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Innovative garden experience gives Wild Coast Sun guests’ green fingers

Educational herb and waterwise garden provides chefs with fresh ingredients

Chico’s herb and nature garden at Wild Coast Sun Resort is not just the perfect place to whale watch while gazing over the beautiful Indian Ocean, but also educates guests and provides the hotel’s kitchen with fresh and seasonal produce.

Located on the deck next to Chico’s Restaurant, the garden was carefully planned and planted by experienced landscaper and local Joan Young to provide edible plants and herbs to the Wild Coast Sun’s chefs. It is also an educational garden that aims to inspire and educate the public on the value of herbs, water wise gardens, edible plants and plants that attract birds and pollinators such as bees to a garden.  

“In 2014 I was approached by the Environmental Officer of Wild Coast Sun, Sonja Stroud, who wanted to start a garden to educate guests about the medicinal and culinary uses of herbs,” Young said. The garden consists of eight long cement beds, and two circular ones.

CAPTION: One of the eight long cement beds situated outside Chico’s restaurant

Without much demand for herbs on the South Coast, finding seedlings proved challenging. “We planted some of the popular ones, such as parsley, mint, rosemary, coriander and oregano but I wanted fennel, thyme, chives and rocket. After much searching, I eventually managed to get 16 species, which I have increased to 21 species over the years,” she said.

Besides acquiring the plants, the sea air and the monkeys proved challenging. “The monkeys decided that whatever plants I put in had been cultivated just for them to eat. It took a long while to get established but it has proven enormously successful. Guests come and read the information, discuss the health benefits and ask many questions about starting their own herb gardens.”

CAPTION: Signage for guests to read about the vegetation

Almost 10 years later, Young is in a routine where she harvests five large bags of the more popular herbs and six to eight smaller bags of the slower growing herbs, to give to the kitchen of Chico’s, to the delight of the chefs. “Most herbs cannot be found in this area, so these fresh products are culinary heaven for them.”

The garden is in a public place where guests are free to wander. Young has many return guests who come to chat and see what is new. “Often they learn about new plants, such as indigenous wild rosemary that can be used in the same way as ‘ordinary’ rosemary, or about medicinal values. They have questions about the best place to plant things, on why their plant is not growing, what the difference is between herbs and spices, companion planting and many, many more. They enjoy telling me about their own herb gardens and I love the enthusiasm they have for experimenting with new flavours while cooking.”

Since the early days, Young has added indigenous flowers, a waterless garden and edible flowers that have medicinal value, such as lavender and nasturtiums. “Marigolds, which are planted in between the herbs to drive away the insects which eat them, are edible and can be used in salads.”

Chico’s Garden today consists of a large variety of herbal and medicinal plants, flowers, indigenous plants, edible flowers, and water wise succulents. Visitors can stroll along each bed and read more about the kitchen use and medicinal value of the plants from the numerous information boards and signs that are displayed on the deck. 

“Guests are able to meet Young in the mornings for hands-on information on planning and planting their own herb and nature gardens,” said Wild Coast Sun General Manager, Peter Tshidi. “Many luxury hotels have recently started going green with various garden experiments, and we are pleased that we were ahead of the tourism curve and that our garden has been going strong for close to a decade.”

Young, an experienced tourist guide who worked in the Kruger National Park for 35 years, has recently published two books by Struik Nature: Mammals of Kruger, and Insects and other critters of Kruger.