The Conservatory

Thursday’s volunteering at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens happened amidst blustery breezes and overcast skies. Nevertheless the harvesting of fresh produce, weeding and hoeing around the tea plantation and across under trees including the bananas, and the podding of soy beans continued. 

The robust onions and green leaves of lettuces and silver beet picked, for donation to charity, undoubtedly will be much appreciated.

In addition, because recent strong winds had blown over some skyward growing sun flowers, some needed removal and replacement with healthy new plants.

As I left the Food Garden for the day, my rediscovery of other wonders in the Botanical Gardens continued.  Normally I take the paths giving the shortest route to the exit.  On Thursday I rerouted my walk through the Conservatory. 

A protected space, walled in with a ceiling, and a door at either end, this is a presentation ‘hall’. Whereas the Food Garden is about learning and education, the Conservatory is a display space without labels. Designed to wow, it never fails to surprise. As with public art galleries where temporary art exhibitions come and go, the potted plants in the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Garden’s  Conservatory are always being replaced to create new wondrous combinations.

You walk in to a sense of generous lusciousness.  Glorious sandstone arch bays provide the frame for plant panoramas.

At the moment orchids predominate.

While the orchids are everywhere, other spectacular plants are guaranteed to lift your spirits.

My deviations from the normal path has opened my eyes to how much can be missed, and I look forward to making new discoveries or rediscoveries at the Botanical Gardens over coming weeks.  Maybe I should check what I am doing in my life and make some deviations?

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A lot happens over a fortnight

It had been only a fortnight since I last visited the Food Garden of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, yet when I arrived last Thursday I could see significant and substantial changes had been made. Highly visible was the deepened garden bed; a scar in the landscape.

All the soil down at least 30 cm had been removed – my memory is hazy but I seem to remember Coordinator Adam mentioning 7 tonnes of soil was taken away – or was it twice that amount? Not for recycling. Not for composting. Off to landfill as ‘rubbish’ soil. All in an attempt to remove every bulb and plant of spreading onion weed. This weed has been gradually making itself comfortable in a number of garden beds. The soil removal here is an experiment to see if it can be removed by this manner. The area will sit idle for a couple of weeks to see whether this pesky weed is even more embedded than expected, with fresh shoots appearing. Will more digging be required and will more soil need to be removed? Once this process is deemed successful, then other smaller garden beds will receive the same treatment. It is drastic. However the invasion of onion weed has to be stopped – they proliferate underground and choke the soil reducing any chance of good crops of useful vegetables. Most plants are almost impossible to dig out manually because of their depth and their strong attraction to staying put. To tug the leaves is to leave the bulbs in the ground.

The plants of four giant pumpkin were installed in a mound of rich compost. If these are let be by visitors, we can expect monster sized pumpkins to enthrall us, once full size, next year. Unfortunately in past years, some visitors have thought it fun to see if they can lift them. In doing so, they have always managed to separate the stalk from the pumpkin so it dies and rots.

Long term blog post readers will know that Robyn and Andrew gave me the seeds for the La Rouge D’Etampes pumpkin which is commonly referred to as the Cinderella pumpkin because of its shape. Cut spaces for windows, add wheels and attach to a cluster of horses, call out for Cinderella, load her in and drive away! Their seeds germinated beautifully and gave me a large crop earlier this year. I still have one very large pumpkin to cut and share – and many people around Hobart have enjoyed a wedge through winter. Unbeknown to me, some seeds found their way into the Garden’s nursery and were germinated. These have been planted out and I am super pleased and excited to see how they fare – especially as they were given the best of compost and organic fertilisers. Robyn and Andrew are also chuffed.

To add to this story, they relocated to the north west of Tasmania and didn’t take any seeds. By chance I had a few Cinderella pumpkin plants pop up in my garden unexpectedly (as distinct from those I planted deliberately a few weeks ago) I dug the spares out and now these have been planted up north. The circles of sharing are complete!

Creating supports for climbing tomatoes and planting same, left a garden bed looking very organised. The string line from the apex of the structure is secured into the soil with a u shaped tent peg. The tomatoes will find their way towards the sky following this string.

Elsewhere a different support was fixed for more tomatoes.

The tea plantation is always a source of tiny flick weeds. Is that something we want in the Food Garden? No. It never is. Clearing around the tea bushes was a massive and fiddly job, but an essential task.

