What a wonderful surprise today to open the local daily newspaper, The Cape Argus, and find a huge article complete with photographs of chickens and my best friend in it and an article all about her gardening endeavours! And its not just a small little article tucked away on page 30. No, its right on the front of the Life Style section, occupying a half page spread.

Here’s what it looks like …

Barbie's garden in The Argus

And here’s what they said …

Ideas and Interest grow out of a Garden …

Three chickens greet me in the back garden and three new beds lie fallow waiting for spring vegetable planting. How, I wonder, will those beds fare when planted?

“The feather duster is my best deterrent. And once the garden gets bigger, the chickens will be sectioned off in the fruit tree section”, explains Barbara Mueller.

Her rural garden in Philadelphia is a young one. Philadelphia, South Africa – its off the N7 near Malmesbury, Melkbosstrand and Durbanville. She moved here in 2005 but only turned her attention to the garden in 2007. This was her first venture into gardening. While she had always wanted to get her hands into the earth and have chickens, she had lived in a flat in Cape Town.

It is a steep learning curve. I found Mueller through her blog, which she writes with a friend who lives in Cape Town. “Every time we were together all we’d do is talk about our gardens, so we decided; lets’s blog. It was only meant for ourselves, but since we started in January we’ve had a lot of interest in it, from all over the world. The town mouse, country mouse thing seems to work well.”

Over the past few weekends Mueller has been building the three large raised beds and has started a pathway with pebbles, grasses and lavender. The beds have a trellis in the centre, waiting for a climber.

“This is just the beginning of the beginning. There will be grass next to the pool, an active area to sit in and for the grandchildren to play in. I’m very organic, and have just done an online course and learned about compost making, using organic materials such as hay and horse manure. I take my wheelbarrow and just fetch it from the farm next door. It’s all about creating fabulous soil. And each plant is purposeful. It’s either there to be eaten or as a pesticide or to bring good nutrients to the soil.”

“Since starting the blog and learning about organic and permaculture I’ve learned how nature does it. I’ve had so many ‘Aha!’ moments and I’ve started looking at things differently”.
“Chickens are my pets but they’re also so beneficial. It’s been such a learning curve, such fun and experimental”.

The tree section has a lemon, a fig, a guava and a loquat in it. Along the side of the house is the first section of the vegetable garden, guarded by the feather duster “soldiers”.

“I want to make this whole garden a food garden,” says Mueller. This is the third season for the vegetables. She started out planting a wide variety to see what would flourish and what would languish. “I’m still testing; everything grew except carrots and beetroot. I had wonderful tomatoes growing up the trellis”.

At the moment the celery is growing strongly and the green peppers are a good size. Her onions are strong tall plants.

A bed has been sheet mulched with newspaper, chicken manure, grass cuttings and straw, all layered and left to rest. “I’ll probably plant sunflowers and mealies here”.

She believes in companion planting. Herbs are often protective like wilde als (Artemesia afra or African wormwood) and lemon verbena, keeping bugs away, or are soil conditioners, like chamomile. She uses wilde als for making a pesticide. Other herbs are edible, like the origanum, a wild-looking coriander and marjoram. Lemon verbena and chamomile also make great tea. When her broccoli was being invaded by aphids, she planted nasturtium, an attractor plant, and it seemed to have worked.

All beds are well mulched. Her new venture is to use heirloom seeds. “I’m very interested in buying and swapping seeds. The second-generation plants of the commercial seeds are weak. It really upsets me that seeds are being manipulated like this. It means you can’t collect your seeds from year to year, but have to buy new ones each time.”

These F1 seeds, as they’re called, are hybrid seeds developed to give a bigger harvest. However, if you collect seeds of the plants, they will not grow the same way.

She has one raised bed where parsley, chamomile and celery are thriving, along with some bulbs so that she’ll have spring flowers. There is a pot filled with purple pansies for winter colour: A blueberry bush is waiting to be planted out.

The front section of the garden is mostly waterwise with a huge lavender bush which turns out to be four bushes together; a tall protea and a tree. In one corner she has built a feature with a dry river bed and grasses. When it rains, the river bed fills up and the frogs are happy.

“I scattered seed, and am waiting for the poppies and cornflowers to flower.”

In another corner are roses and a fuchsia, which were there when she moved in. The roses grow tall and protect the fuchsia in summer, but they have been hard pruned and it’s the fuchsia’s chance to flower.

Mueller has planted two leopard trees. “I fell in love with them and had to have them; they have beautiful bark.”

The blog has stimulated new interests, she says, one being photography. The other is a gardening journal, to record the garden’s progress and write down useful information. “we couldn’t find one we wanted. I am a publisher; and since we knew what we wanted, we put one together.” Its called The Gardening Journal and is available through the blog http: www.thegardeningblog.co.za

Note:

I’m not sure about copyright issues here – but its an article about my best friend, so I hope the Argus have no objection to my republishing it here. But to adhere to some formality and give full credit where it is due, this article appeared in Cape Argus Life on Wednesday, July 27, 2011 and is © The Cape Argus.