Grow What You Love

For many foodies, the idea of wandering out into their own gardens for some purple sweet potatoes or a bouquet of lemon basil to add to a meal is a long-held dream. True the diversity of vegetables and herbs available locally has expanded with weekly home deliveries of organic produce, pop-up events and even many farmers bringing once “exotic” items to market with kale now as common in Papine Market as it is in Whole Foods. But, let’s face it, nothing beats planting what you love to eat, watching it grow and then picking it yourself…that is, if you know what you are doing in the first place. 

Enter the home garden designers. Both here and abroad, foodies and those interested in healthier eating are turning to the experts for advice on how to make their home gardens—large and small— places that are not only beautiful but also plentiful too. But the trend is not just about using any seeds or any soil or the chemical-based methods that have become the norm. Today’s designers are focusing on permaculture agriculture which is dened by the Permaculture Institute as, “the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems.”

Basically, a return to farming the way we used to do it with new research informing the methods and techniques available. This is farming that is largely a closed-loop system and depends on investing in your soil through composting and mulching; companion planting (whereby plants are grouped for pollination and taste); and sacricial planting to confuse pests into staying away from what you actually want to grow (for example, mixing broccoli with the nasturtiums which attract the aphids). 


How to start? You can do your own research, or you call an expert like Liz Solms or Andrew Bruce. American Liz Solms has lived and worked in Jamaica for over a decade helping hotels like Rockhouse and Round Hill, as well as owners of several private villas and homes design and establish organic gardens. Liz initially came to Jamaica in 2005 on a grant to set up the island’s rst organic farming cooperative with farmers in Treasure Beach and, while it was an initial success and led to the establishment of the rst farm-to-table dinner series and a farm-to-kitchen supply contract with Jakes hotel, the cooperative ultimately disbanded for a variety of reasons beyond her control.

“I’m a realist,” says Solms, explaining that the demands of large-scale farming in St Elizabeth (like, for example, Iowa in the US) results in farmers there being very reluctant to give up chemical-based agriculture. Since then, Solms and her husband bought a property in St Elizabeth where they live about half the year and where she runs her own organic farm and teaches interested small farmers (especially women) how to transition to organic and how to market
their produce.

As for her consultancy business, Solms has worked on over 20 dierent projects in Jamaica over the years. “I would say Round Hill has been my most successful project to date,” she adds. “Their sta was incredibly motivated and responsive to change and to learning about what was then this totally foreign concept. I think the garden sta were spiritually moving towards that themselves and so it was an easier sell. Also, the chef really embraced using local produce and the organic approach and, most importantly, the guests wanted it.”

So, what has been Solms’ most challenging project? “A villa by sea with strong winds. When nature hits a client’s expectations, that’s challenging.” Another thing to take into consideration: “Think about what you really want to eat,” says Solms, “so you don’t get stuck, for example, with loads of spinach that you never liked in the rst place.” 


Meanwhile, over in Kingston, Andrew Bruce, founder of the social enterprise Plant Jamaica, has big plans to expand both his community gardening and private homes and corporate design projects. Bruce, who has agriculture in his blood having spent much of his childhood at his family’s farm out at Serge Island, St Thomas, combined his love for agriculture and passion for social activism in 2014, to crowdsource and organize a weekend of 80 volunteers to help with the development of a community garden at what is now a popular visitor destination and vegetarian café called Life Yaad on Fleet Street in downtown Kingston.  

Then, in 2017, Bruce received an EFJ grant to set up permaculture projects and educational programs in ve schools. He is now looking to expand this program, as well as establish a demonstration farm in a public space that would allow for tours and be a source for the inputs needed for consumers to create their own micro-farms. On the business side, Bruce has begun designing and building vegetable gardens at private homes in Kingston that each cater to the individual’s style from beautiful to productive and everything in between.

“When I started, I found that it was quite difficult to find an organization that could give the amount of advice and assistance that people really need, from knowing nothing about permaculture, to conceptualising a plan, evaluating it and then finding the supplies you need to implement it,” says Bruce, who is responding to this need through Plant Jamaica. “The taste of the vegetables is incredible,” says Bruce’s client, Robin Lumsden, cookbook author and founder of the Belcour line of condiments and pepper sauces. Although an avid gardener herself, Lumsden decided to consult with Bruce to create a permaculture kitchen garden and she has been reaping delicious fresh greens and herbs ever since. “Vegetables straight from your garden really do taste better than anything you can buy. I’m definitely hooked on it and think it’s worth the commitment and effort.”