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.