Foraging for the garden

Foraging is a popular activity with us and our friends. We’ve already scored well this year with peaches, have been out blackberrying several times and will be out looking for apples very soon. But it struck me that its not just food for ourselves that we are looking for. Our garden is also a very ‘hungry’ entity.

We work our garden hard and we really need to keep a good supply of composts and manures fedding into it to keep the garden productive. In the past I’ve collected seriously large amounts of kitchen scraps from my office (500kgs over two years), to feed our compost bins, but as  that source is no longer available we’ve started to look closer to home.

Thankfully there are ovals nearby and when the people doing the mowing get lazy they will leave large mounds of grass cuttings just there for the taking.


and so we do. The last time this happened we also met a few other fellow local garden gatherers.


From these clippings TB built a compost heap, along with some added straw, that bears a strangely disturbing resemblance to the mountain in the film ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ – I’m just hoping that it won’t be attracting any aliens soon, although it’s already attracting hoards of small flies! (no that’s not ectoplasm, just some water to help speed the decomposition process).


Our other main source of compostables comes from our local cafe. Rather then being surprised when I asked if I could collect their coffee grounds I was told that they had a number of people doing so at their previous location. So now we have a regular coffee and compost collection date.

All aboard

I’m having a flashback to our trip to Tasmania last year as TB’s woodworking skills have been at work on some lovely Tasmanian timbers.

Cruising up the Gordon River in Tasmania you can see the famous Huon Pines growing on the rivers’ edge. To be honest they don’t actually ‘look’ much. In case you are wondering its the limey bright green plant in the foreground of the picture.


This is probably a fairly young tree, however the forest along the river is so dense that you would be hard-pressed to take a photo of a full-grown tree.


What these trees are most famous for, apart from their wonderful scent, is that they are a lightweight softwood timber with remarkable resistance to rot. No wonder then that it was a prized ship building timber in colonial times. The timber is also extremely beautiful. Pale, fine-grained and with interesting ‘bird’ eyes – which makes it a natural for all those wood-workers to want to take a little piece of Tasmania home with them.

At the saw-mill in Strahan I saw a beautiful cutting board which, according to the information attached has had three generations of use and is estimated to be over 100 years old.


I know we could have bought a huon pine cutting board at the saw-mill shop, but just next door was Tasmanian Special Timbers, where you can buy ‘blanks’ of a number of desireable Tasmanian timbers for a lot less money.

And now TB has finally completed making his pieces of timber into cutting boards.


And not content with that he has also made some wooden spoons to go with them.


This picture shows the rough blank through to the finished spoon. I’m hoping that these very practical and beautiful tools will continue to be used by the generations of our families.



The Canberra Discovery Garden

The Canberra Discovery Garden was opened last Sunday as part of the National Arboretum Canberra (see my previous post). While its current location is rather rubble-y, it is sited next to the arboretum visitors centre (currently under construction), so will have a prominent position once the arboretum is permanently opened to the public.


The garden is described as a “blueprint for the perfect Canberra garden” and is designed to be water efficient and display a variety of plants, including lawn grasses, that are suitable for the Canberra climate. The garden was created by Taylor Cullity Lethlean, the same team that designed the rest of the arboretum.They have designed a space divided into three areas (you can see the full design at the link above). The garden is built into the hillside and is backed by gabion walls – you know the wire cages filled with rocks that you’ve seen on Grand Designs.

The first area is focussed on water use, turf displays and composting. I was immediately struck by the raised orange planters, but in a good way, because I love orange! The styling is definitely ‘retro’ but in a ‘knowing’ up to date way. At the rear of this area is a wading pool which was getting some pretty heavy attention from the younger set on the day.


Another feature of the area are the compost bins, very luxe indeed, but then I don’t suppose that the old black plastic bins used at Chez Fork are really a go-er in such a garden. It was encouraging to see that one vistor at least had left a suitable contribution to get those pristine bins happening.


Walking into the central area you will see the plant displays. A succulent and cactii garden runs down the centre of the space. Many small fingers were exploring some of the spikier offerings but without any damage to either the plants or the children.


To one side is the garden showing plants suitable for both full sun


and on the other are displays of plants for part shade.


This next photo is taken through one of the ‘windows’ from the display area into the central space. In the foreground is the water trough. The stainless steel trough, rather reminiscent of my primary school days, looks very smart against the black wire ‘room’ dividers.


The last area of the garden is where short term plantings (veggies are on the list), displays and demonstrations will be held. Now in my excitement to photograph the amazing artificial ‘arbours’ in this section I only got a limited shot of the central raised garden bed.


