Claire Inwood | Caterer, doll maker

Piha, West Auckland, New Zealand | January 2012

'I love to go out into the garden empty-handed and return with something to eat – even if it’s just a few herbs.' ... words below photos ...

Claire Inwood Caterer, doll maker | Piha, West Auckland, New Zealand | January 2012

The garden sits behind my house on a north-facing, bush-clad slope. It sprawls to about 40 square metres  amidst native trees and shrubs.  When I started a year ago the whole slope was covered and I tried to create light by trimming back and pulling out straggly saplings and a few branches here and there. I used everything I removed back in the garden as mulch, bed creation and support for plants. I have also planted things to use the trees – a passion fruit and a boysenberry grow into Manuka trees. The idea is that the bush can quickly and easily take back the territory if and when I move on. The great thing is that it is still crawling with skinks.

The bank is mostly clay soil so I made mounds of soil with seaweed from the beach, horse shit, newspaper, cardboard, dead leaves, ash from the fire – whatever I could get my hands on. Even though beneath it all is clay the slope helps the garden to drain.

I garden mostly by myself and sometimes with my son Quinn. In winter I am out there for about an hour a month and in the summer I can spend days out of a single week.

Easy crops are mizuna, strawberries, spring onions, silverbeet, peas, parsley, globe artichokes and mint. Hungry, thirsty plants like kumara, potato, pumpkin and melons that all need lots of space and soil.

Passion vine hoppers and small brown beetles attack my fig trees. I pick them off by hand and boil – I am a caterer after all!

In spring so much is happening in the garden and I get to see results quickly. It all leads towards the harvest of high summer. I normally garden between dawn and 11.00am and then just before dusk, the light is beautiful and its not too hot.

I enjoy the serenity of being in the garden, my hands in the earth, fresh air on my face – its so present, you are there, not somewhere else.

The philosophy that underpins my garden is to use what you have. I try and work as much as possible with nature. I fill up empty spaces with herbs and flowers and I never worry about things not looking manicured.

I plant companion flowers to deter pests but if plants do get eaten or nibbled by them I usually make up a spray. If diseases affect plants then I’ll sit down and ask myself what the reason might be for poor growth. Maybe I’ve been lazy and haven’t watered them properly.  

I recommend mulching, mulching, mulching – and making your own compost to nourish your plants. If you find yourself staring at your seeds or seedlings and going vacant then just get up and sow or plant them. Remember, nature does most of the work for us anyway.