If someone had told the wired twenty-something-year-old me that I would not only become an avid organic vegetable gardener, but also write a best selling book about it, I would have wanted to know what they were smoking from their garden. By the time I was 25, I had travelled down the mighty Congo River, been inside the crater of a live volcano, come eyeball to eyeball with a mountain gorilla and touched the glacier on the Mountains of the Moon. Me – a gardener? No way. But today I can’t imagine my life without a garden.
I have been growing organic vegetables and herbs in my Johannesburg garden for more than 15 years. When I started I knew nothing about any kind of gardening. To this day I have never been on a gardening course or had any formal training. It all began in 1995 when I visited a friend in California. His garden was bursting with chillies and it was the first time I had seen red, yellow, purple, brown and orange chillies in such a huge variety of shapes, colours and sizes.
At that time in South Africa all one could find were little hot red ones. Jalapenos were hardly on the culinary radar yet. Although I knew nothing about gardening, I was so inspired by this rainbow vision that I collected seeds of every variety of chilli I could lay my hands on.
Back home I removed a section of lawn, dug in some compost, scattered the seeds and sat back to watch my chillies grow. That summer I had about 20 varieties of chillies growing in my garden and quickly earned the nickname ‘Chilli Queen’.
Faced with this abundance I couldn’t waste it and I started making pastes, powders and chutneys. Jane’s Hot Diggedy Chilli Jelly became so popular amongst my friends that once, after returning from a long overseas trip, a friend greeted me with “Oh good, you’re back – when are you making some chilli jelly?” So much for missing me!
I discovered I was hooked on the simple process of sowing a few seeds, watching them grow and then dealing with the harvest. So I dug up more lawn. The chillies were followed by tomatoes, lettuces, eggplant, herbs and more. I subscribed to magazines and bought books.
Every year I’d try something new. Soon I ran out of space and began experimenting with vertical structures and different methods of intensive gardening. I made a lot of mistakes – but over the years I have developed a method of growing vegetables that suits my busy lifestyle. I am a television producer and I don’t have the time to spend hours in my garden and I only have a gardener who comes once a week.
So I have worked out the quickest and most practical methods that maximise both my space and the amount of time I have to spend in my garden. Today my vegetable garden is about 60 square metres and is my favourite and most rewarding part of my garden. In late 2007, a friend approached me for some help in starting his organic vegetable garden. After spending time helping him, I realised two things: one; over the years I had gathered a vast store of knowledge on how to grow organic vegetables, and two; I needed to share this information as there was a lack of information for South Africans on this topic.
Being a TV producer, it started as a script for a DVD, but when I quickly reached 20,000 words, I realised I was writing a book. After I reached 80,000 words I contacted publishers and within three days I had a publishing contract. Sixteen months after I began, Jane’s Delicious Garden was launched. Within two weeks it had hit the best seller list. Today it is the best selling gardening book in South Africa and has led to a vegetable gardening explosion. It has been an incredibly rewarding journey – to know that my small urban garden has inspired so many people to start growing their own food.
To see more of my garden visit my website
2 red bell peppers
10 red jalapeno chillies
1½ cups white vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon pips
6 cups sugar
¹/³ cup lemon juice
Cut the peppers into quarters and remove the white inner ribs. Purée the chillies and peppers in a food processor. Combine the purée and vinegar in a large pot and bring to the boil. Boil rapidly for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. (Be warned: the steam is pungent and it will make your eyes sting and the whole house pong of vinegar and chillies.)
Tie the lemon pips in a muslin bag, or put them inside a tea strainer that closes, and add them to the pot. (The lemon pips contain plenty of pectin – the stuff that makes jelly gel.) Now add the sugar and lemon juice, stirring well until the sugar has completely dissolved.
Bring back to the boil and cook until it wrinkles when dropped onto a cold saucer. Pour the jelly into sterilised bottles and seal. My favourite way of eating chilli jelly is with Philadelphia cream cheese spread onto hot croissants. Try it!