Author: Melody Menu
One day, as I was walking home from work, I came across a basil plant, without a pot, lying on its side on the pavement. I admit I was enticed at the prospect of a free plant, but took a good look around first for where it may have originated – and it’s stray pot – but there were no clues to be seen. It had been a scorching hot, dry day in the late 30s, and the basil had clearly been lying there for some time as its external leaves were browning and wilted. I scooped up my unsuspecting prize and carried the awkward bundle home, to be put in a temporary container until I could source a proper pot.
This was to be the first plant in my care, and my first experience of growing food as an adult. While I was excited at the prospect of free-to-hand herbs, I was not prepared for all that gardening would present to me, and how my worldview would be challenged in the process.
In her book ‘Edible Cities’, professional gardener Indira Naidoo talks about the possibilities of urban gardening as transformational in educating someone on how food is made; learning more about nature and the seasons; uniting communities in sharing food and knowledge; and promoting sustainable practices through reducing your carbon footprint. In particular, she notes that creating gardening spaces in cities and urban areas are ‘only limited by imagination…
‘With a little light and water, edible plants will grow almost anywhere we will let them – on rooftops, on walls, on footpaths, even indoors.’
With minimal space in my small apartment, I set about making use of all the available areas of sun and put a pot in those spaces. Mint, rocket and spring onions soon followed, as well as a cavalcade of succulents that I soon began to cut and splice apart, watching as new shoots grew, and making crafty pieces of living gifts for friends and family.
From that single basil plant that I adopted more than a year ago, I had access to fresh and vibrant herbs, I inherited a pet praying mantis that I absolutely adored (as it keeps other pesky bugs away), and, as winter rolled around and my basil was soon killed off by frost, I learned about the seasons, sustainability, and being a conscious consumer.
The capsicum plant pictured was given to me for my birthday last year. And while I was thrilled at the prospect of a new plant baby, I had no idea what to do with it. I over-watered, under-watered, it became pot-bound, and wilted in the intensified summer sun so that I cut leaves from it thinking that it would recover quicker and easier – not knowing that a solid drink was enough for it to completely perk up once more.
This capsicum has taught me a lot over the time that it has been growing, and seeing it flower has been a pure joy. As flowers sprung up the length and breadth of the plant, and failed to yield fruit, I learned that capsicums self-pollinate, and need a little help from the flutter of bee’s wings to stimulate blooming, or a simple brush to manually pollinate the plant. But I also learned about reclaiming one’s own agency and knowledge of the food system and encouraging others to do the same. It’s why initiatives like Youth Food Movement and OzHarvest exist – organisations that are re-educating the community on the food chain, reducing food waste, and disrupting the way we think about what and how we eat.
It seems like a simple thing, but as Indira goes on to say, ‘over a hundred years ago almost every family in every house on every quarter acre block had it’s own veggie patch. Not any more.’ The reasons for this shift are many and varied – from urban development and vertical living, to futuresque frozen dinners, a deep divide has appeared in terms of how contemporary individuals source and consume their food, with many having no direct knowledge of where their food has come from, with food potentially flying tens of thousands of miles around the world to get to your plate.
This is why my miniature edible garden means so much to me – it’s about taking back the power, and unlearning the convenience-based method of sourcing and paying for food. My veggies and herbs, grown in corners and holes in the wall, have taught me to be mindful of my carbon footprint; and creatively combat food waste; leant me agency in providing (albeit a small amount) of food for myself and my family; and has instilled in me the simple joys of watching something grow.
For more information on how you can grow your own, contact your local council for any food and farming initiatives they might have, such as City of Sydney’s Sydney City Farm.