I continued to pod the soy beans. Often with only 1. 2 or 3 beans in the tiny pods, it was a slow process.

I walked away from the Food Garden while others remained hard at work. Uphill from the Food Garden, past the cacti and past the Sub-Antarctic Plant House, I headed for the Herb Garden. In all the years I have never visited this gem. Situated near the red brick convict built wall that surrounds the Gardens, I discovered a weed-free series of garden beds with a wide variety of healthy herbs.

This alone is well worth a visit for Hobartians and those who travel to Hobart from further afield. A place of calm allowing for a meditative state of mind.

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Flourishing gardens

On Thursday, after months of unavoidable absence, I returned to volunteer in the Food Garden at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens. This provided stimulating opportunities to meet old friends, bask under the big blue sky, enjoy the sparkling light on the plants, glory in the diversity of plants now growing and waiting to be planted, and meander around more than the Food Garden. Over past years I have focused on the domestic fruit and veggies, and this time I remembered there is much more to this, one of Hobart’s most fabulous locations. More about that later.

On arrival Neil was hard at work clearing the land surrounding the jump over apples.

Tony was harvesting produce ready to distribute to charitable organisations. This included digging out the tasty wasabi rocket and later picking off the leaves for easier consumption in fresh salads.

My job for the day was to pod the soy beans ready for planting. Meanwhile Adam rotary-hoed garden beds.

Pam and Sandra focused on, lifted and sent off for destruction pesty onion weed.

Tiny kids from a local school visited for an hour. They scurried around looking for specific plants.

In garden beds across the Food Garden I spotted: strawberry plants with flowers, rows of glistening silver beet plants, bolting brassicas and more, proliferating rhubarb, strong upright sunflower plants, dramatic growth on the hops, a bee haven amidst the calendula and borage, a few new plants of zucchini, flourishing celery, a potentially great crop of berries, garlic, leeks growing next to a crop of onions, and the indominatable globe artichokes.

None of this should be seen as your own supermarket – all the produce is destined for charitable organisations. The day concluded with the planting of dozens of KY1 tomatoes; a bush tomato.

Instead of walking to the Garden’s exit I changed my approach, avoided regulated pathways and wandered across broad expanses of lawn. In so doing, I ‘found’ trees whose existence I was aware of but would swear I had never seen. When viewed walking past on a path, I have never appreciated the full majesty of many trees.

The Cork Oak was a revelation up close. This is possibly the oldest tree in the Gardens having been planted over 200 years ago. I was in awe of the character of the surface of its trunk and branches.

The thickness of the bark of the Bunya pine, normally found in tropical climes, was a major surprise.

Elsewhere I came across a waratah garden containing at least 5 different varieties of this Australian plant. Dramatic unusual ‘flowers’.

Based on these experiences and ‘discoveries’ I will meander across other parts of the Gardens during subsequent visits. Our Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens are special in every season of the year and this moment is no exception.

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Preserved lemons

Nothing sour about this story!

When friend Alex gifted me a large bag of freshly picked lemons from her tree, immediately I knew that their preservation would be my first priority. As it happens, there were way too many for the jars I selected and now I look forward to incorporating lemons into my meals everyday – until I run out. By comparison my lemon tree is young and, while producing well, it’s a small annual crop at this stage.

Many different methods are touted as best for preserving lemons. I will describe and show you my method – one that couldn’t be simpler.

I scald glass jars and lids and dry thoroughly. Then I wash/scrub the surface of the lemon to remove air pollution or general handling. Note: all the skin and the flesh will be preserved. The stalk of each lemon is sliced off, then wedges are cut (these can be whatever size suits – some recipes preserve half lemons, some quarter lemons – my latest batch consisted of 6 wedges per lemon). I prod and push to remove all the pips.

Into the base of a jar I pour salt to cover, then drop in the wedges from the first lemon.

With lid closed tightly I shake the contents to coat the lemon with salt. Open up. With more wedges I repeat the process until I can press the last wedges tightly to fill at jar height level. More salt is poured before tightening the lid of the jar.

I rest the jar upside down to let juices and salt mingle and when bored by waiting, give the jar a shake or two and leave upright.

In a dark cupboard the jars are initially stored upside down. On day two I turn them right side up and then leave and forget. The longer the jars are left the softer the lemon rinds become so that the contents become somewhat of a homogenous glue.

