As my editor Karen Hardy notes, everyone seems to be gardening now they are at home. She thought, with my 37 years of contributing weekly gardening columns to The Canberra Times, perhaps I could offer some practical ideas, especially for those new to growing vegetables.
Soil and aspect are most important. If possible, choose a spot that gets at least six hours of sunshine a day, not in a draught. Canberra soils are mostly depleted in nutrients. Choose large pots or troughs and fill them with the best potting mix (I buy Martin's Premium at Powells Stockfeeds in Phillip). For plants in the ground I add homemade compost and bagged cow manure.
Applications of liquid plant food, diluted in a watering can, are important after planting and during growing time. I use Seasol and Thrive Vegie and Herb liquid. You will also need snail pellets and I use Multicrop's Multiguard because they are safe for animals but they need replacing after rainfall or heavy watering.
In my garden, big strawberries are grown in the ground, alpine strawberries in a pot, there's a Lisbon lemon tree in the ground, dwarf Lots-a-Lemons in a pot. For fish dishes there is fennel in the ground and dill in a pot (both, like parsley, are possum delicacies). I always wear gardening gloves and prefer inexpensive, thin black Ninja Grip which breathe and fit well (mine came from Gasweld in Gladstone Street, Fyshwick).
Nurseries and seedlings
Two of my favourite garden nurseries are Rodney's Plant Plus at Pialligo and the Heritage Nursery at Yarralumla, mainly because they both come with locality benefits. Beltana Road at Pialligo has the apple orchards and alpacas and you can collect a pre-ordered box of produce from Pialligo Estate Grocer. The Heritage Nursery in Weston Park on (newly named) Robert Boden Grove, was awarded 2019 Best Retail Nursery NSW and ACT, and it is beside the English Garden with its mature trees and shrubs and a walkway to the Lake.
Rodney and Cheryl Toll founded Rodney's in 1974 and their daughter, Fiona Toll, says there has been a huge demand for vegetable seedlings and seeds in the current climate. The big sellers are broccoli, cauliflower, peas, spinach, silverbeet, beetroot, broad beans and lettuce as well as leeks, spring onions, brown, red and white onions, Brussels sprouts, celery, cabbage varieties and pak choy. Soil enhancers like Groganic and potting mix are very much in demand and fruit trees are popular..
Fiona says research shows 30 minutes of gardening is good for your physical self and your mental health. Children will enjoy the hands on gardening and watching the transformation of seedlings to produce vegetables.
Owner of the Heritage Nursery John Cassidy and manager and horticulturist Scott Burns have seen a wonderful uptick in business with Canberrans making the most of current conditions, a mentally therapeutic way to beat the at-home blues. They are receiving 300-400 calls each day with most looking for vegetable seedlings and to check if they are open. John Cassidy says garden nurseries have been declared essential by the Australian Minister for Agriculture as they sell home-grown food sources.
Their hottest selling items are silver beet, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and herbs and Wednesday 9am is delivery truck arrival time. Seed potatoes have just arrived and are best stored in a cool dark place for planting out in August to September. Citrus stock has arrived and it includes the "magical citrus unicorn" Yuzu, which they have not stocked in 23 years.
Olives, stone fruit and feijoa are in stock and they have potting mix, cow manure and organic composts.
Next week we will sow seeds for the future. Do let me know what and where you have planted, if you are experienced or new to gardening, whether seedlings or seeds and place of purchase. Email: email@example.com
Now that you have had a nursery excursion (mental or physical) you need comfort food. Graham O'Loghlin of Yarralumla is complimented among friends for his fish pie. It is made to Jamie Oliver's Sweet Fish Pie recipe (no pastry but topped with cooked potatoes mashed with olive oil). It contains carrot, celery, fresh lemon zest and juice, flat-leaf parsley, fresh red chilli, cheddar cheese, fresh salmon fillets and prawns plus smoked fish (Graham uses smoked trout) and is finished with a handful of baby spinach and ripe tomatoes. Graham serves it with a tossed salad, green loose leaves from Wiffens Premium Green Grocers at Fyshwick Markets (they deliver online orders).
Jamie Oliver says it is not too tricky to make so I did a minimalist (but still delicious) version with Montague whiting from Narooma Direct Seafoods purchased at the farmers' market plus fennel fronds and omitted the chilli (am allergic to same). Baking time 40 minutes.
Editor's note: Susan's column was perfectly timed. I roll out Jamie Oliver's Sweet Fish Pie each Good Friday. It is one of the best things I've ever cooked. I'll indulgently include a photo of my effort. Sorry Graham. Check out Jamie: Keep Cooking and Carry On on 10play.com.au, he cooked the pie and you can find the original recipe here.