This year the Australian Garden History Society is celebrating its 40th birthday. In 1975 the new Australian Heritage Commission started pioneer work identifying and documenting Australia's natural and cultural heritage places. Following state surveys and a travelling exhibition by Howard Tanner, Converting the wilderness: the art of gardening in colonial Australia, the AGHS was established. Its mission remains to promote awareness and conservation of significant gardens and cultural landscapes.
The ACT Monaro Riverina Branch, led by Chair Sue Byrne, is celebrating the milestone. Committee member Dr Greg Johnson says, "the growth in Canberra's population from 1714 in 1911, to around 9000 in 1930 was paralleled by the emergence from 1925 onwards of local newspapers that contained some gardening advice ... and the establishment of a local horticultural society which morphed into what is now the Horticultural Society of Canberra." In 1925 at the first Horticultural Society Show, there were prizes for the best collection of vegetables, bundle of rhubarb, three head cabbage, bunch of turnips and dish of green peas.
There is an long history of homegrown produce in the Canberra district. Families developed backyards with vegetables and netted fruit trees. Tomatoes were popular and in 1927 the Canberra Community News recorded that: "some of the finest tomatoes ever seen have been grown at the Causeway this year, several over two pounds." In 1925 at Yarralumla Nursery, Charles Weston established a demonstration orchard with an orchard of 123 varieties of apples as well as peaches, almonds, pears, apricots, plums and persimmons. The trees flourished and people came on weekend afternoons, uninvited, to help themselves to the fruit.
Dr Louise Moran, a former Chair of AGHS, arrived in Canberra in 1952 where her father bought a house in Forrest. Her mother developed three large vegetable beds, two long rows of raspberries and an orchard of apples, pears, sweet cherries, plums and a Moorpark apricot. When the family sold the house 64 years later, most of the trees were still there, and fruiting.
They grew tomatoes galore, peas, green beans, carrots and parsnips, cucumbers, lettuces, spinach and silver beet and dark green zucchini. There was also an exchange of surplus produce. Mr Nicholson, the greengrocer in Manuka, provided things they didn't grow, like onions, eggplants, peppers, garlic and citrus. Louise's mother gave dinner parties and used books by Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson as major influences on her cooking style, and English staples courtesy of Constance Spry. For her Late Harvest Jam recipe email firstname.lastname@example.org for recipe.
From 1950 Fran Ballard lived across the road in Forrest and her parents, Geoffrey and Margaret Rossiter, had met the Morans' in Oxford. Fran says they inherited a huge orchard full of 20 established fruit and nut trees which, as well as a source of food, was a fabulous place for tree climbing for them and the neighbourhood kids. There were Granny Smith apples (for apple snow recipe, email email@example.com), red apples, plums including Greengage, apricots, nectarines, peaches, sour cherries, almonds and a magnificent walnut tree. Her father also grew vegetables, tomatoes, sweet corn, potatoes, rhubarb, silver beet, lettuce and grapes.
The whole family spent many days harvesting fruit and her mother used Fowlers Vacola bottling system for stone fruit to last through the winter, eaten with home made ice cream or custard. Fran's most enduring memory is heading off to Mossy Point for two weeks in summer with a roof rack filled with boxes of fresh fruit and nuts as fresh produce was scarce at the South Coast in those days.
The first six responses from readers in our giveaway (Kitchen Garden, March 10 ) for the book The Forest Feast Mediterranean nominated eggplant as the most typical Mediterranean fruit or veg.
Our winner was Helen Agostino from O'Connor who plants zucchini and harvests the flowers for a recipe (which follows) from Helen's late mother-in-law Maria. The fritters are served with insalata de pomodori e catrioli, a salad made from home grown produce (toss chopped tomatoes, Lebanese cucumbers, garlic, basil, cold pressed olive oil, white wine vinegar and salt together.
Fritelle di fiori di zucchini
10-15 male zucchini flowers, coarsely torn, stems chopped
a couple of female flowers with baby zucchini, chopped
2 cups plain flour
1 cup cold soda water (or mineral water)
good handful of basil and Italian parsley, chopped
quarter cup grana padano cheese, finely grated
ground black pepper
olive oil for frying
Mix all ingredients except oil together quickly. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in non-stick frypan. Add dollops of zucchini mix, fry gently until golden. Flip and fry until golden and crispy on the outside. Add more oil if needed. Drain on paper towel, sprinkle with sea salt flakes. Best served warm while crispy.