I start using these after a few months but the timing of use choice is yours. Over time the colour of the mixture changes from the bright yellow of the freshly picked lemons to a brownish colour – but they are still edible. Besides, if you don’t use them until that ‘aged’ stage then, when cooked in a meal you do not see them; they dissolve into the meal. The following photos show my new jars compared to one filled in July 2021 – one that I am still using with delight.

How do you use your preserved lemons? They can be used in vegetable and meat dishes. One piece from my jars (don’t wash off the salt), chopped finely and stirred evenly through the vegetable mix, is enough for a meal for one. For incorporating within meat dishes, I recommend you experiment with placing preserved wedges of the lemon and learn the locations for the best effect.

Usually I try a Moroccan or middle eastern approach with appropriate spicy flavours, and perhaps include pitted dates. This gives the dish saltiness, sweetness and the occasional tang from the lemon. Wonderfully delicious. Please let me know your successful experiments and recipes.

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RTBG 12th May 2022

A blanket of greyed clouds formed the umbrella for the day, and the temperature failed to rise to anything remotely comfortable – Neil had started before us in 4 degrees. At lunch we sat in the hardly ‘balmy’ temperature of around 12-13 degrees – or were we balmy. As I closed my mind to the cold, it crossed my mind that I was bonkers. It was one of those gloomy autumn days when staying at home with a good book and a glass of wine could have been preferable. But a few of us were undeterred and turned up for work in the Food Garden of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG).

Our Coordinator Adam spent most of the day working elsewhere on a major Botanical Gardens project and so, with a few directive suggestions, we set to work and when unsure, we used trusty Google. Neil plucked off the lower leaves from the Brussels Sprouts with the intention to create some distance from aphids and to remove their hiding places. Visitors to the Food Garden always stopped to ask him what and why – they looked so strange when semi-nude.

Tony harvested what he could wherever he could find fresh produce suitable for charity. I watched him removing leaves from stalks of two types of basil.

 Meg kept warm by raking and sweeping flurries of spent leaves from the many paths.

Trixie tackled some weeds and Neil dug over some garden beds.

Pam and I separated cloves from two varieties of garlic bulbs and selected non-rotted shallots. 

Then we plunged our fingers and tools into the soil and planted the garlic.

With the raking and planting assistance of Lesley, collectively we finished two beds and planted a third with the shallots.

Later a second bed of shallots were planted.

The recent increased rainfall has encouraged the proliferation of fungi around our gardens and in the wilderness (see the Tasmanian Fungi group on Facebook).  A number of colour camouflaged fungi were pushing out of the soil in various parts of the Food Garden.

At the end of the day on my way to the exit, I admired the relationship of the coloured signs to the colouring leaves of the tree somewhat behind it.  I wondered if this was a happy accident or whether it had been a deliberate choice.

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Thursday 28th April 2022 RTBG

It was one of those mornings when the Bridgewater Jerry filled the air above the Derwent River and spread left and right across the Greater Hobart areas. Kunanyi was missing. Nipaluna seemed to be missing. Occasionally the sun found holes and pushed its light through – first I watched its golden light at home and then at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Garden (RTBG).

Perhaps the softness of the air helped to strengthen the relaxed spirit of camaraderie and willingness to be productive in the Food Garden of the RTBG on Thursday. The return of a much travelled volunteer and the start of a new one also helped expand the convivial laughter and chatter over an adventurous green tomato cake (recipe to anyone who asks) washed down by our morning cuppa.

In the muted light, I marvelled at varieties of fungi which had pushed their way around through the soil at the edges of a lettuce garden bed. Fairy sized seats.

The harvest was underway. Beets and rhubarb had been picked ready for delivery to charity – Second Bite.

Weeding, path making and seed collection were the tasks for the day. Medicago and Flick (Cardamine hirsute) weeds were the most prevalent unwanted plants across the Food Garden and different volunteers tackled their removal from different spaces to the rubbish bins, not the compost, to reduce the chance of ‘reinfection’. I note flick weed is an edible suitable for salads but its use as such would be too obscure for those receiving the charity donations so this plant is not harvested for distribution.

Buggy loads of sawdust were shovelled over the pathways.

The soya bean plants, which had been growing slowly for months, had hundreds of seed pods to be picked. These will be used to create new larger crops next year, after which time, we may experiment with making our own tofu and other soya based products.

Elsewhere across the Botanical Gardens, the brilliant colours of autumn leaves created stunning displays.

