Last Thursday the Aberdeen Garden and Social Club enjoyed a wonderful outing to a local farm – truly back to the roots of the original Garden Club.
Oudedrift, about half way between Aberdeen and Graaff-Reinet, is in a most beautiful setting, and the fact that such a lush garden could be seen in the middle of the Karoo during such a devastating drought is testimony to the love and care shown to the property.
Harold and Catherine Steven-Jennings bought the farm 34 years ago. It had been used as a cattle breeding farm, and thus was not set up in a form usable for them as sheep farmers, entailing a great deal of conversion work.
Members were fascinated by Harold’s account of the history of the farm, and how it is worked. He grazes his stock using the ‘wagon wheel’ format – a central hub of a watering point surrounded by wedge-shaped paddocks which all lead to the water, and the stock is moved from paddock to paddock around the ‘wheel’. This ensures that the ground and fodder has time to regenerate after it has been grazed, and the animals break up the surface and manure the ground to assist in germination of new shoots. When good rain falls, the stock moves more quickly, as the fodder grows fast, but in times of drought movement around the paddocks slows. Research shows that herds of wild animals – those who have not been interfered with by humans – actually graze in this manner intuitively. Because of his desire to work as holistically as possible, Harold prefers not to destroy predators on his farm, other than the occasional rogue. He brings his stock in to shelter at night for protection, and is currently investigating the possibility of bringing in a Maluti mountain dog to assist him to look after his sheep.
Catherine’s well-presented talk showed her passion for conserving and renewing the soil in as natural a manner as possible. Years ago she discovered books by Japanese farmer Masanoba Fukuoka called ‘The One Straw Revolution’ and ‘The Road Back to Nature’ and his ideas form a basis for her methods of growing both her vegetables and her flowers. The results are certainly magnificent. She works as organically as possible without using chemical fertilisers and only minimal pesticides if absolutely necessary. Her main pesticide is a mixture of khakibos and garlic, which deals with most pests. Her methods of making and using compost were explained and demonstrated to the guests. The group was fascinated to hear that at one time she had a problem with kudu jumping into the vegetable garden and helping themselves, and has solved the problem using strings of flashing Christmas lights on the surrounding rose-covered fence.
The farmhouse rests comfortably under a canopy of huge white ash and oak trees, which were already established when they moved to the farm, and which have grown massive and stately. Even in this time of drought the garden is full of colour and growth, and the garden is truly a place of peace and tranquillity. Many members of the group particularly remarked on this and said they didn’t want to leave! This was truly a ‘garden club’ meeting where we could relax under the trees, learn about a different way of life which places real importance on going back to nature, whilst enjoying a sumptuous tea provided by members.
The next meeting, on 14 March, will be held at the home of Tony ad Judith Dardis, at 7 Ziervogel Street in Aberdeen. The subject is the revitalisation of Aberdeen and recycling.