Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Companion planting

It is a truth universally acknowledged - at least among sociologists - that marriage is a business proposition. The merging of hearts is a cover story for the building and maintenence of assets and interests. I'm increasingly aware of this in my own relationship. Not that romance has faded - I still get a tingle when Al brings home Who magazine as an unexpected treat, or when a bottle of vodka is placed lovingly in the freezer - but as we collect the accoutrements of Adulthood in Suburbia (house, garden, one dog, two dogs, bigger house, bigger garden, three chooks, five chooks, one child, two children; when will it end?) I'm aware of our inter-dependency. This is especially true of our garden. It's big, confusing and demanding, a once beautifully landscaped block that was ignored and then abused by prior owners. It's only ever one lazy weekend away from shambles. Our garden needs both of us and it's one of the things that binds us together.

We both work hard in the garden but we do so for different reasons. I do it because gardening is what my father's family does, because it's been with me since childhood, and because I love it. Mostly, Al digs, chops, hauls, rips and follows orders because he's a great guy who tries to make my life easier. He likes the idea of our own organic veggies and a peaceful place for the girls to play but gardening is not something that drives his day. So I'm always thankful that Al's the guy I merged my assets with. Hell, let's be honest, I fell in love with him; who has assets when they're studying Arts at twenty?

Lately, I'm more thankful than ever. We're building a new garden out the front, to replace the sad "lawn" that surely depressed house prices in the street. Preparing the soil has taken a big effort. Until two days ago there was 1.5 cubic metres of horse manure sitting in a compost bay in the back corner of the yard. Now, it's dug in at the front. Each time I look at that space I'm reminded that I live with a man who will barrow shit for hours, and that this shit is shit he shovelled from stables on a hot, hot day because it was free and I'm not one to pass up something free, even though I can't drive and at four days post-partum, couldn't shovel. And now that stores are depleted, he's going back to those stables for more. Now that's what I call romance.

Thanks, Al. You are, truly, da shit.

Eating from the garden: yet more eggs and chives, scrambled, for breakfast; basil in the pesto and oven roasted tomatoes for dinner; raspberries, strawberries, corn and soft and lovely pomme de nuit apples for snacks.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Lessons learned

It's still too hot to garden - I'm a delicate Tasmanian type and anything above 25 degrees is a shock to my system - but the enforced inactivity leaves precious time to plan and scheme and reflect on my summer in the garden. And here's what I've learned:

Now that I'm caring for two daughters, it takes one minute to plant seeds (pak choy and rocket), five minutes to prepare the soil and three weeks to find the time to do it.

Anything red and luscious needs to be netted, not against birds but against a greedy two year old who can't wait until tomorrow when something will be perfectly ripe. For Lu, vaguely pink-ish and not so hard it will crack a tooth counts as ripe. We've had a few strawberries and a reasonable amount of raspberries but she's yet to taste one that I'd count as ripe.

Regardless, semi-ripe home grown strawberries still taste so much better than those in the shops.

Four zucchini plants is three too many for a family of four (only three of us have teeth). Each year I over-plant and each year my partner reminds of past mistakes but the German peasant in me can't grow just one of anything: what if my children starve?; what if there's not enough relish and zucchini loaf to get us through the long winter ahead?

Connected to the above, no one wants a zucchini. Eggs and red, round tomatoes are eagerly accepted, everyone loves a home grown peach, but it's "thanks but no thanks" to those poor, unloved zucchinis.

And related to the above, if a zucchini grows so big it scares your kid or could be used as a weapon, then you're not on top of your zucchini harvest.

If you turn your back on a child and your seed packets you might not be planting a carefully planned and much anticipated nine different varieties of tomatoes; you might instead find you were working with mixed up seeds when seven Sweetie tomato bushes grow in place of the longed for Brandywines and Amish Pastes.

Gardening with my children fills me with such love and pride. I had no idea that digging around in the soil and pulling things off plants could offer so much to my soul. My garden and my family are blessed joys and great gifts.

Eating from the garden: yet more eggs for breakfast as the chooks try to convince us to keep them; tomatoes and basil on pizzas for lunch; carrot, beans, leeks and corn in a chicken noodle soup for dinner; the last blood plum, raw corn and beans for snacks.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Back to basics

My corn is so lush. It should be - I've offered it bags of manure, compost and mulching with the straw from the chickens. It's taller than me - it's as high as an elephant's eye - and laden with cobs. It embodies the promise of harvest. I think it is beautiful.

Then, come lunch time, when it's stripped back and lying prone ( a bit like a plucked chook) it's hard to see its previous glory.

But bite into it and the soft sweetness renders it remarkable again.