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Ulverstone, Tasmania

On the north west coast of Tasmania, my birthplace was Burnie.  While the small town of Ulverstone is less than 30 kms east, I never knew it well; to me it was an impediment to be driven through on the way to somewhere. Over the past weekend I discovered the pleasantness of its central streets and more.

The draw-card was a screening by Art Screen Events, at the Leven Theatre, of Verdi’s opera Rigoletto from the Metropolitan Opera in New York. 

Overcoming many bussing challenges, I travelled from Hobart via Launceston and Devonport to arrive in Ulverstone late in the day as the clouds hung leadenly and the first rain fell. It is easy, on a sunny day, to forget why the paddocks of the north west coast are bright lime-green – the rich lushness grows from the frequent rain and the moderate temperatures. I shouldn’t have been surprised when the rain fell and then RAIN fell and the pattern of soft and hard rain alternated all night. Dramatic. Cleansing. Next morning the sky was bright blue dashed with a few of the cleanest puffiest clouds. Buildings, the streets, the vehicles all look washed by the deluge and everything sparkled in the sun.

My first discovery was a new $10.5 million complex, known as The Hive. Completed only 6 months ago, this state of the art building houses a Visitor Information Centre, a retail outlet, a variety of studios for artists, a woodworkers workshop, a planetarium, science centre, a museum, an art gallery and a cafe. Each Saturday, The Hive offers a small market for the sale of work by local artists. I was particularly impressed with the simplicity and elegance with which museum artefacts were displayed, and with the restraint used in hanging an exhibition of one person’s paintings. Classy. Accessible. Professional.

From The Hive I meandered through local streets, past an AFL football ground where a game was underway, and headed towards  Button’s Beach. Autumn leaves decorated the footpaths and needed to be scuffed into the air with a purposeful toe. The  Beach Hut café, where I found the best ever veggie burger, was a recommendable discovery!

I watched as rain fell over Bass Strait, from a mushroom cloud, and never moved to wet Ulverstone.

After a leisurely stroll along the beach I wandered through further streets eventually finding myself along the Leven River edge redevelopment, with Pedro’s fish outlet and Buttons Brewery offering booze and food in an upmarket venue.

Ulverstone’s streets are graced with stately 19th century buildings.

My afternoon was filled with the joys of sensational music and scintillatingly beautiful singing as a fresh new production of Rigoletto was performed in sophisticated sets that helped tell the story. In the presence of great musicians the experience can be so thrilling that I almost stop breathing and I feel my heart wants to do a somersault in exaltation. I am delighted that post Covid, such performances / screenings are again possible and more newly presented operas will be screened in the coming months. I may have more to say about Ulverstone in the future!

Back on 19th August 1950, my parents married: the first night of their honeymoon was spent at Ulverstone in the then glamorous Lighthouse Hotel. This hotel still exists and so, of course, I booked in. With its art deco curves I suspect the building may date from the early to mid 1940s as were others sporting art deco features around town. The most outstanding feature of the hotel was a lighthouse which stood prominently on the roof, despite the hotel being in the centre of the business district and no-where near the river or the sea.

Over the years, the hotel has suffered a number of refurbishments and renovations and, I am sorry to say, the lighthouse was removed in 2017 and replaced with an uninspired colorbond style steel roof and ceiling indoors.  The Advocate newspaper reported the hotel owner’s comment; “The dome is well past its use by date, we are installing a new roof”.

Looking up the street towards the Hotel, clearly this once impressive building seems slumped and ordinary with a tiny pokey configuration on the roof where the lighthouse once beamed. The whimsy of the past has been obliterated.

Light

Overall, there is plenty to do in and around Ulverstone if you like to take casual walks and simply see how others live.  Perfect for a short and gentle holiday.

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Critters in the garden 31st March 2022

Thanks to Pam I can share photographs of a couple of garden critters that were disturbed when working in the Food Garden of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG).  One of the jobs that the volunteer team tackled this week, was to remove rotting wooden edges to a garden bed.  Within these a Christmas Beetle and a Wolf spider had made their home. When disturbed, the spider ran up a wall to stay and watch proceedings, presumably hoping all would settle down soon and that s/he could return to the ‘home’ spot where a ready feast of smaller insects roamed.

