Kitchen garden dreams

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Espaliered fruit trees, Garden of St Erth, Blackwood, Victoria

A few days spent in Victoria last week reminded me of how very different the climate can be between Sydney and Melbourne. In my early gardening years, I based my efforts on what I had read about and seen in Melbourne gardens (of which I had seen many at that time), figuring there wouldn't be 'much difference' to Sydney. I now do understand how varied gardening is between these two places, so on my recent visit, I was able to simply enjoy seeing what grows well there without feeling the need to mentally translate the ideas into my own garden at home. Victoria has had much rain over the past few months - compared to our none - and the countryside was looking very lush and beautiful. The cooler and more Mediterranean climate, and very different soil in many places, means that roses and perennials (especially European perennials) grow brilliantly there.

Kitchen garden, Garden of St Erth, Blackwood, Victoria

A theme that was repeated in almost all the gardens we visited was that of the inclusion of a thriving kitchen garden - and in each case, the produce from these gardens was being used in the onsite cafes. The kitchen gardens were generally separated off from the main gardens and laid out in rectangular beds but in each case were very decorative and interesting to visit in their own right, like French-style potagers. In the Garden of St Erth at Blackwood, for example, the kitchen garden used herbs and vegetables in attractive patterns: a long chive edging along a path, dividing 'fences' made of espaliered fruit trees, and contrasts of form made the area aesthetically pleasing. The dramatic shape of globe artichokes provided structure, and flowering herbs such as borage provided splashes of colour amongst leafy vegetable crops.

Kitchen garden, Lavandula, Shepherds Flat, Victorla

At Lavandula at Shepherds Flat - a lavender farm and lovely rambling garden - the kitchen garden was encircled by fruit trees and roses climbing on rustic timber frames. Low box spheres provided formality to the beds. Amongst the healthy-looking herbs and vegetables, self-sown annual flowers such as poppies and Aquilegia gave a softening informal touch to the grid pattern of the beds. The use of colourful rainbow silver beet with stems of bright crimson and gold added extra hues to the area.

Kitchen garden at Heide II, Bulleen, Victoria

The final garden we visited was Heide - now the Museum of Contemporary Art at Bulleen (just outside of Melbourne) and the former home of John and Sunday Reed, who nurtured many artists and writers at their property over a number of decades from 1934. The two kitchen gardens restored to the style created there by Sunday Reed combined functionality and inspired creativity to produce a wonderful result. The Reeds grew their herbs and vegetables completely organically, long before this became a mainstream notion. The second kitchen garden (originally begun in the 1960s) is the most lavishly planted today and has the atmosphere of a secret garden. Surrounded by a wooden picket fence and entered through rose-smothered arches, the garden has beds laid out geometrically but softened by the plantings within them. It is a complete garden, with vegetables grown in the western half, and the eastern half filled with a profusion of English-y cottage-garden perennials (such as Lychnis coronaria, Dianthus, bearded Iris, Thalictrum, Phlomis, lavender and species Geranium) and herbs, all grown in large drifts. Large clumps of scented-leaf Pelargonium and pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) gave out perfume as we brushed past them.

Kitchen garden at Heide II, Bulleen, Victoria

Flowers such as Nigella, foxgloves, poppies and nasturtiums had self-sown amongst some of the vegetables, giving a very romantic feel. Strong shapes came (again) from globe artichokes, enormous stands of Angelica and the jagged leaves and tall flower spikes of Acanthus mollis. But I was also struck by how sculptural and decorative the shapes of the foliage of the vegetables themselves were. Strolling along the paths, surrounded by bees and the fragrance of the roses, one feels transported to another realm, another time.

I returned from the trip with the desire to continue to incorporate more herbs and vegetables into my own garden and to appreciate the ornamental elements of these plants. I doubt I will ever have a proper kitchen garden of my own but the idea remains alluring to me.