Eating from the garden: corn, chives and eggs in pancakes for breakfast; corn for lunch; basil in pesto at dinner, followed by rhubarb and more eggs in a cake for dessert; blood plums and tomatoes for snacks.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Crikey ...

... it's hot. It's five years since I left Brisbane and I've lost my tolerance for the heat; anything over 24 degrees is cause for grumbling. No time in the garden; it's all I can do take the compost out and collect the eggs.

Still, this morning Lu and I managed to get out for some convict brambles and multiple rabbit sightings before the temperature crept up.

And, as a reward for her patience with her prostrate and self-pitying parents ("I think I've got heat rash"; "This could be heatstroke"), we made Lu some ice blocks. The tupperware version - were a big part of my own childhood, filled and frozen with lime cordial. As a hippy-lite mother I make them from fruit juice, to quiet the little fun-suck voice inside my head griping "if it's sugar, it's bad".

In this weather we get to eat in the courtyard, which isn't commonplace in dear old Tas. And eating out of the garden in the garden is about as good as it gets for me.

Eating from the garden: eggs, scrambled, and chives for breakfast; corn for lunch; sage, rosemary, basil, chives and marjoram in the hamburger patties, with tomatoes and lettuce for dinner; blackberries in a clafoutis for dessert; strawberries, blood plums and those sexy, sexy beans for snacks.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


Is it just me, or are climbing beans truly sexy? Long and lean, elegant, casually hanging about the place. They put me in mind of a snake-hipped, Edwardian man about town from the upper classes, smoking a cigarillo and watching the debutantes with a knowing smile on his face. Well, that's sexy for me. All this titillation from the prosaically named "lazy housewife".

Eating from the garden: sweet corn for lunch; pesto and pasta salad with my basil, beans and tomatoes mixed with goat's cheese, eggplant and roasted capsicums.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Dolphins in the seed tray

My girl sees so much more than me.

Lucy and I planted seeds today: savoy and sweet loaf cabbages and purple sprouting broccoli (what a name!). As we worked she floated old zucchini seeds in the tray of water and said “dolphins”. She saw their elegance and their aerodynamic shape and drew the connection; once she had done so I could see it too. The dirty, fiddly work of seed sowing – one of my least favourite tasks – felt exotic.

Thanks, Lu.

Monday, February 12, 2007


As a child my plot was stuffed with bright, loud flowers. Striped pink petunias, yellow pompom marigolds, vulgar geraniums (as they were known back in the day) shouted happily together. As an adult my pretensions to sophistication grew. I planted species roses and learned to appreciate the beauty and balance of green in a garden. But appreciation isn’t love and I haven’t found the joy I had as a child, my garish annuals. Then not so long ago, driven by I know not what, I planted zinnias. They are shocking and bold and unapologetic about it. I love them.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Free fruit

More blackberries again today, blue plums and greengages. Lu and I wandered, drifted, pottered and faffed about the tiny bush land – bush bit – up the road. With Lu, everything is slow. She takes her time and will not be hurried. This is good for me. I started the day with a spiky, frazzled energy as I dealt with work problems that had seeped into my leave. Misdirected monies and muddled timetables created overdone eggs, lukewarm coffee and a very resentful me. But after two hours above the traffic noise, helping ourselves to free fruit and stocking up on greens for the chooks, work skulked back into the darker, less visited corners of my mind, where it belongs.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007


Today we picked blackberries in the convict cemetery down the road from us. This is not the romantic place its name suggests. There are no markers or reminders of the people who lie here, no grottos, no ancient church. Just a small-ish field, dusty and dry, bounded by major roads, trucks and utes shuttling past. But the perimeters are hedged with massive blackberry copses, the slope looks out over a bit of forest and my ears catch on the invisible birds and not the revving from the freeway out of town. Lucy, Jasper and I spent an hour here, plucking and scoffing and saving a few choice berries for Dad, breaking the labour with, in one of Lu’s common phrases, “a sit down and chat”. So we talked about the finches nesting in the bushes – a good idea, so close to the berries – the trucks and the planes, and how some little girls don’t get to go blackberrying with their Mums, how some don’t even eat blackberries and how some only get them at the shop. We discussed how sad this was because if you don’t pick them yourself you can’t get the best ones, the biggest and sweetest ones. Lu agreed with all of this – yes, it was a shame that not everyone had personally selected berries and time with their mums – and I know that in 10 years time she’ll be mortified by my scavenging for food in public places. But for this little while it doesn’t get much better than sitting where the graves once were, sharing the sweetness. To quote Lu again, we were happy-heads.

Plus, dessert for the next few days is sorted:

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Starting out

I want this blog to help me remember my good times, bad times and garden times. It's my diary, my chance to play with words and a grab a bit of space for myself. Let's see how it goes.