Beechwood is living proof that the days of a vegetable garden being the poor cousin of the flower garden are over. At Beechwood, Christopher and Susan Greig’s home in Hyde Park, Johannesburg, the spectacular kitchen garden takes pride of place. It’s the first thing you see when visiting. Created by Christopher, it has a formal design, a contrast to the rest of Beechwood’s meandering and park-like gardens.
“I wanted to create a juxtaposition to the park, with absolute formality and structure, which I don’t have much of elsewhere,” he explains. It’s instantly obvious this garden was created by an artist. At its centre is a square pond (filled with edible waterblommetjies) and a fountain with four spouts, echoing the axes radiating out from it.
“Water is an important aspect, both for the tranquil sound and the wildlife it attracts,” he says. Punctuating the pathways are planter beds made from brick. “The raised beds are essential, not just aesthetically but also practically in terms of goggas. They also warm up quickly in spring, and their height makes them easy to access and manage.”
The location was chosen for its proximity to the kitchen. Run-down buildings on a slope above the tennis court were levelled, and a sunken garden was created, which you access down stone steps. “Immediately, this creates the sense of arriving on a different level. Also, when you look down into it, the planting and the vegetables are seen so much more effectively from above,” he says. When I first visited this garden in 2013, the structural backbone was clearly visible.
Over the years, abundant planting has softened it and rounded its edges. The contrasting greens of lettuce, mustard, Swiss chard, and watercress jostle with the reds and purples of Asian greens, cabbages, bloody sorrel, and beetroot. Tall, spiky grey artichokes provide a foil for pale-yellow nasturtiums and papery, orange poppies. Creating interest are pots with different shapes and heights, planted with sage, fennel, parsley, rosemary, mint, tansy, thyme, and more.
“I change it all the time,” says Greig. “I never plan — I just make it up as I go along. I’m very aesthetically tuned, so the vegetable garden is kept to a high degree of beauty.” But there is far more to this garden than pure design and visual splendour — a deep spiritual energy runs through it. “I’ve been a vegetarian for 30 years. I meditate twice a day and do yoga regularly. This vegetable garden is at the heart of all that. It is my main focus at Beechwood and my ‘go-to’ place. I am at my happiest when I am here, barefoot and watering my plants.”
• From the June edition of Wanted, 2021.