Most of what I know about growing food, I have learnt from my friends. Recently, I visited Jess, who has taught me heaps (not only about veggie gardens!), and her beautiful dog Thunder. She lives in a charming cottage in the Karkloof hills surrounded by birds and butterflies.
“I do love lettuce,” says Jessica Dreamtime, wandering around her food garden. “The shapes are so interesting and feminine and the colours are lovely.” She picks a few leaves and a nasturtium flower to nibble on.
Leaves of all varieties feature in the garden – rocket and spinach are other favourites.
The garden is a little wild, with leek flowers reaching for the sun and herbs tumbling across the paths, but obviously producing plenty of food.
Meals in the Dreamtime household are always based around what the garden has to offer. “There is actually too much here for us, so we share. It is amazing how much one can produce in a small space.” A green snake lives in the stone wall and if the gate isn’t closed, buck and chickens enjoy snacking on the leaves too.
Jessica wishes she had more time to spend in the garden. When life gets a little stressful, she heads out to do a spot of weeding. “Gardening is the most important thing you can do. It connects one to the earth and teaches one to value food. It is a spiritual experience.”
Many vegetables are left to flower, attracting bees and other pollinators, looking pretty and useful in salads too. “Bees are our sisters” Jess tells me. “We are supposed to tell them everything we are worried about and they will sort it out.” Besides offering a safe haven for these creatures (and many others) in her garden, Jess also keeps a few bee hives from which she carefully and respectfully collects honey.
Over many years, Jessica has learnt many methods of gardening – Conservation farming, Permaculture and Biodynamic farming too. She combines a bit of each to create her own style which suits the Midlands’ conditions best. She has been very influential in helping schools and communities set up their own gardens to. “Often people just need to be reminded of how their grandparents did things – they already have the skills and knowledge, but have forgotten how to use it.”
My friend Nathi Majola, who is principal of Carshalton School where Jess has done a lot of gardening said recently “Jess has been very influential in ensuring that Carshalton community start their own vegetable gardens. She was working with our school and when I asked her if she could accommodate the community in this programme, she did not hesitate. She introduced permaculture methods and ways to control waste by making compost. The community bought the idea. She encouraged them to go back and use old methods used by their forefathers. It was a great learning experience. The children were able to take information they have learnt at school back home and encourage their parents to start their own vegetable gardens too. I have found working with Jess very encouraging, she is so dedicated, committed and always willing to go an extra mile in whatever she is doing. I am honoured to work with her.” Jess has always impressed me at how she really got stuck into the gardens. Carrying water, hauling compost, slashing weeds and digging holes.
Jessica is certainly passing her gardening magic on to her community, generously sharing produce and information wherever she goes. She is my food hero.