Judy Parker has a fine design eye and a sense of humour. We met in July at her first solo photography exhibition Home and Grown: Connecting the Visual at the Discovery Centre Gallery CSIRO. Her photographs on the walls displayed items from our kitchen gardens and fruit bowls as well as items where part of their life cycle was in seeds, shells, nests and eggs.
The Grown fruits and vegetables had been creatively arranged to connect form and function. I was particularly attracted to the vibrant work called Checkers where Parker used contrasting reds and greens of melon, capsicum, honeydew, beetroot, stem end of pomegranate, broccoli, tomato, avocado, green capsicum, sprouting red onion, drying asparagus stems, aged capsicum, tomato, lime, blood orange and artichoke.
On a farm north of the ACT, Parker and her family grew fruit and vegetables for family use on and off for 50 years before she retired to Canberra in 2012. Further plantings also continued after relocation to the suburbs.
Parker trained as an art teacher in Sydney in the 1960s. She taught art in an ACT high school then art, photography and graphic design in a Canberra secondary college from 1975-2006. She had concentrated on the creativity of others but always practised photography and finally had time to develop her own portfolio of images.
In 2007, Parker joined the Canberra Photographic Society. Their forthcoming exhibition Out There 2019 will be held at the Watson Arts Centre from September 5-22. Free entry. Judy Parker's images Checkers, Bonsai sweet potato and Orange (squash to persimmon) will be shown along with a variety of her other work and from the many other members of the society.
Here are her growing tricks to create bonsai sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas): purchase too many sweet potatoes. Place in a ventilated veggie basket, rear of bottom layer of pantry cupboard. Darkness recommended. Close cupboard door. Ignore for a long time. Decide to bake sweet potato. Discover and prepare to evict. Find delight in bright pink stems and fine jade-green leaves. Evict from house but leave outside under sunny pergola without disposing. Choose one for close-up portrait. Photograph and replace with siblings outside window, awaiting "family" portrait. Parker is still waiting and says, "should there be a new class in the flower section of Canberra Show for escaping vegetables?"
For the kitchen gardener who wants to experiment growing sweet potato in our climate, a crop usually suitable for sub-tropical to tropical areas where the rampant vine is a perennial, choose a warm to hot area. In early spring, plant pieces of the tuber with "eyes" about 10cm deep in pots, and keep indoors. Plant out after frosts are unlikely. Water daily.
In warmer areas you can plant a healthy sweet potato in deep loose friable soil in the ground or a pot of potting mix. Cover with layers of compost, well matured animal manure and straw mulch.
If using shoots from your bonsai sweet potato as cutting material, they should be 15-20cm long, remove all leaves except the two at the top and bury with those two just above the soil surface. It should form roots within a week. Plant in full sun and expect a crop after 4-6 months. This kitchen gardener is now tempted to try the experiment. Have any readers grown sweet potato in Canberra? (email: email@example.com)
Sweet potato is a favourite in the kitchen, particularly in soup, mashed or roasted. Some people like the skin on but not this eater. If your peeled sweet potato turns a dark, unattractive shade, put it in cold water immediately after peeling or under a damp tea towel or add to the pot or baking dish promptly. I have a preference for the orange-red fleshed variety, also called kumara. The purple-skinned sweet potato has off-white flesh but more antioxidants. All sweet potato is healthy. The North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission says sweet potatoes should not be stored in the fridge as this can change the cell structure, making them hard in the centre with white spots. It also diminishes the flavour.
There are hundreds of sweet potato recipes from reliable sources online. I like mine sliced, splashed with olive oil, roasted, then added to a soup with golden vegetables including carrot and pumpkin plus grated ginger and turmeric. You can sprinkle on top macadamia dukkah and parsley microherbs, purchased from a greengrocer in tiny punnets and grown on your kitchen windowsill.