Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A case of mistaken identity

I've been eating carrot leaves for months.  Why? Well, my neighbour gave me a couple of "parsley" seedlings late last year and I companion planted them (or so I thought) next to the tomatoes and basil.  I should point out that this is the same neighbour who gave me the 'broad beans', which weren't actually Broad Beans per se, but beans that were long (or in his reasoning, 'broad').

I never went so far as to make tabbouleh, but I put the thin (and in my defense) parsley-like carrot leaves in my salads, sandwiches and other cooking. 

It was my aunt, who came to visit me in Hobart from London just recently, who quietly informed me that they were the tops of carrots.  Sure enough, I pulled one up:

It looks like an animated mandrake root... arms and legs and tenticles....

The good thing about this (admit it) amusing mistake is that I haven't the same level of reluctance to try root vegies.  I've always avoided planting root vegies because I had an idea that they were incredibly hard, but this accidental carrot growing suggests that perhaps I was wrong.  Happy times!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Tomato sauce to a soundtrack

I made a second batch of tomato sauce today using another gigantic harvest from my slowly shrivelling, but still producing, plants.  I had a range of tomatoes growing this year:

 Some of the varieties I grew this year.  
Clockwise from top right: Roma, Cherry, Gardener's Delight (x2), Tigerella (x2)

I used all of the types pictured above in today's tomato sauce.  I used to peel and de-pip the tomatoes but I can't be bothered anymore. I don't mind the pips and skin, and besides, peeling individual tomatoes is a little more efficient when you have large buggers.

Firstly, I add a coarsely chopped onion, 3-4 cloves of chopped garlic and a couple of whole bay leaves to about a quarter of a cup of good quality olive oil in a big saucepan.  Stir until the onion becomes soft and translucent.

Then I add about 2 kilograms of tomatoes, coarsely chopped.  At this point you can peel the tomatoes by scalding them in boiling water first so that the skin comes away easily; and/or you can de-pip the tomatoes using a sieve.   As I wrote earlier, though, it's not necessary.

Mix 2 tablespoons of tomato paste with a cup of hot water and add that to the saucepan, along with two tablespoons of coarsely chopped fresh basil, and a couple of teaspoons of chopped fresh oregano.

Add salt and pepper to taste. I also add half a teaspoon of sugar.

Turn the stove down and simmer for 2-4 hours depending on how much is in the saucepan, stirring occasionally.  I like to let it boil down until it's thick and the excess liquid has disappeared.  Tonight it took 3 hours to reduce in half:

This batch is quite orange, and I think it has something to do with the type of tomatoes I'm using.

You can use the sauce for pasta, pizza, lasagne...  or add anchovies, mushrooms, olives to elaborate on the theme.  Tonight, for instance, I had the sauce on pasta with some (amazing) Tongola Goat's Curd:

The last but most important thing about this sauce, however, is that it must be made while listening to Verdi's La Traviata.  Turn it up loud, and the sauce will truly sing.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Goodbye dear sunflowers

I realised that I'd been at the art school too long the other day when I rationalised to my neighbour that I was retaining the blackened and aphid-infested giant sunflowers in my front yard as "a reminder of my own morbidity."  It was in part true; however, there were a few other reasons why I left it 'til today - council green waste day - to remove the majestic creatures.

tied up with string on the nature strip [sob]

Firstly, I was so proud of them - most grew bigger than me, and they fed bees with their pollen, then birds with their seeds (the birds would sit on top and swing upside down), then aphids, and by consequence, ladybirds.  It seemed a waste to remove them while the leaves were still green, despite the fact that the flowers - the reason for planting them - were black.  They also created some height in a garden that is filled with low (albeit growing) plants. 

 Frontyard sans sunflowers.  It looks so bare!

I'm also ashamed to say that it had a little bit to do with the neighbour.  He's nice, but he and his wife are the type that has a perfectly manicured yard, with hedges that have not a leaf out of place and cut with the assistance of a spirit measure, a weedless lawn, and grey painted concrete.  He also has the unfortunate habit of giving me business cards of the local mowing company every time my grass dares to grow beyond 2cm high.   As a result, when he suggested to me that it might be time to remove my sunflowers because the flowers were dead, I told him that I liked them like that, and that I had no intention of removing them.  I also added that I liked the way that the aphids were attracting ladybirds to my garden. 

In all reality, I'm not a annoying neighbour.  For a Y-gen I'm pretty quiet - I don't listen to loud music until 4 in the morning, throw weekly parties, or let the weeds grow higher than my sunflowers; however, I take a rather organic approach to gardening and don't mind if I have natives mixed with cottage garden plants, or if trees grow larger than expected, or plants sprout in the wrong place.  Letting the sunflowers live out their natural cycle was just an extension of this gardening philosophy.

in their prime (RIP)

I look forward to planting them again next spring.  They're certainly amazing (even if ephemeral) additions to a garden.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Open Garden Scheme: Two Tasmanian Gardens

 Entrance to an open garden at Castle Forbes Bay, Tasmania

Last week my mum and aunt came to visit me in Tassie (from Sydney and London respectively), and we drove down the Channel to see a couple of open gardens that were open as part of the Australian Open Garden Scheme.

The first garden in Grove illustrated how non-flowering trees and shrubs can create amazing textures and colours in a subtle, yet exciting way.  Many of the trees were turning shades of reds and yellows, and there was a crazy mushroom growing near a stream-like pond.  Like many Tasmanian gardens, there were a couple of rows of fruit trees (apparently it used to be an orchard), and a beautiful hilly, native bush backdrop.

The guy who owns the garden had planted a memorial garden to his son with his wife, who sadly passed away just as it was being finished.  The memorial garden was populated by roses, and was a pleasingly symmetrical and formal space in the middle of the otherwise rather casually composed garden.

