Translation from: Stads Tuinieren Magazine – Edition 4 2017
Text: and photos by Marike Ooms
Creative in the city garden
Since six years ago, behind a city apartment on the Transvaalstraat in Amsterdam there is an oasis of green. You will find courgettes, chilies, tomatoes, rhubarb, berries and raspberries, apples and nectarines, just as you would in the countryside. Nothing is further from the truth. Here it is done on 50 meters squared. It is a question of clever combinations and growing upwards.
Text and photos by Marike Ooms
Iris Effendi (41) is the proud owner of this tasty garden. “I started slowly when I first moved here, with a few tomatoes” She tells “the garden had a lot of shade due to the very large trees and large shed in the back. There was a spot of sun close to the house. This is where the first plants were started. I didn’t have a lot of time so the first few years were slow. Until about six years ago when one of the trees became sick and fell. At this time, I had a lot more light in the garden, so I decided to remove the shed. The vegetable garden became a reality.”
Creative with Space
Bit by bit pots, containers, and hand crafted scaffolding took their place in the garden, making space for more and more vegetables. Almost nothing is in the ground, as it is easier to move things around. This allows each year to look different. The containers with the raspberries have been moved further back in the garden because the neighbours have built an extension. In the autumn they may be moved again to allow them more space. Iris would love to have a large piece of land, but this is impossible in the city. The lack of space does have one advantage; it makes you creative. Iris has created all sorts of scaffolding, or rather requested to have these made by her girlfriend Tessa, in which plants can grow vertically. For example, her strawberries grow very well in vertical layered pots. And her beans, cucumbers, and chilies grow well above each other. Against the wall where they have no wind and gives them a sheltered warm spot, where they thrive.
Iris Effendi works in Administration for Laureate Online Education supporting the University of Roehampton in London and does volunteer work for Natuur, je beste buur (www.natuurjebestebuur.nl) and organization that works towards more greenery in the city of Amsterdam. Specifically, by planting and creating butterfly habitats and helping the bees around the football fields.
Vegetable gardening was taught from a young age. Her parents had an allotment in Assendelft, where she lived as a child. After a few years the family moved to New Zealand, because they desired more nature. “They had never been there, and just went with 2 children. And they have always stayed.” Her sister also still lives there, as you do outside the city she has a sizable vegetable garden, “It sometimes makes me a little jealous, but I wanted to live in the city, so I set out to show that you could live in the city and eat your own grown vegetables”
And she has proven that this is possible.
Everything that she doesn’t already know about gardening, she researches. “I watch a lot of YouTube clips and read a lot. This is how I learn about pruning or rotation of soil. Both fun and for practical reasons I like to change the arrangement of the garden on a regular basis. But through trail and error I discovered that you can’t just put strawberries in soil where the potatoes were in, you cannot just combine everything. Also that you cannot plant melons and pumpkins too close or you will get very bitter melons, which is a shame”
In the garden you see the cultural background of Iris and her girlfriend Tessa “we have all sorts of very hot chili peppers because we like hot food. Tessa has both Indonesian and Surinamese background and I am also of European Indonesian decent and we both enjoy good food. We are both vegetarians and enjoy our produce as fresh as possible”. The harvest is sometimes to be consumed all at once, so she pickles and bottles some fruit and vegetables, “Gherkins, beans, grated courgette for example, and apples into apple sauce, and jam from raspberries. Sometimes I even get left over fruit from other people, last week a colleague gave me a few kilos of plums that I made into jam”
As many insects as possible
Iris devotes an unusually large amount of attention to the animals in her garden. Where many people look for ways to get rid of undesired creatures, her attention goes to those who are beneficial. Bees and other insects for example. For this reason she has wild flowers, sunflowers, and wild strawberries between the vegetables and fruits. “Bees like specific colours such as violet, yellow, blue, and purple. More than red or orange. The flowers of the vegetable plants also attract the bees; such as those from the courgette, pumpkin, and cucumber.Also the herbs such as basil, dille, and rosemary. When pollinated by bees the plants produce a lot more fruit and this is exactly what you want in the vegetable garden. This can also cause some new kinds of fruit in the garden. I had yellow and red raspberries that crosspollinated” Of course there are some undesirable creatures in the garden that are not welcome such as snails. “I check the plants almost every day and pick them off. If you move them more than 20 meters away they don’t come back into your garden”.
Tiny little garden
To share her experiences Iris has created a website a few years ago; tinylittlegarden.nl
The main goal of this is to show that growing your own food does not need to be expensive, and it can be almost free. “there are many people who have little to spend who still buy all of their potatoes and vegetables and fruit in the stores. I wanted to show that you can save so much to grow it yourself. For this you do not need a large garden and you do not need to have a lot of knowledge to start. Potatoes are easy to grow, anyone can do it. You put them in the ground and in no time you have potatoes, same with sweet potatoes. You can grow many things, tomatoes and pumpkin for example, you can use seeds from the ones you eat to grow more. It is important of course not to grow too much of one thing, my neighbor once had a whole lot of pumpkin plants that germinated, there were far too many. I would advise to use many different seeds instead of too many of one kind. This will allow you to grow a lot of varied things in your garden and will allow you to grow all season long”
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All pictures below were taken by Marike Ooms