Meet the South African urban gardener who overcame depression through farming and now produces organic produce in a Gauteng estate. Her garden has an impressive variety of herbs, fruit, vegetables and edible flowers.
Affectionately known as the Nubian Queen, Susan Granger has a young and vibrant mind. She cultivates an extraordinary variety of foods in her estate home in Midrand.
“When I started planting about five years ago, my garden was not this big. Gardening is addictive, especially when you find out that it is your passion,” she tells FoodForAfrika.com
Given the size of her yard – featuring a double storey house and a swimming pool – the number of plants, fruit trees, herbs and vegetables, truly is a sight to behold. For a newcomer it is a slightly surreal experience.
“People ask me, ‘Did you grow up planting?’ I am like, ‘I wish you knew how much I hated manual labour.’ I will find someone to do everything that has to do with manual labour, but when I started gardening, I realised that it is therapeutic.”
Although her garden is now quite admirable, the Nubian Queen started her farming journey as a result of much darker event.
In 2017 her baby brother was involved in a fatal car accident. “I went into depression and my cholesterol was high,” she explains.
“The doctor said, ‘Susan, there is no medication that I can give to help you. You have to come out of this hole. If you do not, you will go to sleep and never wake up. Your blood pressure is on the tip. You can fall and never get up ever again.’”
A tree of honour
This diagnosis was so poignant that it troubled her deeply.
“I was even scared of sleeping and I was like, what do I do? This was about me coming out of a hole, which I did not know how to come out of,” she says. To honour her brother’s life and memory, she planted a pomegranate tree.
“Everyone asked me of all the things why I decided to plant a pomegranate tree. When I was reading about the symbolism of the pomegranate, it represents sustainability, abundance and richness,” she explains.
What she planted next was a mango tree that came out of the pit of a mango she had eaten.
“I was like okay, so I am growing things, and they grow for real? I started reading about growing things in general.”
She made a list of things she wanted to plant in her garden. All the produce that followed, she learned how to grow through YouTube videos and online research.
Now gardening is a craft that the Nubian Queen has mastered. This is evidenced by her ability to relay great detail of how each species of tree, plant and herb works. Sometimes, she even explains its origin and which cuisine it could blend well with at home.
The trading name of her agribusiness, which she officially registered in 2020, is NubianQ Urban Boutique Farms. Apart from selling produce to individual clients, she also has regular customers at her stall in the Vegan Hippie Connection Market in Greenside, Johannesburg. She exhibits there on the last Sunday of each month.
Furthermore, she teaches and assists people to set up their own sustainable food gardens as a “foodscaper” – no matter how small or how big the space is.
NubianQ’s impressive variety
Currently, Granger’s produce includes edible flowers such as calendula and nasturtium, which is part of the ingredients she uses for a restoration tea she blends herself. The nasturtium flowers are mixed with herbs such as oregano and ingredients such as hibiscus, lavender and lemon balm.
Other herbs that are readily found in her garden are pineapple sage, perennial basil, and a large variety of mints such as chilli, pineapple, apple, common, chocolate and spearmint. She also grows red vein sorrel and horseradish.
“You need a gas mask when you are working with it,” she jokes. “It is one of the hottest [vegetables] you can imagine. If you breathe it in while grating it, you might die. It is used to make a very hot sauce.”
The garden is compartmentalised. There are also vegetables such as peppers, kale, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, pak choi, rhubarb, cassava and ground apple. When it comes to fruits, the Nubian queen has an impressive variety of cherimoya, guava, plum, figs, limes, a tree tomato also known as a tamarillo, sugarcane, red and black raspberries and strawberries, Thai lime, and finger lime, which is also known as Buddha’s hand.
Not only is she conscious of the food that she consumes and sells, but her farming ecosystem relies heavily on environmentally friendly practises. “All of our packaging is biodegradable,” she says. “Our plastics bags are made from rice pulp and sugarcane grass. Even our bottles and containers are made from the same ingredients.”
Granger’s ability to innovate when it comes to maximising the use of limited space is marvellous. “When we talk about space, people want to see vast amounts of land. If I can tell you that I can harvest 50 kilos of sweet potatoes here, you’d be shocked,” she says.
Then there is the extension of the main garden: a vertical garden on the wall that started as an experiment for Instagram users. “I created it to show people of other unconventional ways to plant.”
The Nubian queen knows that the variety of her produce can be quite overwhelming, considering where she is farming. “People on Instagram would say I am lying that I am farming in an estate. You can already see that the seed of expansion is so intense. I’ve done the work. The farm is here, and it exists. Now I just need to pick these things to put them somewhere.”
She does, however, dream of owning a small farm or something along those lines.
“I do not want to limit myself. I want it to be in the urban area, where there are people,” she says.
“I don’t want customers to say ‘I am going to the farm’. I want them to have the holistic experience. I want it to be intimate. I want it to be a centre for excellence more than a farm. I want people to come and say, ‘Sue, what is this?’ I would ask, ‘Do you want to try it out? Do you want to taste it?’”