 Swoonworthy artist studio, Grove

The Castle Forbes Bay garden was more flower-based, although they had an impressively extensive treehouse.

The roses smelled amazing.  I'm not usually a rose fan, although I was tempted by these gorgeously scented specimens.

 A three-way grafted apple tree

 A greenhouse for vertically-grown tomatoes, capsicum and cucumbers

The husband was fuchsia-obsessed, and not only gave me propogation hints, but also cuttings of a number of his specimens.  It's amazing - I never knew there were so many varieties.

I've planted the fuchsia cuttings in individual pots after dipping them in rooting powder (you can also use honey), and I've placed the pots underneath a cheap mini-greenhouse so that they don't dry out.  I referred to the Gardenseeker website for help, which has a page on how to take Fuchsia Cuttings.

After the gardens we drove to Cygnet for lunch at the Red Velvet Lounge, which was the perfect Autumnal Sunday arvo treat.  We then continued on to Fleurtys at Birchs Bay, which has an extensive sculpture walk throughout the natural bush grounds.

In all, fantastically inspiring day.

Photo Credits: Thanks to Nola James (photographer extraordinaire) for supplying most of these photos.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Easter Weekend Gardening Part 1: the front yard

The distinctions between the vegie garden backyard and ornamental frontyard are slowly melting away.  Apparently the (now) old couple who built and lived in the house for 50 years had a deal where he would tend the vegie garden in the back and she would do the ornamentals and flowers in the front.  Of course, when I moved in the vegie patches were just bare earth with the exception of the rhubarb (oh and a lot of weeds!), however the front yard had a lot of cottage-gardeney kind of plants.  What's even more exciting are the bulbs that keep sprouting up.  Not a month's gone by without a new variety springing out of the soil, such as these brilliantly red flowering ones to the right and below (no extra points for the old daggy plastic edging though - I think that'll have to go).

Many people have advised me to live in my house for a year before planting so that I get to know about the weather, sun patterns and wind etc. to make informed choices, however, I was rearing to go.  However, the bulb thing is another reason to wait.  The ugly plastic fenced patch above, which is in an awkward position in the backyard, was first on my list to go when I moved in, yet 6 months later I'm enjoying the near constant changeover of bulbs.  These red ones are dying back now, and there are some pink budded ones just about to emerge.  It's kind of like bulb tag!

Anyhoo, my Easter weekend list had a lot of things on it, and gardening was not high on the list in terms of deadlines.  However, as gardening is a fantastic procrastination method, I actually got quite a lot of digging, planting, weeding and strategising done. 

Firstly I got myself a couple of tiny box hedges (left) in a first step to realising my life-long dream of creating a topiary of my dog.  I figure that my sculpture major should be utilised somehow.   I planted one in the front yard, and I think I'll put the other in the backyard, just in case I find that I get performance anxiety.   I was going to topiarise (?) my bay tree that I planted when I first moved in, however, they grow so slowly and I'm chomping at the bit here!

My other purchase was a large native that, according to the woman at the Hobart Farmers' Market, is apparently very good at screening out nosy neighbours, being sufficiently tall, bushy and quick growing.  I don't think she knew who she was up against, but I bought the Dodonaea Viscosa (or Hop Bush) anyway, and strategically placed it down the side outside my kitchen window behind the bay tree.  I do worry quite a bit about blocking light to other parts of my garden, however, there are some sacrifices you have to make...

At the New Town Station Nursery, I came across a large number of blueberry bushes.  Considering the number of punnets I go through each summer, I felt that their $20/bush price tag was relatively reasonable, so I bought two.  While varieties of plants usually have fairly abstract or esoteric names such as 'Tigerella' tomatoes, 'Cox's Orange Pippin' apples, or 'Good King Henry'; my selected blueberry bushes are called Brigitta and Denise.  I laughed when I saw the names, because only the night before I'd been drinking with two women by that name (one of whom is my PhD supervisor). As a result, the plants have become quite personified in my mind. 

I planted Denise, which is shorter bush growing to about 1.5 meters and which produces big fat berries, down the side of the house next to the pepperberry bush.  Apparently blueberries can deal with part shade to full sun, and while I'm a little concerned that Denise won't get enough, it'll be interesting to contrast it to the larger growing Brigitta who I planted in the comparatively very sunny front yard.

Denise (with a small Camelia in the b'ground)

My two other major tasks for the weekend were installing a watering system in the front yard to counter my laziness in watering, and fixing the front lawn and weeding around the f#@*ing roses (which I loathe but feel guilty about pulling out). 
I've never been much of a lawn fan.  I can put this down to a couple of reasons: a) I'm allergic to grass, b) I've lived in so many rental houses where the grass has been the bane of my existance - it's grown and I haven't had a mower, it's been weed infested, it hasn't been watered so it's died, it's been killed by overexuberant house parties etc. etc. 

Little wonder then that when I moved into this house, I planned to get rid of the lawn in favour of a front yard overgrown with plants and a fairy path down the middle. However, I think I'm coming round to the grass thing.  For one, I haven't enough money for all the plants in my fairy garden scheme; secondly I can see that perhaps it might provide a nice background to my future topiary (in a kitschy, Tim Burton kind of way). Plus the dog appreciates grass.  So my task for the weekend was to scrape off the mat of brown spikey weed seeds that had scared the grass away on the southern side of the lawn, so that I can plant some grass seed (while trying not to sneeze).  You can see the patch left behind in the image below; and the bags of weeds and seed in the image to the left.

The foggy bits in the photo are due to my watering system which I finally installed (woot!).  I should point out that strangely, it's cheaper to buy the bits for an entire Neta watering system than to buy a good hose.

The end of my epic post (but not on the weekend - vegie garden update still to come)