It was a thrill to visit the enticing garden of Pip Thompson and Tim Meyen in Ainslie and hear him playing Romanian dance music on a cimbalom. The couple are musicians - Pip is a violinist - and, for years, the sound-spill with both of them practising in the house was difficult. So they built a wooden studio in which Tim could practise and also to rehearse with their Romanian band Super Rats.
Pip and Tim have lived in Ainslie for 20 years and when they moved in there was little else but a huge old apricot tree planted when the house was built in 1938. Pip said, "the back yard was a scrubby patch which could optimistically be called 'lawn' but was really just a lot of weeds holding hands."
Now the garden is filled with tiger lilies, soaring artichokes, swaying feather reed grass, vanilla-scented Clematis maximowicziana, a lime tree and hedges of rosemary, a plant worn as a crown by brides in Transylvania. The vege patch is producing zucchini, carrots, tomatoes, beetroot, lettuce and a vigorous row of basil plants, a herb also favoured in Romania. The couple often has a simple meal of olive sourdough bread made with their own rosemary, with homegrown tomatoes and salad.
Frequent musical travels in Romania, for a couple of months most years, gave them inspiration for a productive garden. In the good growing climate and fertile soil of rural Transylvania people have extensive produce gardens and grow much of what they eat. Tim still raves about the tomatoes he ate while living with a Romani (gypsy) family in the village of Marsa. What doesn't go to the table there is generally made into a ferocious fruit or corn liquor called palinca or horinca.
The design for the Ainslie garden was Pip's idea, first planted three years ago. She wanted to combine an ornamental garden with Tim's desire for a productive garden. They did a lot of the work themselves but had help and advice from Pip's friend former Canberran Simon Rickard, author of Heirloom Vegetables (Penguin, 2014) and ex head gardener at the Digger's Club in Victoria.
Rickard's own garden at Trentham, Victoria, is an inspiration to Pip who has followed his principles combining aesthetic and practical elements and using plant varieties that are successful in our growing climate. Lots of experimentation resulted in a good shortlist of plants that work in the ACT. Pip says the plants are thriving on their diet of Romanian folk music.
Canberra horticulturist Verity Alexandra and Revive Landscaping did much of the heavy work and hard landscaping and were able to interpret Pip's design ideas using their practical knowledge and skills. Paths are made using Canberra bricks and gravel.
Behind the studio is a berry garden with Chilliwack and Chilcotin varieties of raspberries, a prolific thornless "Waldo" blackberry and several varieties of strawberries which the photographer and I sampled. From an elderberry bush, Pip makes an "elderflower sparkler" which is popular with her nephews and nieces at Christmas.
In an orchard area are netted apple trees Cox's Orange Pippin, Egremont Russet and Bramley's Seedling, the plum trees Coe's Orange Drop and Greengage and hazelnuts Cosford, Hall's Giant and Barcelona. Pip says they have had great success with plants from Woodbridge Nursery in Tasmania.
Pip's father, Alan Thompson, is an excellent cook and the source of many family recipes. Pip has been experimenting with adapted versions of his berry crumble.
(all measurements are approximate - at best)
500g fresh fruit or berries (she has successfully used raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and plums, including combinations)
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 tbsp tapioca flour or tapioca pearls
zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp cinnamon
2 cups almond meal
1 cup rolled oats
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup flaked almonds
3/4 cup desiccated coconut
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup coconut or macadamia nut oil
slivered almonds for topping.
1. Preheat oven to 180C (or 170C fan-forced)
2. In a bowl, combine fruit or berries (hulled or sliced as necessary) with maple syrup, tapioca flour or pearls, lemon zest and cinnamon. Toss to coat berries/fruit. In another bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients except the slivered almonds and stir together. Then stir in maple syrup. Add the coconut or macadamia nut oil and work in with fingertips to get the mixture to stick together.
3. Place a layer of the fruit mixture in a deep oven tray or in individual ramekins, then top with a thick layer or the crumble mixture. Sprinkle a layer of slivered almonds on top. Bake for around 20 minutes or until topping is golden brown. Eat either warm or cool.