On a sunny winter's day, the Australian National Botanic Gardens is animated by the birds and bees. At Pollen cafe zucchini fritters, good coffee and warmed lemon rosemary cake were accompanied by the visit of a wattle bird and a curious magpie. Near a group of mothers and children was a bird- and bee-attracting Corymbia "Dwarf Orange" which visitor services ranger Ben Harvey said was flowering now due to the milder, wetter winter.
The Banksia Garden, filled with about 100 taxa, is a lesson in design with raised beds and limestone pebbles for good drainage, well-spaced plants, a dry river bed and corten steel cut-out screens. A handsome young banksia overhanging a wall was identified by Ben as a grafted Banksia hookeriana, "a nice specimen".
Nearby, in a bosky part of the gardens, stepping stones lead to a two-storey tree house, irresistible to climbers. Further up the main path is the rock garden with waterfall and an armillary sphere sundial on the northern side. Made from silicon bronze, the gnomon is set to tell you the time in Canberra - imagine having that in your garden. Across a lawn is a picnic table and bee hotel.
Charlie Albone is an Australian garden designer who, with his team from Inspired Exteriors, won silver gilt medals at the Chelsea Flower Show. In 2020, he became the landscape design expert on the television show Better Homes and Gardens.
His book Garden of Your Dreams (Murdoch Books. $39.99) is a guide to inspire you to transform your outdoors whether a small courtyard or large garden - design it, build it, dig it and enjoy it.
Albone's childhood in Hong Kong, then Somerset in England, was followed by a gap year in Australia which led to him studying horticulture at Ryde TAFE. He met his wife, interior designer Juliet Love, when they were presenting a television show The Party Garden.
His tips and tricks on how to plan your style of garden include entertaining spaces, lighting, plants for small spaces, pots and furniture. Then "get your hands dirty" with soil, animal manures, worm farms, mulch and compost. For the vegie garden sow a carpet of seeds for a green-manure crop of mustard, lupins soybeans or marigolds. After a few weeks slash and dig into the soil.
He was happy to take a few questions from Kitchen Garden.
"You don't need a lot of space to grow your own - pots or grow bags will do if you are in an apartment," he said.
"But edible plants need lots of sun to do their best, at least six hours a day. For free-draining soil, build up the levels and incorporate compost and organic matter to help feed the plants.
"As a designer, most of our clients request an area to grow your own produce especially since the beginning of the pandemic but you don't need a specific area - you can mix herbs and edible plants in your existing ornamental garden beds."
For Canberrans his favourite vegetables are Brussels sprouts, broccoli, fennel, carrots and corn and his top five fruits are cherries, raspberry, figs, apples and olives. His own lemon tree gets covered in fruit which they use for everything from gin and tonic to adding to a salmon pasta dish. Charlie squeezes extra fruit and freezes the juice in an ice cube tray for fresh lemon juice year round.
Our "easy" lemon drizzle cake recipe comes from Jenny Cooper who makes it for the First Canberra Garden Club work party morning teas. Jenny is one of the very active Arboretum Rocky Knoll volunteers who always uses produce from her garden.
We have three copies of Charlie Albone's Garden of Your Dreams for readers. To win, tell me where and what you dream of creating for your garden. Email with name and address to: firstname.lastname@example.org
90ml vegetable oil (light olive oil is good)
200g castor sugar
130ml thickened cream, sour cream or yoghurt
2 lemons (or limes), zested and juiced
230g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
Drizzle: While the cake is cooking, boil 150g sugar with juice and zest from two lemons for about five minutes.
1. Preheat oven to 190C. Grease and line 20cm round cake tin or 26-28cm loaf tin.
2. In a large mixing bowl beat all the ingredients, except the flour and baking powder, until well combined and slightly pale. Fold through flour and baking powder.
3. Pour into prepared tin and bake for 30-45 minutes until cooked - check centre with a skewer.
4. While still hot in tin, poke holes all over top with skewer and then pour hot drizzle over. Cool in tin.
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