Grebe Garden, Johannesburg

Grebe vegetable garden

A tiny, flourishing vegetable garden

‘‘The garden is three years old but it looks more like a six-year-old,” my aunt, Pat Grebe, tells me. She stood by when the soil was dug over after building on what used to be an old quarry, and her attention has paid very handsome dividends.

Luckily the builders worked tidily, cleaning up every so often, so she wasn't left with soil poisoned with cement and other rubble. She started the garden off with a generous amount of compost, a regimen she has continued. Every early summer the garden receives a further helping: 3m³ of lawn dressing, and 3m³ of compost spread over every inch.

She went to an angling shop, bought two tins of earthworms, and gave them a reprieve around some silver birches that were struggling. They have since colonised the garden, to the satisfaction of hadeda ibises.

‘‘It already looks like a jungle, I already have to take out some plants which I give to my children. We're just waiting for the trees to grow larger, then we want to put in a nesting log for the barbets.” They've planted a collection of trees to suit themselves - indigenous trees, like lavender trees (Heteropyxis natalensis) and slender trees from cold climates that appreciate Johannesburg's icy winters: birches, poplars and maples.

I gave them a wild peach (Kiggelaria africana) tree that I had bought as decoy for the Acraea horta butterfly mothers (Garden Acraea, or ‘vuilvenstertjie’ - ‘dirty little window’ in Afrikaans) whose caterpillars were decimating my wild peach seedlings. I should've made clearer that being defoliated is the fate of a wild peach, for later Pat told me the tree had been attacked by worms which she combatted so vigorously that the tree didn't make it.

But that has probably been her only casualty for everything else is brimming with health. >>