Reader Comments

  • By Anne 2518 Monday, 11 November 2013

    Love visiting Victoria - everything within easy reach. Visited St Erth in the 80"s when the Garnetts were there. No doubt you have been to Heronswood. Was in the Blackwood area to go to Norgates - do you remember that wonderful mail order company. The great plants you could get at extremely reasonable prices. Must try and get to Heide - read a lot about it and the Reeds. Thanks for bringing back some good memories and creating the desire to go south again. Anne. Thanks, Anne. I last went to St Erth in the time of the Garnetts. It is quite different now but I enjoyed it. Last week we also went to Frogmore Gardens, on the way to St Erth - a perennial nursery which also has lovely gardens that are open in autumn. I am pretty sure this is where Norgates used to be. I loved Norgates - that"s where I bought all my very first plants from. I enjoyed Heide - like you, I had read a lot about the Reeds and found it all fascinating so good to actually see the place for myself. Hope you get to Victoria again soon. Deirdre

  • By Anne 2518 Monday, 11 November 2013

    Yes Frogmore was Norgates. I haven"t been there but going by the web site they don"t have the same range of totally beguiling plants. thanks for your response. isn"t the rain wonderful? The nursery had larger plants in pots that are not on their website catalogue. The garden there looks interesting so I hope to see it one day. The rain is fabulous. Deirdre

  • By Peta 2758 Monday, 11 November 2013

    I"m a baby boomer and grew up in the 50"s with the backyard taken over to chooks, fruit and vegetables. Mum preserved fruit and saved seed for next year. She had grown up on a small farm in the Huon during the depression. When I left home to garden the idea and "luxury" of only growing exotic plants was the thing to do. Why waste space on vegetables, I thought. Now, like you I"m loving spending time on growing my own produce. Don"t think I"ll get to eating my bantams though. They can retire. Yes, I had a similar background - my parents grew a lot of fruit and veg and I never did till now. There are certainly a lot of challenges involved, however. Deirdre

  • By Catherine 2071 Monday, 11 November 2013

    Thanks for that glimpse of MCA Heidi. I often visit Melbourne and I"ve never been there, so it"s on my must-see list now! What forward thinking people the Reeds were. But I"m in 2 minds about edibles. Herbs yes, but edibles are so demanding and disease-prone that I shrink from them. My sister now has nematodes in her garden from just one season of sown, and then another season of self-sown tomatoes which she didn"t realise she should remove. They consume a lot of resources for doubtful return. There are certainly a lot of issues involved with growing vegies, especially without using harmful sprays. I know I will never have a lot of vegies but I am trying to experiment with ways of growing some of the easier ones in ways to outwit the pests. One success I have had is putting tubs of leafy plants such as kale, rocket, basil etc into a playpen-like frame covered in mozzie net to exclude pests. Doesn"t look very aesthetic but it has been a success so far. Heide is worth a visit - the art exhibitions change every so often and in the past they have had exhibitions about the history of the garden, which I would have loved to have seen. Some of the paintings done at Heide I think are on permanent display, such as Nolan"s "Rosa mutabalis". The history of the place is fascinating. Deirdre

  • By Chris 3340 Monday, 11 November 2013

    I live relatively close to The Garden of St Erth and would have loved to meet you in person having enjoyed your blog so much. I have had a veggie patch for 30+ years and have just recently joined a local Community Garden; mainly to learn better techniques and share ideas. There is nothing better than nipping into the garden for some salad for dinner and fresh herbs are a real joy. Thanks, Chris. I loved that whole region (we stayed in Daylesford) so can imagine how nice it is to live there! I have had most success with salad leaves of different sorts and I agree with you that it is wonderful to be able to make a salad entirely from what has been grown in the garden. I bought a few packets of vegie seeds at St Erth so I will see how they go! Deirdre

  • By margaret 2122 Monday, 11 November 2013

    I have had a vegie patch ever since I came to live where I am. I always grow seasonal vegies, mingled with flowers and herbs. This year I reduced the size from three beds to one, with a flower garden on each side of the middle veg patch. Flowers attract bees and make pollination a reality. I have a few fruit trees, mainly citrus, including the lemonade type, you referred to in another blog. There is nothing like being able to pick and eat your own produce. Yes, I agree it is so rewarding to be able to pick things to eat from the garden. Citrus grow well in our area and I am definitely self-sufficient in lemons! Deirdre

  • By Carole 2230 Monday, 11 November 2013

    Oh, Oh, Oh, memories! 47 years of my life were spent either watching those plants grow or growing them myself, except for the Globe artichoke. Sadly I discovered I had an allergy to borage after growing it initially as a "lolly flower" for my children and then as a self sown weed control in my garden for many years. I had to pull the whole lot out :-( but I still had the poppies and loads of other flowers, herbs and bulbs. I failed with the kitchen garden though, not enough time or water. Your flowers sound delightful - I agree that growing vegies is not that easy; I have had most success with simple leafy crops for salads. Deirdre

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