Backyard harvest (+recipes)

By Grant Allen

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Grant Allen finds lots of inspiration in the Ellerslie exhibits

Fiona Hill's balcony garden in Auckland. Photo / Doug Sherring
Fiona Hill's balcony garden in Auckland. Photo / Doug Sherring

Exhibition gardens at the Ellerslie International Flower Show in Christchurch featured as many vegetables as flowers.

This reflects the increasing interest in growing food in our backyards. The designs of many of these gardens took into account the decorative aspect of vegetables and illustrated innovative ways in which to garden at home.

Are home vegetable gardens still planted in straight rows in tilled earth? Oh no - you can plant your crops in recycled palettes, upcycled kitchen cabinets, tins, bottles and all manner of potential spaces.

I grew up on a classic quarter-acre section with a vegetable garden, back garden, front garden, flowers, trees, rose beds and lawns.

Today's vege plot is more likely to be a terrace, a balcony, integrated into your courtyard or a strong design element of your overall landscaping.

Small, intense, productive space is where it's at, and it's amazing what can be produced a step away from your door.

Author Fionna Hill supplies her household from a tiny balcony in inner-city Auckland. She grows rocket, tomatoes, chillies, four different types of basil, thyme, cucumbers, rosemary and, of course, the microgreens for which she is famous (see

The kitchen garden at Cook the Books is just evolving. Co-owner Felicity O'Driscoll has utilised plates and pots to produce spinach, tomatoes, mint, tarragon, sorrel, limes, chillies, courgettes, parsley, lettuce, kale, mesclun and nasturtiums.

This is all in a space measuring less than two square metres. Felicity told me "the best tomatoes this year were the ones that seeded themselves from last year's crop".

The garden supplies herbs for her cooking classes and on-hand vegetables for her and husband Michael.

But back to the Ellerslie show where the supreme award went to H+S Design of Christchurch for its Revolutionising Reuse design. This garden made use of pre-used materials (there's a lot of that about in Christchurch) and featured edibles in a big way. It was form and function in an imaginative and quirky space.

I also loved Raumati South Primary School's Our Sustainable Schoolyard. Made by 14 pupils, the intention is to donate the garden to a Christchurch school. It took the total garden cycle into account literally and figuratively. A bicycle (ridden in our photograph by Mayor Bob Parker) drove an irrigation pump for water. The garden included compost,
a monarch butterfly garden, a fruit bed and an outdoor pizza oven to cook pizza dough topped with the just-picked tomatoes, basil, thyme and rocket. How fresh is that?

While many of us now live in smaller spaces, these examples show that we can always find some room to grow at least a few plants, and supply at some of your own greens.

This is the time to plant some winter food. Aside from all the usual herbs, plant spinach, silverbeet, rocket, a few beetroot, beans, winter mesclun. It's so therapeutic to tend your own personal patch.

Go forage

As well as growing food, finding or "foraging" food (preferably free) has also become de rigueur.

At this time of the year many trees are dropping fruit in vast quantities. Apples, pears, cherry guavas and more can all be gathered and turned into jams, jellies and relish. Walk around your neighbourhood streets and parks to find overhanging branches you can collect from, and ask your neighbours if you can help turn their produce into dishes and preserves.


Garden Fresh Soup
Tomato Scrambled Eggs

For more ideas on growing your own food and cooking with it, the book food@home by Christine Dann (Canterbury University Press, $35) is a great resource. Visit

- Herald on Sunday

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