I spent last Saturday visiting Lanyon Homestead for the annual Open Garden Scheme Plant Fair. I knew the day was off to a good start when I ran into a friend just inside the entrance. So we set off together for the vegetable garden talk.
It’s been several years so I last visited Lanyon and I was very impressed with the positive changes to the vegetable garden since my previous visit. Our guide was Lanyon gardener Alison whose enthusiasm for the garden was infectious. The setting of this garden in one of the ACT’s historic houses means that attention is paid not only to maintaining a good looking garden, but one that also reflects its use in previous times. The Lanyon Conservation Management Plan says that “The present-day garden siting and structural framework were established in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by the Cunningham family. In effect, therefore, by about 1875 Cunningham had created a landscape substantially similar to that which we see today.”
The picking and vegetable gardens are placed on a set of northern facing terraces, to the north of the house. The terraces were created in the 1930’s by the Field family, using soil they dug up on the river flats to improve the beds. Today more conventional mulching with silage hay and the addition of compost improves the fertility of the soil.
Here in the herb garden Alison stands between a large sowing of parsley and chives. Behind her, with the blue flowers, is borage and also oregano. These latter two group of plants were collected from Lanyon’s ‘picking garden’ and transplanted into the herb garden.To reinforce the emphasis on herbs that would have been traditionally grown here, cuttings of rosemary from Mugga Mugga have been included in the garden. This bed also contains thyme, lemon balm, rocket, chilli, sage and bay.
One unusual ‘historic’ plant growing in the garden are cardoons. Grown for their stems, which are blanched prior to eating this plant is actually the natural form of the more widely cultivated globe artichoke, which is also grown at Lanyon. No wonder I was having trouble telling the two apart.
Alison has also been growing gourds, another plant which seems to have fallen out of fashion. While many cultures use gourds as a storage vessel Alison did admit that she grows them mainly for their interesting looks.
We worked our way down several more terraces looking at beds of pumpkin, Jerusalem Artichokes, tomatoes (suffering like everyone else’s from the wet weather), beans and chard.
There were also signs of a good harvest of raspberries and thornless blackberries this year, although we were too late for the Red and Black Currants.
One last mystery remains – what is this? It looks like some sort of stand for a water tank (it’s only about 50 cms high), but no one is sure what it’s purpose was. Thankfully it remains as an object of interest, if nothing else, in the garden.
Our guided tour finished we walked around the lovely old apple orchard next to the vegetable patch.
Behind this orchard (the far end of the picture) is a second series of orchard plantings, which appear to be more recent, but reflect plants that would be in keeping with plantings from an earlier era. One corner is dominated by a Chestnut tree, full of ripening nuts,
other key plantings in this area are medlars, an uncommon fruit nowadays, but traditionally grown in England. More memorably, the medlar’s fruit has the somewhat dubious honour of being known colloquially as ‘dog’s arse’.
Moving right along, there are also persimmon’s and pomegranates growing in this area.
After all the walking around I decided to try some of the exotic flavoured ice creams on offer. I was one bite into my rose petal icecream when I was temporarily distracted, only to find that my scoop of icecream had slid off onto the ground with a resounding plop. Quelle horrible disappointment!
Thankfully the rest of the afternoon was redeemed by cruising the garden stalls. My two best buys of the day were a Kingston Black cider apple plant and a leaf rake with real metal tines! I’m trying to invest in better quality gardening tools these days to replace the poor quality ones generally available. The rake has a handle that extends, or telescopes down to half size for easy storage.You can also vary the width of the rake head allow you to rake in a narrow area. Whatever will they think of next. No doubt I’ll be able to give it a thorough testing when leaf-raking time comes soon.
While winter may not be the best time to visit this garden, come spring I’ll be heading out to Lanyon again to see what’s growing.