The arbours are large metal disks that have been cut into a variety of designs that cast beautiful patterns when the sun shines through them.


I was hooked, I thought these were an amazing feature of the garden. I couldn’t stop taking photos of them.


Along the back wall of the display area is seating on stained timber benches. You can also see the gabion walls and on the edge of the photo a very bespoke set of tool and storage cupboards.


Another feature of this area which had me dead envious were the moveable planter boxes made out of galvanised iron. You can see the hose attachment at the front of the planter. Watering is through a series of drippers lying under the mulch. They are on large castors so moving them is quite easy on hard surfaces. Is anyone out there making these? Maybe the Friends of the Arboretum could get a production line going as a fundraiser.


On the less serious side of the days activities the arboretum staff had the kids (and plenty of adults) amused by their remote controlled snail. Thank heavens they’re not this big in real life!.


Clearly is was convincing to many as one tot was overheard telling another “not to touch it on the head” or it would retreat into its shell!

I loved the design of this garden and should I ever have several spare lots of thousands of dollars I might just call the team in to do some work for me. The quality of the finishes and the clean design was really appealing. I will wait to see how those orange planters hold up under the Canberra sun, but apart from that quibble I think another exceptional element in our new arboretum has been delivered.

National Arboretum, Canberra

My neighbour told me that I should visit the National Arboretum Canberra the next time there was an open day and he was right! This past Sunday was the monthly public open day for what I’m sure will become one of Canberra’s major attractions when it is officially opened in 2013 as part of our Canberra Centenary celebrations.

If you are still not clear about what I’m referring to then you just need to picture that large tract of land along the Tuggeranong Parkway, near Scrivener Dam, which has for some years now been the scene of regular erection of coloured tree guards, guarding hundreds of young trees. This is the view from the top of Dairy Farmer’s Hill, back down along the Parkway towards Tuggeranong.


In 2004, after the whole area was burnt out in the 2003 bushfires, a design contest for the arboretum was called. The competition was won by Taylor Cullity Lethlean Landscape Architects, in conjunction with Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects. Their design was called 100 Forests,100 Gardens. The planting started in 2005 and features predominantly endangered species from around the world. 

One hundred forests may seem rather a lot but the site is huge, 250 hectares. It includes the existing plantation of 5,000 Himalayan Cedars (Cedrus deodara), originally planted between 1917-23 with further plantings in 1928


and the Cork Oak plantation (Quercus suber), planted in 1917.

New plantings are continuing and quite a number of trees are starting to be more than just a green fuzz on the landscape. Sadly some of the new plantings have proven more than tempting to a number of mindless idiots who’ve stolen Dragon Trees (Draceana draco) from the arboretum. PS those Dragon Trees have amazing protection now!

Another attraction of the arboretum are the sculptures that are featured on the ridgelines. The most prominent can be seen by sharp-eyed passengers (drivers please don’t attempt this) while driving on the Parkway towards Black Mountain. This is the Wide Brown Land sculpture by Marcus Tatton, Chris Viney and Futago (2010), inspired by the words and handwriting of the poet Dorothea MacKellar.


Rather oddly the sculpture is surrounded by Californian Fan Palms and Chinese Tulip trees which seem to me unusual choices for plantings around this most famous evocation of our national landscape.

The other current major sculpture, Nest 111, by Richard Moffatt (2007) sits happily on Dairy Farmer’s Hill.


There is also lots happening in the building side of things. The new visitors centre with its dramatic sweeping roof is rapidly going up.


The architects view gives an impression of the finished building.


The surface facing of stonework reinforces the quality of the work that is evident even at this stage of the building process.


I was interested to read in the displays that one of the facilities to be built at the arboretum will be an ampitheatre for musical and theatrical performances. I’m certainly looking forward to sitting in the ampitheatre on a pleasant evening listening to good music under the stars. With views across the city like this I’m sure that the proposed ampitheatre will be a major draw-card for Canberrans as well as tourists.


Last Sunday also saw the opening of the Canberra Discovery Garden, designed to “inspire, educate and show you how to create a beautiful, sustainable and water-efficient garden”, which I’ll write about separately.

I’m really pleased that I’ve been to the arboretum now. While I’d seen pieces about it on Stateline and Gardening Australia, it is only by visiting the site that I really start ‘to get’ the place. There have also been quite a few knockers who have complained about the investment the ACT Government has put into this development – I don’t agree with them. I think there will be immense benefits to our community from such a visionary approach to what was previously only a series of pine plantations. So check it out for yourself!

