Video: How Kate Coughlan’s inner city courtyard garden became a 100% edible oasis

When NZ Life & Leisure editor Kate Coughlan left behind her vast veggie beds at the Rocket Ranch for city life she felt starved. She called in the experts to create a small courtyard garden with 100% edibles.

Words: Kate Coughlan
Video: Milla Novak

Photos: Sally Tagg

The thrill of no longer commuting 15-20 hours a week on Auckland’s motorways was forgotten as I looked around the tiny courtyard garden of my new home, a 20-year-old inner-city townhouse. My heart sank at the messy riot of thrashing queen palms, out-of-control ficus and opportunistic impatiens. Not an edible thing anywhere. Not a sprig of parsley, nor a clump of mint and not a single fruit on the shabby mandarins and lemons.
A pang of longing for the packed veggie beds and glossy citrus groves of my former country life went through me like a mild electrical current. “What will we eat?” I wondered, pathetically forgetting the two greengrocers within walking distance and supermarkets which, did you know, also sell food.

I attacked the ficus with fury in my heart, I snatched out great swathes of impatiens and poured fertilizer onto the citrus, vastly exceeding the suggested quantity of a handful per tree. I poked herbs and greens into any clear space. Soon I had more sorrel than I knew what to do with and some kale and silverbeet growing here and there. But it wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t feeding us. My call to landscape design, build and maintenance company Second Nature was for a beautiful 100% edible garden. I wanted to keep as much of the existing hard landscaping as possible and I had a small inelastic budget.

small courtyard garden with vertical garden

Kate Coughlan next to her vertical gutter garden.

Before I knew it, my courtyard was transformed. I had two new raised beds, a large frame for climbers, an exciting six-tray vertical planter, four deep troughs, more citrus in large pots and six hanging baskets. The total growing area is still small, at 15 sq m, but every centimetre is now in food production.
I promised to weigh what I harvested and for six months I diligently did just that on a set of digital scales at the kitchen door. What I was unable to weigh were the hundreds of ‘Sweet 100 tomatoes’ eaten by our family toddler, 16kg-James. I guess he might have eaten his body weight in the delicious red “lollies” which he so adored.
And how much did my garden grow in those first six months? An astonishing 138 kg of plate-ready food. No kidding, and that excludes the inedible outer leaves (which went to the worm farm) and things I forgot to weigh. For weeks I was the office darling as I delivered bags of salad greens ready to be tossed on a plate.
The harvest continues at such a prolific rate that my neighbour popped his head above the fence and suggested I open a stall at the end of our drive. Instead, I’ve shared the story of the design, build and harvest of my courtyard garden in our latest special edition In Your Backyard – Urban Harvest.

small courtyard garden

‘Sweet 100’ cherry tomatoes in the central planter next to the tiled herb hopper and citrus grove.

We also made a video (top of article) charting progress from my first conversation with the Second Nature designer Kerry Speirs, her plans and tips for creating a successful vegetable garden, the building of the various elements which transformed my courtyard, its planting and then the harvest.
Read In Your Backyard – Urban Harvest for advice from the Second Nature team on all elements of my courtyard transformation: design, construction and fruit-tree and vegetable planting. What was planted in my garden, what grew well and what have I replanted?

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Urban Harvest

Order your copy (delivered free) here Or watch for it supermarkets and bookstores. $19.90

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