How to create an edible garden with Indira Naidoo

Have you ever wanted to grow your own vegetables but didn’t know where to start? Or perhaps you feel you don’t have the space or time to grow everything you need? Cookbook author and gardener, Indira Naidoo, 47, says maintaining an edible garden is easier than most people think and you don’t need a sea change or tree change to get started.

In the 1990s, Indira was best known as a news broadcaster on ABC’s Late Edition and SBS’s World News Tonight. She also entertained audiences with her comedic talents, making guest appearances on ABC’s Club Buggery, Good News Week, The Fat, and the McFeast Show.

According to the former news broadcaster turned green thumb, gardening has brought back a sense of balance to her life.

“We outsource so much of the fun bits in our life, and all we’ve left ourselves with is the boring bits, which is work. And that balance isn’t there,” she says.

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Indira started growing her own vegetables on her inner-city balcony

As a journalist, Indira would often cover stories about emerging environment and food issues but she never felt truly connected with the space around her.

“I think in our modern society most of us are very over-connected with our screens and our phones, our laptops. It can make you quite neurotic. And just be disconnected from that is very important.”

Going back to basics, Indira started growing her own vegetables on her inner-city balcony, documenting the journey on her popular blog Saucy Onion. 

That was more than eight years ago. Since then, Indira’s been trained in climate change by former US President Al Gore, she’s released two books The Edible Balcony and The Edible City and conducts weekly gardening classes on the Wayside Chapel award-winning rooftop vegetable garden.

I can’t describe when you wait two to three months waiting for a fruit or vegetable to ripen, you are obsessed with it

Q. What are your top 3 tips for starting your own edible garden?
1. The key thing is to start small, start with the lettuces.

2. As you get more confident and see how it grows move on to your other greens, tomato, capsicums, chilies.

3. When you’ve got more space and you’re more confident about the time involved, then you can go to your root vegetables and your carrots and radishes and your potatoes.


Indira Naidoo talking about the Wayside Chapel's rooftop garden in Sydney

Q. How different is your career today?
I’m still exploring the same ideas and issues I did as a news broadcaster and journalist but just with a different level of connection, I guess. So for me it’s not that big a journey really. But I can imagine for some people it would be you know, coming from a manicure to having manure on your hands, can be quite a change! I just looked at my environment differently. I looked at my balcony differently.

We always tell ourselves that these little changes will happen when you retire, when you cash in your superannuation and you move to the beach or the coast or the country and I guess in a way I’m sort of challenging that because most of us aren’t going to do that.

Q. What are unexpected benefits of growing your own food?
I had no idea it would be so much fun, so enjoyable and in fact hard to leave my garden and go and do something else. Just connecting with nature, the greenery, and the lovely aromas. And it’s just fun to share your food with other people.

The great thing about being a gardener is that you see seeds, and you see them differently, and you think, ‘wow look at that’

Q. How has gardening changed your views on food and the environment?
The growing has changed my awareness, just the variety of things out there. And then obviously with waste. I mean, I can’t describe when you wait two to three months waiting for a fruit or vegetable to ripen, you are obsessed with it. Every little bug or caterpillar that tries to eat it, you protect it like a mother lion to her cub. It’s almost impossible to waste anything you grow yourself, you value it so much, because you invest so much time into it. And then that flows on to everything else. You can’t bear to waste their [farmers] food as well. I hate waste now. I hate any food scrap going into my bin. Any peelings. . . I try to take them to the worm farm.

I try different varieties, different vegetables that I normally don’t get at the supermarket. That really changed my palate. Most people just do tomatoes, carrots, bananas, capsicums, and zucchini maybe.

The great thing about being a gardener is that you see seeds, and you see them differently, and you think, ‘wow look at that’. You just want to put it in and see what grows. And without being aware of it you’re educating yourself, you’re connecting with it.

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Rooftop gardens are becoming popular in densely populated cities

Q. What’s new in the gardening space?
Vertical gardens or green walls are a huge trend at the moment. And over the years I’ve been trialling a few methods where you can have systems that are expensive or as high tech as you can afford.

The wonderful thing compared to when I first started gardening in small spaces, there wasn’t a lot of design or technology in the marketplace to support you. The wonderful thing now is companies are building specific growing mediums and growing containers for people with small spaces or limited or urban spaces.

Q. Can edible gardens be as attractive as ornamental plants?
Edibles can be very attractive if you’re an ornamental grower. People think that edible gardens can’t be pretty gardens. I found that edibles can have beautiful leaves and beautiful flowers as well. Flowers from eggplants and capsicums can be really pretty. They have their own fragrances and smells as well.

(Featured image: Alan Benson)

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