While the arboretum is under construction it will only be open to the public on the second Sunday of every month. At present the scheduled open day dates are:

  • Sunday 11 March 2012
  • Sunday 1 April 2012
  • Sunday 13 May 2012
  • Sunday 10 June 2012

    Just peachy!

    Driving through the country these days for us is as much about keeping an eye out for edibles as it is enjoying the scenery. Returning from a family wedding in Orange a few weeks back we struck foraging gold, several peach trees growing in the drainage ditch next to the road, absolutely loaded with ripe fruit!


    It was just a matter of pulling safely off the side of the road and grabbing our shopping bags from the boot and before you knew it we had 13kgs of white freestone peaches (so thanks to whoever threw that seed out of the car window!). Call us greedy but we had spotted those peaches three days before on the drive up to Orange and clearly no one had taken any in the interim.


    Despite our best efforts to protect the fruit, which was fully ripe, it did suffer from some bruising on the drive home. As you can see from the picture there was an awful lot of processing ahead of us.

    The most bruised fruit was destined to become peach leather. I de-skinned the peaches by dropping them into boiling water and leaving them for a minute or so (just like you would a tomato), taking them out using a slotted spoon and slipping the skins off as soon as I could handle them. After that they just needed to be blended up in the food processor with some spices and in this case a bit of grated apple. There is no need to cook the fruit. Because the peaches were so ripe I decided to let the pulp drip out a fair amount of moisture before spreading the pulp onto baking paper to dry.


    To be honest the raw pulp did look like something the cat had thrown-up and I’m not sure that the finished product looks a lot better, just drier.


    Given that the weather was wet and humid, rather than hot and dry as you might reasonably expect at this time of year, I ended up doing the bulk of my drying in the oven. The trick is to barely heat your oven so the fruit doesn’t cook. Our oven was set to 50ºC and then turned off and left with the fan running. It was all quite tedious so when the sun came out after two days of oven drying everything went outside.

    Similarly the bulk of the good fruit was cut into quarters and dried on racks – these also had to spend several days inside with a fan turned on them. The critical thing is to have air moving over the fruit to dessicate it. Heating will only help develop moulds and fungus. Because we don’t use sulphur to suppress mould growing on the fruit we did lose some of the half-dried peaches. Every day it was necessary to scan the racks for any dodgy fruit so it could be removed before it spread the fungus to other pieces. I wasn’t at all happy about the amount of energy that was expended on drying the fruit, but by the same token I wasn’t just going to let it all rot either.


    The remaining fruit was converted into peach jam, which I flavoured with some lemongrass I found skulking in the bottom of the fridge. I can’t say that the lemongrass is very obvious in the jam, but then again it wasn’t very fresh. Not to worry I’ve ended up with some tasty products to eat over the coming months.


    Too Easy!

    What is with this weather of ours? Barely any hot days this summer, lots of rain and temperatures more like those of autumn. Then the next day back up to full on summer! Of course it is demonstrating a perfect La Nina climate pattern. While the tomatoes are having a hard time of it, for once our beans are growing really well.

    I’m putting the beans’ productivity down to the cooler weather and the fact that we planted most of them as large seedlings. The size of the seedlings along with some snail pellets meant that most of our plants made it to adulthood (one got ‘dead-headed’ by a snail the first night it was planted out and another got ‘ringbarked’ possibly by slaters some weeks after planting). Still this is our best result yet.


    We currently have three types of beans in the ground, Purple Amethyst (a climber which hasn’t made it past 30cms), nameless yellow Butter Beans (bought as Blue Lake, another climber, but obviously a ‘changeling’ bean whose label got mixed up somewhere along the line) and a green Bush Bean, which remarkably is both bushy and green.


    The next question is what to do with all these beans – insert post title here with the sound of the smug assurance of your choice of tradesman – braise them in olive oil! It really is that simple.

    Heat your oven to 180 ° C. Lay your beans in in a shallow baking dish (those old shallow pyrex dishes that your mum has are perfect) throw in any random herbs you have hanging around, (I’ve used both sage and tarragon to good effect), add any other stray veggies that might be to hand, but cut them to to a similar thickness to your beans. Drizzle pretty generously with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and whack them in the oven for about 30 to 40 minutes. The main thing to remember is keep your veggies to just one level, some overlapping is OK, but too many layers will impede the cooking.

    Here are the before and after shots of my first lot of beans, cooked with some fennel bulb and sage leaves.



    Now I will admit that once they are cooked they are not much to look at, but boy do they taste delicious. Serve the beans with lots of fresh bread because you will want to sop up all the delicious oil that’s left over after cooking – trust me on that one!


    We served these beans with a lovely piece of Ocean Trout and some sorrel and potato salad.