How (not) to grow a vegetable garden

Allison Tait blog
Posted on May 8, 2011

For weeks I have been watching them grow. Thick. Verdant. Lush. Luxuriant. A carpet of health and vitality.

On rainy days, the green was particularly virulent, soaking in the raindrops, drinking in the vitality. When the sun shone, they seemed to bask, undulating in a light breeze, flexing to their very leaf tips.

Today, I decided, they had to go.

Like most refugees from the city, one of the first things I wanted to do when I got to Fibrotown was to establish my very own vegetable garden. I would be Peter Cundall, only younger and more… female. My backyard would become a Garden of Eden, without the snakes. We would eat our own tomatoes and lettuce and parsley and basil. In winter, we’d reap the bounty of cauliflowers and leeks and celery.

Things haven’t turned out exactly as I’d planned.

The scales fell from my eyes early.

Then there was the Great Rhubarb Incident. Followed by the Spinach Glut of 2010.

Which brings us today. And the enormously successful crop of Weeds that I managed to grow in my vegie patch over summer. The only thing, in fact, that grew at all after that one success with the tomatoes.

I got in there today and pulled them all out. Weed after weed after weed. Dirty patches on my jeans. Mud caked on my boots. RSI in my shoulders. As I pulled and dug and pulled some more, I found myself considering planting some nice shrubs in the space. Low maintenance. Good screening.

But as I pulled out the weeds, revealing the patch in all its glory, I noticed just how good my soil has become. No wonder those weeds flourished. All that compost so carefully dug through has provided the structure for a veritable worm farm in the beds. It is dark, and rich, and just bursting with goodness.

It’d be kind of a waste to put a Murraya in there. Not when it could feed some leeks to make me some soup. Or some parsley to save me buying it every five minutes.

Hmmm. Back to the drawing board.


  1. -- SARAH --

    haha! When I was young, my parents helped my sister and I make a vegie garden… we didn’t do so well. Try zucchini though… They grow like crazy and they don’t need any help! 😉 Good luck with the vegie patch!

  2. MultipleMum

    Yay! A gardening post. I wondered what was going on in that garden of yours.

    We are ready to plant. Hopefully Thursday will be the day! I am excited. The lady at the local nursery assures me we will have success – low maintenance, high thrivability veggies coming my way. Black thumb be gone!

  3. Jamie

    Allison, if you hadn’t tried growing vegies, then you’d probably feel guilty about not growing vegies. Where you’re at now, you’re guilt-free, you’ve ended up with several excellent and amusing postings here and, as you say, great soil for growing anything. May is a good time to plant a few shrubs, too. And thanks for the mention!

  4. RP

    Oh no, maybe I shouldn’t of read this post. The house we have recently moved into has a greenhouse and I am harbouring dreams of being the next Jamie Oliver and becming self sufficient, and have spent the weekend planting carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, herbs, lettuce, cucumber, and strawberries but I have a strong suspicion that I may be following your path. Major problem and possibly a hinderance I have is an inability to distinguish between a plant and a weed, other than dandelions!

  5. Tracey from Central Coast Seachange

    Not everyone has a green thumb or the time to be tending to their garden at every opportunity. Why not have a virtual vegie patch? It can be weed free and as big as you want.

  6. Tenille @ Help!Mum

    I love having fresh herbs available, much better than having to pay $3 for some limp basil at the supermarket.

    I’ve pulled out my tomatoes and put in some blueberry bushes. I think it’s time to plant some spinach too. I’ve planted pumpkin too late, but it’s a nice sunny spot, so we’ll see.

  7. Susie Kline

    We usually grow tomatoes only. I should grow more. I do a lot of flowers though. Thinking of adding more roses.

    Also, I’ve never ever bought parsley…

    Xo susie

  8. therhythmmethod

    Like you, when we had our sea change we had big dreams of a veg patch about the same size as Peter Cundall’s. Ambitious? Each successive pregnancy put a stop to that, and we regularly harvested huge weeds. After baby no.3, we have downsized to 2 small square plots, and a herb garden outside the backdoor, and it’s just about right for us to manage. We only do 3 or 4 crops each season, and we stick to easy stuff: tomatoes, silverbeet, corn, etc.
    Good luck. I love Jamie’s garden, just wish I had more time to potter in our patch.

  9. Georgie

    Oh, go the vegies… you owe it to the worms! gxo

  10. Mel

    Keep at it! There’s nothing more satisfying than a thriving food garden. I’ve had lots of failures but have grown some amazing and yummy food over the years. I always grow too much, but luckily have enough family, cholla and parrots to give it all away to (actually that’s pretty darn satisfying too!)
    Nice post, thanks!

  11. Melissa

    I have failed so far at every gardening attempt I’ve ever made. And yet…I still find myself wanting to try again with a vege patch next year.

    Maybe it’s time I took your advice and visited Jamie..

  12. Cheers!

    It is the beginning of summer here and my older two boys are planting a garden. The oldest has done it several years and has wisely recruited a helper this year. Today they will be planting tomatoes, peppers, cucumber and watermelon. I hope they have a better green thumb than I do. 😉

  13. hearts_in_asia

    Oh yes, I agree with the above comments about herbs. Usually really easy to grow, and carpeting types like thyme might smother out some of the weeds. How about a little lemon tree?
    (Speaking as a highly accomplished weed grower myself.)

  14. Mama of 2 boys

    I am sorry to hear about your vegie dreams going awry. This is a great post all the same. And I look forward to reading all about what you decide to place in that rich, fertile soil.
    I think my vegies dreams died the day I killed parsley. Parsley!! I mean, come on!

  15. tinsenpup

    I dream of growing more than just a few scraggly tubs of veggies one day very soon. I suspect the dream will more closely resemble your experiences in reality, but you’re in there having another go, so there’s hope yet for us all.

  16. InkPaperPen

    i am not a gardener. We had the most beautiful veggie patch here, set up by the previous residents, but we have slowly killed it all of, with the exception of a few Capsicum plants – they seem to have incredible perseverance! Thanks for that link, i I am always planning on getting the veggie patch back

  17. Posie Patchwork

    Oh the hugest DITTO here, only last weekend, i planted the pumpkins too late in the season & grew the most magnificent leaves & vines to cover an entire backgarden, alas, no fruiting pumpkins, crest fallen, i pulled it all out & yes, amazing soil in the bed . . . for next year!! Don’t give up, our barrel at the back door filled with herbs does us all wonders in Summer, smells gorgeous, herb salads & gorgeous weather you want to be out gardening in. Love Posie

  18. Diminishing Lucy

    Beetroot my friend: beetroot. And celery. Successive sowings of cauliflower.

    And herbs. Oh the ease and great satisfaction of herbs…


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