The Wolf Spider from the family, Lycosidae and species, Tasmanicosa godeffroyi has a bite that is poisonous but not lethal to humans. Although non-aggressive, they bite freely if provoked and should be considered dangerous to humans. The bite may be very painful. First aid and medical attention should be sought as soon as possible, particularly for children or the elderly. But it is encouraging to know that wolf spiders don’t jump on humans to attack them. In fact, wolf spiders  are quite scared of humans and will only bite them if they’re intimidated or if you come too close to them. Needless to say the Food Garden volunteers were relaxed and were comfortable as the Wolf Spider ran off and stayed still, once watching from the camouflaging patterns on a wall. 

Characteristically the spider is a long-legged and hairy with males growing to 2.0 cm and females to 3.5 cm.  It relies on good eyesight to catch prey, and has three rows of eyes, two at the back, two in the centre and four in the front. Wolf spiders are robust, agile, fast-moving ground hunters that chase down or ambush prey. They live anywhere they can find insects to eat and are one measure of a healthy garden.

Tasmania’s Christmas Beetle, the Lamprima aurata, is a bright green and gold stag beetle, although the colours vary from place to place; on the coast, the beetles can be dark purple or bronze and no-one knows why. It has been suggested the colour differences might be associated with the chemical content of the soil. This beetle is otherwise known as a scarab beetle of the anoplognathus species. 

Fewer examples of these beetles have been seen in recent years and the reason for their absence is unknown.

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Sequel to the Cinderella pumpkin story

Wedges of my first Rouge Vif D’Etampes pumpkin are now spread across Hobart. 

Most friends told me they will make pumpkin soup so I decided to pass on one of my standard but very different recipes: a meal I make fairly regularly. The star ingredient is in this case, of course, the Cinderella pumpkin. With washed skin on, a wedge of pumpkin is cut into pieces. In a pot with some water, the pumpkin is boiled for up to 10 minutes – the time depends on the size of the pieces.

The second component is a pesto.  Each time I make this I use different nuts, herbs, and/or spices. No two mixes are ever the same which makes the meal forever interesting. Today’s pesto was a crush of almonds, rock salt, powdered cumin and turmeric and cayenne pepper, one or two cloves of garlic, chopped parsley and a splash of high quality extra virgin olive oil.

Once the pumpkin is cooked it is poured into a bowl already containing the pesto and then partly crushed while mixing with the pesto.

Now what?  Simply start eating this Pesto’d Pumpkin. It adds sunshine to a wonderful Tasmanian autumn.

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Cinderella’s carriage

I save seed from the fruits of vegetables and herbs and so do others.

Early last year I enjoyed eating a wedge of Robyn and Andrew’s Golden Nugget pumpkins and around that time accepted pumpkin seed from them. When I germinated those seeds at the end of last year I had visions of gorgeous bright orange balls across the straw in my gardens. However, what I planted grew and grew and then some. When I sent photos to Robyn she laughed and said no – those seeds were not from smallish Golden Nuggets. Instead I was growing a French heirloom variety known as Rouge Vif d’Entampes, and the pumpkins would be large!

Their seed had originally been purchased from ‘Seed Freaks’, a Huon-based company producing open-pollinated organically grown seeds from pumpkins grown  in 2020. I was informed that the blurb on the seed packet stated these pumpkins were ‘The model for Cinderella’s carriage and that this French heirloom grows well in a cooler climate and produces large fruits which are full flavoured, good for roasts/soups’.

I googled to find out more. This cucurbita maxima is known as the ‘Cinderella’ pumpkin because of its stunning, bright-orange colour and shape – it looks like the carriage in the fairy tale that takes the girl to the ball where she meets her prince. Etampes is an ancient commune near Paris, and the pumpkins were said to be popular in Paris’s Central Market in the 1880s. Rouge Vif d’Etampes pumpkin seeds were first offered commercially in America by W. Atlee Burpee in 1883. And now here they are in Tasmania.

While “Rouge vif” translates as “vivid red”, my pumpkins are a soft orange colour with a flattish shape looking something like a cheese wheel. Apparently the maximum size of the fruits average 10–15 lb or 9kg (20lb) depending on which source of information you read.  Well surprise, surprise – something in my soil and mulching practices has produced monsters roughly three times that weight!  Yesterday I picked the smallest one of many and that pumpkin weighed 16Kgs. Yes 16Kgs. I weighed it three times to be sure.

Curious to see whether I picked the pumpkin too early, and to generally see what the interior looked like, I cut into this beauty.  Gold!  Gold! Gold!

And lots of seeds.  Anyone want to collect some from me?

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