The Garden of Non Weedin’
Perched atop the volcanic hump of the peninsula’s rumpty spine is little cottage planted all around with edible trees, leading to a vegetable garden with a view unlike any another. Who could ever tire of watching waves stacking up off Long Beach to the right, Purakanui estuary forever filling and emptying to the left? Well … actually … the cottage was moved away from the headland to where it is now by Mrs Driver, wife of the legendary Richard (being sick of the sight of the ocean the prerogative of a harbour pilot’s wife). Roger and Viola of Potato Point Produce now pick in the spot which years and years and years ago was the fruit orchard. Potato Point (a corruption of Por-ta-tor) gets its name from a pinnacle of rocks sticking out of the sea like a bumpy lumpy tuber, and the real potatoes are all over the place, not in rows: purple Maori, pink fir, huakaroro and merlin. “It’s a junkyard, it’s jumbly, but everyone looks after each other,” says Roger, who’s a forager, gatherer and unsystematic seed-sower. The liquorice-y fennel screens the baby greens, irrigation is all rainwater, and they use no sprays apart from garlic and feverfew – “if the aphids want to get into it, the birds will come along and eat them anyway” – on this nearly-a-hectare of florae doing whatever they feel. “Let it go, let it do its own thing.”
“We grow a lot of older heritage plants people don’t see anymore. Our biggest problem is the weather: you can’t control it. The southerly screams in, anything that’s left growing is there for a reason – probably because I haven’t got ‘round to weeding it yet. We leave the chickweed for its vitamin C, the nettle for the butterflies, and bees love the artichokes. It’s only a weed when you don’t want it.”
After a head injury left him with significant hearing loss, Roger Blok came here for some peace and quiet. He might have been deaf, but inside his head it was as noisy as Manapouri powerhouse. Potato Point Produce started off as paddock, the soil in Purakanui being really shallow, “for the first few years we didn’t harvest, just built up the compost. Some silly bugger said, ‘you can’t make a living from a garden’ and it evolved from there.” Migrating to the gate to feed the locals from a vegetable stand the size of a phone box, they now supply restaurants in open ground grown produce. Partner Viola is over in the paddock picking for an urgent order right now, “much to her disgust, she thought she had the day off.”
Wild rocket, “bloody strong” is delivered all over Otago as part of an aromatic garnish mix including amaranth, mustard, small lettuce, chervil, baby chard and purple mizuna; used by chefs to ‘paint a plate’ – the plastic bags come back to be re-used at the gate and community markets and each restaurant has its own reusable container. Cape gooseberries, artisan tomatoes, salad greens, organic spinach and courgettes, purple tatties and eggs with glorious yellow yolks laid by the free-range chooks (‘the mongrel mob’ - some lay eggs the blue of old tattoos) are available from the Purakanui stall, open Sat/Sun except for two community market weekends: the first Sunday of the month (Blueskin) and the 3rd (Port). Drive out, see the sea. I’m pretty sure you won’t get sick of it.
Post submitted by Lisa Scott