When you think of Africa, gardening probably isn’t the first thing that springs to mind. Yet whilst food might be scarcer than it is here in many areas of Africa than it is in the UK, and lush fields of crops are not as much of a common sight, people definitely do garden in Africa!
When you’re faced with these harsh conditions – think arid soil, burning heat and very little rainfall – and no gardening hardware store in sight, how do you even begin to go about setting up a garden?
I’m about to tell you…
Choose Your Crops
First and foremost you need to work out what you can and can’t grow. Certain crops just aren’t suited to an African climate and won’t grow no matter how hard you try!
Look for fruits, vegetables and flowers that are tough-wearing, able to survive on a bare minimum of water and which won’t wilt in the heat. Cacti are an obvious choice, but if you’re looking to grow food, this is clearly not the best choice. Whilst cactus juice is perfect for treating sunburn, I’m not sure anyone would want to be eating cactus soup for dinner each night!
Potatoes, onions, cabbage, broccoli, lettuce and tomatoes will all thrive in an African garden or, if you’ve got a sweet tooth, why not try growing melons? Fruit trees also love a warm environment so pears, apples, peaches, pineapples, bananas and oranges are all great choices too!
If you’re just gardening for aesthetics, certain varieties of poppy (the Arizona and California ones) are a delight to look at, and the Oakleaf Hydrangea is a flowering shrub able to survive both in the shade and in direct sunshine.
Find ways to keep the nutrients in
Have you ever tried sprinkling water droplets onto a dry sponge? In the driest parts of Africa the soil is totally devoid of moisture, at least on the surface, so when you water those crops it’s all just going to get sucked down into that thirsty soil and leave the plant roots as dry as ever!
You need to use your creativity here and come up with a way to keep that moisture in the soil right where it’s needed. So forget about plans for a flat, open vegetable patch like you might have in the UK and consider a keyhole garden.
A keyhole garden kills two birds with one stone, keeping moisture in and providing a composting option as you garden in a way that means no valuable minerals are lost – a plant cannot survive on H2O alone, after all! Check out this video on how to make a keyhole garden.
Without ready access to fertilizer and shop-bought ‘plant food’ or pesticides, once your crops start to grow, you’re going to have to come up with some more inventive ways to keep them nourished and stop pests destroying the lot.
In fact, these two recipes below can be used whether you’re gardening in Africa or just in your back garden in the UK – they’re much better for the environment than chemical products too!
Chop dock leaves, clovers and comfrey and place in a large container. Sprinkle a pinch of ash over the top, cover the chopped leaves with water and pop a lid on top. Stir the mixture daily for a week – then on day seven, strain out the leaves and the remaining liquid will be full of delicious nutrients for your plants to ‘drink’!
In a bucket, mix together marigold leaves with a handful of garlic bulbs, a few crushed chillies, a sprinkling of ash, a few spoonfuls of baking powder and a small chunk of soap. Cover this rather bizarre mixture with water and leave for four days, then voilà, homemade pesticide that won’t harm your plants or the soil!
Now that you’ve finished you can sit back (on a wooden bench – metal garden benches are going to get burning hot under that African sun!) and admire your handiwork.
Do you have any other extreme-weather gardening tips to share?
Estelle Page is an interior designer and keen gardener with an interest in anything ‘green’. When not out planting new blooms, she blogs for Capital Gardens, an online garden centre in the UK.