two. Collaboration is the name of the game and what a fruitful partnership it has been. With the excess produce plans are afoot to have a fresh farmer’s market.
The recently revamped Company’s Garden restaurant is currently supplied with garnishes, herbs and salad greens harvested within a stone’s throw of their kitchen. They are planning a more substantial salad bar in which case the Garden will aim to grow produce according to their requirements. Do yourself a favour and go for lunch in this historic oasis and green lung of the city. Help is at hand for those of us who want to have more food security and become ‘locavores’ whilst reducing food miles. Sign up for one of the Eduplant sponsored morning workshops which will take place on 15 April and 24 June where, in addition to having the theory explained you, you will get practical training and go home with a planted up container all fired up to farm your own veggie patch!
Article first appeared in Food 24