John Pountney | Proprietor chef
Refreshment Room, Scenic Drive, Waitakere Ranges, West Auckland July 2013
‘I garden for the love of it - for no other reason than that.’
I set up a garden for the Refreshment Room three years ago on a north facing sunny slope near to the restaurant. Because we have solid clay soil – typical of the Waitakere Ranges - I made 12 raised beds, each about 50m long, and worked compost, seaweed and manure into the soil. I usually spend about two hours a week gardening – time of year dependent.
I like the idea of being a chef from start to finish. I’m a great believer in in food from the ground up – so if I make food I want to make as many elements of that food myself. Most chefs don’t really know where produce comes from and the seasons that govern it. If you don’t garden then you don’t really get to understand about seasonal food.
I grew up with two very good gardeners - my mum and grandmother but I learnt nothing from them because I was young and arrogant and gardening was the last thing I was interested in as a teenager. Despite being exposed to so much knowledge I knew nothing when I started and so I had to teach myself everything.
I don’t care if plants get eaten or attacked – that’s fine with me, I just plant more. If plants die – they die, I’m not going to spray the underside of leaves or whatever. Birds are a pest in summer when they eat the tomatoes. But they get bored after a while because there is so much other food around. I definitely use no chemicals.
I used to grow more varied crops but these days I grow what works, what is popular in the restaurant is economical – so its lots and lots of globe artichokes, zucchini, tomatoes and herbs.
My favourite tool is a mattock made from an old blade that I fixed onto an axe handle.
Whenever I’m here is a good time to be in the garden. There is no good or bad time, come rain or shine its all the same to me. I love the act of gardening – getting my hands into the soil.
You shouldn’t be frightened, start at the beginning don’t worry about a few mistakes. Enjoy yourself. Its about learning to love manual labour – getting tactile and dirty. You have to build up knowledge through making mistakes.
My highest gardening moment is still picking wild blackberries with my mum aged 8 in the hedgerows of Devon where I grew up and making jam together. We’d fill pots and pots and pots to get us through the winter.
Gardening is good for the soul – a balm that heals and soothes. It makes me feel good about myself, it’s nurturing and it teaches me. You only get out what you put into a vegetable garden, the moment you step away it turns to weeds – unlike an ornamental garden. It’s a living creature.