At the Horticultural Society of Canberra Autumn Show on March 6, well-known home gardener David Ross and his wife Christine took me to see an amazing array of vegetables and herbs. They were being judged by Leone Venables and Sheila Hodgson with steward Rhiannon Davis and every entry was winning a prize.
The growers were Maksud and Shoma Alam, who won the reserve champion vegetable award and the Toms Trash Pak chief steward award.
They kindly invited me to see their garden in Bonner. They built their house in 2012 on a 450sq metre block. The couple came to Australia in 2003 from Bangladesh, Maksud as a post graduate student at the University of Canberra, and Shoma, who graduated with honours then a masters on botany in Bangladesh.
Shoma is a plant lover and calls herself a gardener, and she inspired Maksud. He was working on weekends in a Turkish restaurant where he collected 10kg of empty yoghurt buckets which had been used to make dips. The Alams became permanent residents then Australian citizens and moving to the new house was exciting for the couple and their two boys, who started counting the yoghurt containers which had been filled by Shoma with soil and fallen autumn leaves and were now full of plants.
They had to borrow a neighbour's big van to move the garden bounty to Bonner.
Their soil is improved by 15 bags of cow and sheep manure at the start of every summer and also chicken manure from their two chooks. Maksud has realised that gardening is not only physically good but it also improves your mental health. Most days, after work in a federal government department, he spends two hours with the plants and, during COVID they could survive for several days on garden vegetables without shopping.
Walking around the smallish garden is an education. There are the prize-winning chillies - Jalapeno, black and green varieties - Lebanese zucchini, capsicums, prize-winning potatoes and eggplants, and carrots, okra, climbing Malabar spinach, tromboncini and tomatoes, pumpkins and in between the foliage, radishes.
A large bed is devoted to Indian pennywort or Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) which they call "a herb for health". There is also a large fennel plant and Shoma eats harvested dried seeds from it daily as a digestive while a silvereye flies in to take its share of the seeds.
There is a fig tree, a bay tree, a pomegranate, a laden olive tree from which the olives are preserved, prize-winning citrus including a blood orange, a Kaffir lime and a lemon tree covered in ripe yellow fruit with skin that smells delicious and developing green small lemons. A rosemary bush is tightly sheared into a cube and the foliage is placed around plants to deter insects.
There is bitter melon (Momordica) with knobbly fruit which Shoma chops and adds onion, green chilli, turmeric and salt in a stir fry and a prize-winning long melon (Calabash) with enormous fruit displayed by Maksud with its edible leaves which cover the chook pen with its pair of hens.
A favourite plant of Shoma's in both garden and kitchen is the Asian beans (lablab) with white flowers. She chops the flesh with potato, tomato, adds hot water, covers the pot and cooks for 15 minutes and serves it with rice.
A favourite traditional dish is fish curry. The beans are cooked in oil with green chilli, onion, garlic, cumin powder, coriander powder, salt and turmeric and prawns and fillets of barramundi or leather jacket are added. In Bangladesh, a whole river fish is used and they crunch on the bones.
Maksud has shared a recipe which he gained from his Turkish "student life restaurant job experience". It is their boys' one-off weekend favourite breakfasts.
Salami with vegetables
Turkish salami or sujuk
onion (from the backyard)
green and red capsicums (from the garden)
parsley (from the garden)
tomato (from the garden)
fresh green oregano (from the herb garden)
8-10 eggs (from the chooks)
Slowly cook diced chopped onions in a big frypan until it becomes a little brown. Add diced chopped green and red capsicums and after three to five minutes add diced chopped tomato. Once the tomato has softened add the Turkish sujuk slices. Cook another eight minutes until all the vegetables are brown and soft. Then crack the eggs on top of the sujuk and vegetable mix. Put the lid on and cook for another five minutes. Then add chopped parsley and green oregano and cook for another three minutes before serving with Turkish bread.