Monthly Archives: November 2012

The joys of Spring and a brief Autumnal interlude

Gertrude Jekyll roses
I am writing this on the first day of November.  I have to show you my Gertrude Jekyll rose which is an absolute joy as it sprawls all over the wall outside my study. Its scent is divine. It is worth braving the savage thorns to pick a few blooms for my desk. Alongside are the glorious sweet peas, the seeds of which I purchased at the Chelsea Flower Show in March 2010. They also are so sweetly-scented. Spring is such an inspiring time in the garden. Almost overnight one sees new shoots everywhere. I have to admit that I have also seen many more snails!  They even managed to get into my hothouse and munch through some of my precious tomato seedlings.

Tradition has it that the tomatoes have to be planted out by Melbourne Cup Day. Well I did an advance planting of Black Krim, Rouge de Marmande and Brandy wine, which are all growing well, and then today, the rescued seedlings from the hothouse went into the ground – Black Russian, and two others from saved seed after eating two especially luscious tomatoes last summer. One is named Tony’s oxheart, from my friend Tony Tan. Neither of us knows the variety. And then there is Lina’s tomato, gleaned from a visit to the remarkable Rose Creek Estate in suburban Melbourne, where Lina and Tony Siciliano have created a Mediterranean paradise of fruits,vegetables, olive trees and grapevines, all just fifteen kilometres from the centre of the city.

I have had several meals from my globe artichokes. This is a vegetable that stuns with the superiority of a just-harvested specimen compared with the more leathery texture of bought artichokes. The leaves of mine are still pliable and squeaky and pull off readily, the choke scoops out easily leaving a substantial and delicious heart to enjoy. I have sauteed slices in olive oil and added them to pasta, I have combined them with my own double-peeled broad beans, and spooned the mixture over a piece of grilled ocean trout, I have added soft spinach leaves and made a delicious spring omelette (also adding the first of the new season’s garlic – not mine which is not yet ready to pull).

At the end of next year I am planning a holiday in France with friends. As I am the main French speaker I needed to brush up my fluency. I am enjoying my weekly French conversation classes and after several weeks my comprehension has improved considerably. Vocabulary building is helped by reading a few French novels, but I admit to finding the French news very challenging. My fellow students assure me it will become easier. We shall see. It would be better if I had more time to devote to it.

It seems hard to realise that last week I was experiencing autumn again! I was in Italy for just one week!  Alice Waters of The Edible Schoolyard Project in Berkeley, California, convened a group of those especially interested in food education and we presented a panel at the Slow Food Terra Madre global gathering in Turin. Ange Barry, the CEO of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation came too, and we had a most fascinating and stimulating time. As always it is wonderful to meet and talk with like-minded colleagues. Our presentation was received most warmly and we felt that our message that it is possible to work with government in a constructive partnership surprised many. We know that the strength of our partnerships with corporate, philanthropic and government bodies is directly responsible for us having been able to roll our kitchen garden programme out to so many schools. The audience clapped when we stated that at present we are influencing the food habits of around 30,000 children each year.

Our last day was spent at the open-air market in Turin. After five days of sunshine, it poured with rain. I loved it and took some somewhat soggy pictures of very perky vegetables, including autumnal porcini mushrooms. Try as I might I did not find them on any menu.

Back home and immediately I am busy with Foundation work, speaking events, book signings and realising that this eventful year is drawing to a close. A very special event will be meeting with HRH the Prince of Wales and his wife the Duchess of Cornwall, who have specifically requested to visit one of our kitchen garden schools, Kilkenny Primary School in South Australia. All involved are very excited.