Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Beautiful Beets

We pulled the first of our beetroot this week. Glorious ruby red and bright pink globes, destined for greatness in a starring role in Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden Companion recipe for beetroot, avocado, walnut and pink grapefruit (and lettuce) salad.

It was one of the dishes served up last week at a big dinner for friends that made me so proud of our garden. We all sat around on those (previously posted) benches drinking mojitos with lots of fresh mint from the garden before eating a tasty meal which used garden produce in every course. Far too much was eaten and drunk and a merry time was had by all.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Elspeth Thompson

It's an odd thing this blogging. You make connections with some people, with others you just feel involved in their lives because you read about them daily, others may be involved in your life without you knowing it. And so it's a confusing emotion when a blogger whose work you always read is no longer going to be there. I loved reading Elspeth Thompson's blog. It took my breath away to have her husband Frank's post announcing her death appear in my reader. And yet we'd never met, I'd never even commented on her blog despite reading it so avidly. Any death is hard to categorise emotionally, but it's even harder when you feel grief but also that you have no right to that grief. It's all so very strange. Because part of blogging makes you feel so much closer to people around the world, and then another part of it makes you feel so very far away.

Elspeth Thompson's obituary in the Telegraph.

She will no doubt be missed by those who knew her, but she will also be missed by those like me, who didn't.

Flower and Garden Show

I've never been to the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show (or MIFGS, as the cool kids call it) because it costs a lot of money to go and I suspected that it wasn't really my type of gardening. But suspecting and knowing are two different things, and I always consider going, and this year the landscape design company my housemate works for had an entry, so last weekend I figured now was as good a time as any to see what it's all about.

Money. That's what it's all about. Apart from the part that was about almost all the gardens looking pretty much the same, the use of the same plants over and over and most notably the same colours over and over. I did get to look at lots of pretty succulents, which I loved. But I couldn't understand why people were paying a few dollars just for a cutting when you can get them for free from friends, parks, the bits that fall off onto the pavement outside people's houses, etc. It all seemed so soulless, and even when I did see a really cool plant I found I wanted to buy it from one of the three local nurseries I frequent and support them instead of a vendor I'll never see again.

So now I know. That's not my type of gardening. But it was interesting to see I suppose, if only to be grateful that my garden is built with a lot more love and a lot less steel blue paint, lime green cushioning, and that particular brown that popped up in every single design. And of course, a lot less money.

This weekend should be an entirely different experience as we're heading off rockclimbing at the Grampians - should be fun!

Coming soon

I've just started seeing previews for The Pacific on Channel 7. Which I imagine is exciting if you loved Band of Brothers, the previous series by Steven Spieldberg. I, however, never saw it.

But it's also exciting if your house was filmed for it! Much of the filming of one story thread took place in our old neighbourhood and in particular in the house next door. In one exterior shot a soldier suitor plucks a rose from the garden next door to the house he is visiting. From this (gorgeously set-dressed) front garden, in fact.

They tore up all the weeds in our front patch and put pots of box hedges around the edges, fake mondo grass along the front, and pots and pots of roses.

To make such a dense screen of roses in the front they took tall standard roses and leaned them up against the fence in between shorter pots of roses. There was also plenty of fake ivy woven around the place - even though we've moved house it still haunts me, I found what I hope is a final plastic leaf when repotting something the other day.

It was a week of mayhem in our neighbourhood.

And when it was all done, and the front garden was left bare and empty of weeds...
I started a vegie patch.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Cold frame

And further to our bench-building carpentry efforts:
A cold frame.

Not wanting to waste the last scraps of floorboards or an old window found in an alcove full of junk at the last place, we built a cold frame for raising seedlings. While we don't need to keep our seedling safe from frost very often, we do struggle to keep them moist enough in baking heat, and this has helped with that. Currently it has marigold and bok choi seedlings to replace the ones that kept getting savaged by bugs when planted directly, and nasturtiums.

