Karlene Cooke's Portmore home gardenSunday, October 24, 2021
“That beautiful land of ours, with its canopy of sky, the air that blows upon it, the sun that warms it, the rain and dew that moisten it — the very embodiment of Divine love for man…” — Sir Ebenezer Howard (1898)
In 1989, renowned British town planner Sir Ebenezer Howard announced the novel concept of a “garden city” in his publication “Tomorrow! A Peaceful Path to Real Reform”, reprinted in 1902 as “Garden Cities of To-morrow”. The visionary publication was the catalyst of the garden city movement which, as described by Britannica, “was a response to the need for improvement in the quality of urban life”. By 1903, Howard's dream manifested in Letchworth Garden City and thereafter in 1920 Welwyn Garden City, both in England.
With the imminent graduation of Portmore from city to parish, the sustainability of the city is of paramount importance in ensuring the highest quality of urban and suburban life. Giving us all a glimmer of what life in the new parish should be like is Karlene Coke and her exemplary Portmore home garden.
Karlene grew up in a farming community where the soil provided both sustenance and subsistence for her family. “Farming was, and is still, the family's sole income and means of survival. It is for this reason that I have always appreciated the tilling of soil to sustain oneself. This appreciation has only blossomed into love since I started my own home garden,” she says.
Like a many a successful gardener, Karlene's foray into the craft was a rocky road. She explains, “I had always wanted to garden. My first attempt was in 2018. It was a complete failure. I completely gave up on the idea of ever being successful at growing food in Portmore.” However, she persisted and today her Portmore home garden is about organic food production on a micro scale to sustain a household and share produce with friends.
Tilling against inflation
Most interestingly, as the world saddles up to ride the high tide of a pandemic-induced inflation, we should all enrol in Karlene's masterclass in home techniques to hedge against market forces. She says, “Last year food prices skyrocketed, and I found myself buying less fresh foods, especially vegetables, at the supermarket. In October 2020, I hesitantly bought a very expensive bell (sweet) pepper and decided to plant some of the seeds. The peppers did extremely well and before you knew it, I had tomato, sugarcane, okra, callaloo, corn, turmeric, ginger, arrowroot and other crops growing in my tiny yard space. The past year in the garden has been a joyous learning experience…I have experimented with different soil types. I grew vegetables in almost every type of container [shoe box, crates, grocery bags, plastic bottles, buckets, raised beds, etc]. I have learned about organic methods of pest management and plant fertilisation. Most important of all, I have significantly reduced the amount of money I now spend on fresh foods.”
Karlene's tips & insights
Of course, every unlikely gardener wants the secret to Karlene's at-home gardening success.
This is her advice:
1. Before planting any crop, learn the nutritional requirements of that crop and prepare and/or amend your soil and fertilisation accordingly. Your crop will flourish once it has all the nutrients it requires in the soil.
2. Always water your plants at the root. Plants watered from above are more susceptible to diseases and fungi.
3. Know the temperature/climate requirement for the crops you grow. Some plants do better in hot climates while others are more suited for cooler temperatures. I have found it useless to try growing cool-climate crops in a hot climate and vice versa.
4. Be patient with your plants. They will germinate, grow, blossom and produce in their own time.
Food, in itself, is an explorative journey that is even more enjoyable when you are eating what you've grown. “My favourite produce to grow are tomatoes. If treated well, the tomato plant will produce a lot over a long period. One of my tomato plants continuously produced fruits four five months. In terms of taste, okra is now my favourite garden produce. Who knew okra was sweet? I did not realise this until I started growing my own.”
Dream of garden cities
“Home gardening is not a new phenomenon. It has simply evolved with the needs of our current generation and technology. Families across the world have done it for centuries, even before there were supermarkets, food processing plants and factories. In the face of increased poverty, food shortages, increased food prices and malnutrition, home gardening and backyard farming remain a proven and promising approach to enhance our nutrition and food security,” Karlene notes.
As we dream of great things for ourselves and for our country, let's be more like Karlene in the garden with passion and resolve to plant what we'd like to eat. Also, tonight, let's dream of environmentally and socially sustainable garden cities where we can all exponentially grow.