On Sunday, I received an interesting proposition from a lovely customer called Ruby, who lives in Mangere. Ruby was desperate to get her small suburban garden back in shape and asked if I would be happy to go around and help her sort it out. Although I run a boutique gardening business, I hadn’t yet received a request for assistance with garden maintenance. When I first established Anita’s Garden, I did foresee this as a potential service to customers, but I wasn’t sure that I would have enough time to assist others with the maintenance of their garden, on top of taking care of my own! As many of you will be aware, over the years, our garden has grown extensively. I love growing annuals and edibles, which are incredibly hard work as you’re constantly propagating plants, caring for seedlings, planting them, caring for the plants and then replacing them once they have finished flowering or fruiting. It’s a labour intensive, albeit thoroughly enjoyable cycle.
Back to Ruby’s garden. The soil was in poor condition. It was very dry and cracked. Ruby needed help with identifying what nutrients she needed to replenish the soil with, so that she could add goodness back into the earth. She also asked for some help with tidying her garden up and getting it ready for planting with new season’s crops, which she wanted to purchase from Anita’s Garden. I was enchanted by Ruby’s lovely gentle nature. Keen to encourage her with her project, I couldn’t resist saying yes. After all, it’s not exactly as if it’s beneath me to get my hands dirty! Ruby came around to visit the nursery and selected a variety of plants for her garden: spring onions, beetroot, leeks and lemon grass, as well as a cherry tomato in a bucket for her patio. Before I knew it, I had packed up the equipment I needed for the tasks at hand and was around at her property in the afternoon, ready to start work.
As Ruby and her family are currently renting, the garden consists of a series of planter boxes that had been somewhat neglected. I began by surveying the garden and identifying which planter boxes would be most suitable for planting the seedlings Ruby had purchased at the nursery. The soil was in better condition in some of the planter boxes than others. I started with a planter box in the corner of the garden and began by moistening the soil with water, as it was very hard and cracked. I loosened the soil with my shovel and worked in the compost, sheep pellets and general gardening fertiliser which I had instructed Ruby to purchase from a hardware store. After replacing lost nutrients to the soil, I carefully separated the punnet of spring onions that Ruby had purchased and started planting them individually into holes spaced about 5 cm apart in the planter box. I then watered the area thoroughly, to allow the plants to settle into their new home. While I was working, the charming Ruby kindly brought me a fresh vegetable juice which she had made with her Vitamix blender. It was really delicious and just the thing I needed on such a hot day while working outdoors.
I then started working in the long planter box along the fence line, which I had deemed the most suitable location for the rest of Ruby’s seedlings. For the area where I wanted to plant the beetroot, all I had to do was moisten and loosen the soil. I intend to write a growing guide for beetroot in the near future, but the key point to note here is that as a root crop, beetroot thrives in settled soil. If planted in an area where fresh compost, sheep pellets and other fertilisers have been added recently, it will result in excessive leaf growth at the expense of producing decent bulbs.
After planting Ruby’s punnet of beetroot, I then started preparing the large area where I wanted to plant the leek seedlings. By contrast with beetroot, as a leafy crop, leeks benefit from soil that is rich in nutrients. After moistening the soil with water and loosening it with the shovel, I added lots of compost, sheep pellets and general garden fertiliser to the area and mixed these nutrients in thoroughly. Similar to the spring onions, I separated the leek seedlings and planted them individually, this time spacing them a little further apart as leeks are much fatter than spring onions. I then watered the area in well. I finished off by repeating the process for a smaller area of the same planter box and planted a clump of lemongrass. Ruby’s family is from the Philippines and they use lemongrass in certain ethnic dishes. I just love connecting my customers with their roots through their gardens, so when I discovered that Ruby was from the Philippines during her visit to my nursery, it was one of the items that I recommended to her when we were looking at suitable plants for her garden
Was the client happy? A resounding yes! Ruby was delighted with the work I had done and very grateful for the advice I gave her regarding the on-going care and maintenance of her small garden. We agreed to wait another six weeks or so before I return and plant seedlings in the remainder of the planter boxes, so that the weather cools a little and isn’t quite as dry. Ruby would really love to plant lettuce for salads, but I had advised against planting lettuce now in the height of summer, as it is likely to fail. Lettuce goes to seed quickly in heat and also becomes quite bitter. By March, it will hopefully start to rain again, making the soil slightly cooler for planting lettuce seedlings. Stay tuned for an update on the progress of Ruby’s garden in the future.