The Canberra Organic Growers Society Cook Community Garden is celebrating its 20th anniversary on December 12 and launching a booklet called From Bush to Bounty. One of the Cook gardeners, Julie Gorrell, has conducted a series of interviews and recollections from people who were instrumental in establishing the garden in 2001.
Julie said two other Canberra Organic Growers Society gardens were established at the same time in Kambah and Holder. The land at Cook was provided by the ACT government and was formerly a horse paddock surrounded by bushland and at the base of Mount Painter. The history of Cook is as much about the growth of Canberra Organic Growers Society as it is about the garden itself. It is a testament to the hard work, enthusiasm and commitment to organic gardening principles of particular individuals who were invested in the benefits of a community-based enterprise.
The first convenor was Keith Colls, who is still very well known and active in Canberra's horticultural community. He was then followed by Alan Robertson in 2004-5, then Rasmira Kecanovic (now Stephens). The current convenor, since 2018, is Peter Weddell who said they currently have 53 plots and 46 gardeners, some of whom have two plots and others who share. Double plots date from the early days of the garden and still have their original gardeners. Peter says they have a good mix of ages, gender, and ethnicities and that it is a friendly and peaceful garden with great community spirit.
Last Tuesday on a sunny afternoon, I was greeted at the Cook site by Mario Serenellini, who I met at the Italian Club fete 14 years ago and have since featured his plot and his home garden.
Mario had just harvested 206 globe artichokes from plants two metres tall which have responded to recent rain and the large bed is impressive. Peter and Julie in our photo are standing beside the artichoke plants. Mario's tomatoes are already knee-high with sturdy stems and he has planted bell cucumbers, eggplants, potatoes and little capsicums which he fills with sauce and cheese.
Water channels down from Mount Painter into some of the Cook plots and Michele Barson, wearing gumboots, was tending plants in her raised beds while sloshing in channels of water. A mass of sweet peas was in full bloom. She has provided our seasonal savoury triangles/spanakopita recipe which she has been cooking for 45 years and says is perfect to serve with drinks.
Michele was chatting to another kitchen gardener who has appeared in this column, Adrienne Fazekas, who greeted me with "Clematis napaulensis in Ainslie," a winter-flowering plant which we both grow. Adrienne, an original Cook plot holder, visits it every second day to pick asparagus and will continue for the raspberry harvest. The soil is full of worms.
Under a pergola, Mervyn and Liz Dorrough were laying old Canberra red bricks and Liz served tea and a delicious nibble (recipe to come in Kitchen Garden next week). As Julie Gorrell says, hundreds of people are likely to have benefitted from gardening at Cook and those who have worked there shared a deep and abiding interest in organic gardening - growing food crops and flowers. Their gardening expertise and produce have been shared to benefit the whole community, including Canberra City Care Harvest Stall.
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