The construction of this was full of confused conversation about why the other person kept holding it upside down until we realised we were visualising very different interpretations of our verbally agreed upon plan. So it has an odd tilt in one part, but it still works a-okay.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Serendipitous Bench-building

For years a bench mouldered in the garden at our last house. It had gross cushions which sat on some dodgy chipboard that rested precariously on the frame and occasionally someone fell through. So Tom and I decided to use the frame to make a proper bench with a seat of old fence palings we had lying around. But then, the day before our chosen bench-building day, someone ripped up their floorboards and put them in a skip a few doors down from our place. Excellent! Nice, more solid wood for the seat. Things were looking good. And then they got even better. As Tom cycled home from uni, he spotted a bench frame out on the street for a hard rubbish collection.

And that's how we came to have two lovely, so-close-to-matching benches for our backyard.
I'll just sit back and wait for the requests to come flooding in from home magazines wanting to photograph our outdoor setting. Maybe they'll also want to know about my sculptural choice of watering cans spread around the garden in the photo on the left.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Pot o' potatoes

I have always been skeptical about claims by gardening book authors that potatoes are so easy, you can just plant them in a pot and almost forget about them until it's time to harvest. Often these authors are based in the northern hemisphere, and as our pot of potatoes baked on concrete through an Australian summer, I couldn't help doubting their claims. Finally I was sick of wondering, so this week (perhaps a little too early) I tipped out the pot to see if anything had happened.


We got nearly a kilo of potatoes from one big pot. I'm not sure it's enough to really bother doing again in our garden, but interesting and satisfying nonetheless.

Quite a suitable post for around St Patrick's day really.


This week I received my degree at a graduation ceremony, and while that piece of paper is a pretty swell piece of paper to have, I'm also excited about my Nanna's graduation gift.

My father's family is from the Shetland Islands, a tiny cluster of islands to the far north of Scotland. Plenty of fine things come from this part of the world: Shetland ponies, Shetland sheepdogs, Fair Isle Knitting, my family. Off the coast of the Shetland mainland is Foula.

In 1914, the Oceanic was wrecked just off Foula. It had at one time been the biggest ship in the world and was made in the same shipyard as the Titanic with similarly luxurious fittings. The dangerous waters that had been the Oceanic's downfall also hampered any salvage efforts until 1973, when advances in equipment made diving feasible.

At that time two divers, Alec Crawford and Simon Martin, managed to recover some of the valuable metals used in the engine rooms, including copper from the generators. Shetland Silvercraft (now known as Shetland Jewellery) crafted the metal into pieces linked to the story.

(See the island's silhouette?)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sustainable meal

It was pretty nifty to be able to look at our dinner the other night and realise how much of it was from the garden.

Lots of salad leaves, some of our cucumber bounty and tomatoes. And then the piece de resistance - silverbeet tart from Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden Companion, which I was given for Christmas.

(It looks better when she photographs it!)
I've already used this book so many times; it's brilliant to be able to look up whatever you have a glut of in the garden and make something different and I'm enjoying browsing as I'm choosing what to plant.

And to accompany it, a bottle of Re-Wine, which I wrote about last year!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Kooky Cuces

Is Cuces how you would spell a cucumber abbreviation? But quite seriously, our cucumbers are amazing. I've never grown them before, and they keep surprising us. You just think there are a whole heap of leaves covering some ugly trellis and fence,

but then, whammo! A huge cucumber.

Sometimes they're so good at hiding that they get a bit out of hand. And now they're starting to try and make a break for it.

One of them even tried to peer around the corner of the barbecue this morning.

With one of those every day or two and a salad bed that looks like this:

we're eating plenty of garden food right now!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Prom

It's funny how such a short word, prom, can have so many different connotations around the world. In the states you'd be talking about a high school dance if you said 'I went to the prom'; in England, someone might think you had mispoken and meant The Proms. In Victoria, you mean Wilson's Promontory, the national park on the southern tip of mainland Australia.

I hadn't visited in years, but we recently spent a few days walking there with friends, and it really is beautiful. Rich orange lichens grow on pink-toned granite, thick temperate rainforest edges the walking track, and when the sun is out the sea is a brilliant blue.

These were taken at Sealer's Cove just before dusk. Post walking and swimming, pre boulder scrambling and dinner on a boulder on the beach.