An excerpt from my regular column, Stephanie’s Garden in Australian Gourmet Traveller.
Well I couldn’t resist. I now have my very own herbaceous border, small compared with those magical gardens I saw in England but glorious nonetheless. It has been a team effort with my gardener doing the heavy work, her garden designer friend advising and laying out a lovely plan and all curbing my enthusiasm for too many different things, and the result is a delight. As I write the plants are just starting to flower. I am in love with the foxgloves and the new roses. I have Mme Isaac Pereire, Stanwell Perpetual and Tess of the d’Urbevilles. My border will be mostly in luscious purples, rose-pinks, white and some silver-grey. I have salvias and verbena, and campanula and aquilegia and many, many more. I have been warned that it will take twelve months to attain its full glory.
I did have an anxious couple of weeks when all the existing shrubs had to come out for re-location or to go to foster homes. Passers-by worried too. There were many enquiries as to my intention, and one woman asked my gardener, ‘Does she intend to plant more vegetables?’. A Greek neighbour leant over the fence and asked if she could have one of my globe artichoke plants in exchange for some rocket seedlings. I dug up one of the smaller plants but cannot believe that her rocket clump will grow. I usually select an enclosed space, such as a wine tub, and broadcast rocket seed freely. It is important to keep rocket picked so it does not become leggy and impossibly bitter. And if it has, pull it up and probably it will have seeded itself and new plants will emerge.
Elsewhere in the garden the sweet peas I purchased at the Chelsea Flower Show are growing well and soon should be covering their frames with pastel-coloured flowers. The blossom on the peach and nectarines has all finished for the year and the fruit is setting. This month I am looking forward to the glory of my five crabapple trees all about to flower. I have an anxious eye on the new miniature cherry. Will it produce even one cherry this year?
Two months ago I wrapped each of my celery plants in many folds of newspaper and tied each one firmly with twine. I have been thrilled at the result. It is true that once I removed the paper I discovered that quite a few very small snails and slugs had enjoyed the protection, but I also have the crispest, whitest, crunchiest stalks. Once well-washed and free of the afore-mentioned invaders,my celery has featured in many a lunchtime salad tossed with frilly leaves, soft goat cheese, or anchovies. I also made a very lovely soup in the tradition of potato and leek, substituting a lot of sliced celery for the leeks. When both potato and celery were quite soft I added several handfuls of very fresh watercress leaves. I turned up the heat for just a few minutes before pureeing the lot and straining it . I now have a beautiful pale-green soup with a little bite from the watercress.
The French rarely serve butter with cheese. An exception is roquefort that is almost always offered with butter. I squashed about one-third unsalted butter with two-thirds roquefort and made a very retro party appetiser by piping this soft mix into the channels of my perfect white celery sticks. And whilst on my celery theme I made another classic – waldorf salad – using more of my celery, orange segments, toasted walnuts, and a little sour cream. I added thinly sliced nashi pear (which I did not grow).
I am still enjoying broad beans and peas and am starting to wonder where the beans will go? It is a dilemma in a small garden space, not just for reasons of rotation, but simply where to put the next crop when the earlier one is still producing. Not a bad problem to have though.