RTBG-13 June 2019 post 1 of 2

After three weeks of commitments elsewhere, I returned to my voluntary work in the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG).

At my eastern shore bus stop the temperature was 7 degrees and in Hobart’s CBD it hovered around a brisk 6 degrees.  I had layered up against the chill and while wearing my fiery red beanie I remained comfortable – as long as I kept moving.  This morning I rode the bus into the city, caught another bus back in the return direction, and alighted at the Government House bus stop. From there I walked towards the bottom main gate of the RTBG. When I spotted a gate open to the Garden’s internal roadway, I clambered through a fence and strode down towards my destination, the Community Food Garden.  Passing the outskirts of the extensive Japanese Garden gave me a sense of calm. I felt uplifted by walking amidst the many colours of green and the diversity of textures of leaves, branches and barks.  Much of the sky was blue, the sun cut through the cold air, and the air was slightly damp with the expirations of all the plants and dew residues.

I felt relieved and relaxed to be back and regretted missing the past weeks.  Co-ordinator Adam welcomed me again and explained he had kept the wonderfully healthy clump of the oxalis weed especially for me to dig out.  Ah the joy of it all!IMG_6817.JPGPerhaps  20 and 30 individual plants were intertwined in that clump. Those pretty yellow flowers were soon in the rubbish bin – not the composting bin – ready to be permanently destroyed. A very satisfying project.

What next?  Another volunteer and I were asked, “Would you like to plant over half a dozen Tamarillo trees?”  The rapid reply was a loud yes with a chorus of “show us what we have to do”.

The trees presented as spindly trunks without branches and grew in small pots desperately waiting to be planted into larger ground. Their size ranged between one and two metres tall.  Adam placed the pots across an area so that, when planted, the Tamarillo trees would grow a little over a metre apart from each other and create a grove.

First the thin top layer of mulch bark was scraped aside, then using a long handle spade (which I had never used before and was impressed by the better leverage I had when digging) a hole the height of the dirt in the pots and almost twice the width was dug. The tree was removed from its pot and the top soil roughly disturbed and some lost before resting the tree in its hole. The surrounding soil refilled the spaces and covered the potting soil.  No fertiliser was added. The hole was not watered before planting.  Once all the trees were in the ground, each was staked, then tied low down in order to encourage the upper part to toughen up in the wind. Finally the new grove of Tamarillo trees were given a solid watering. That job was done.IMG_6818.JPGA couple of trees sprouted fresh leaves.IMG_6819.JPG

IMG_6820.JPGWhat does a Tamarillo fruit look like? The photos below show a couple.  Glossy rich red skins and inside a golden yellow fruit with soft edible seeds.  Elsewhere in the RTBG Food Garden a fully grown Tamarillo tree had born fruit and been harvested; I was offered some to take home.  Super delicious, not too sweet, with a slight tangy taste.IMG_6838.JPG

IMG_6839.JPGAs a member of the Solanaceae family of plants, the Tamarillo tree is related to tomatoes, potatoes and eggplants. Growing information can be read here.

From tree planting I moved to helping to weed the extensive garlic garden. We had planted the garlic cloves a month ago. Already a few centimetres of green poked through the ground showing the RTBG can expect a large crop later this year. IMG_6824.JPGAround the emerging garlic were tiny fine winter grass blades and other weeds. They had to go. If their roots were allowed to strengthen any longer then these pesty weeds would become difficult to remove, and disturb the growing garlic. This was finicky work, requiring patience and vigilance – I think everyone of us at some stage accidentally lifted a garlic clove in the belief the shoot was a weed. With layers of autumn leaves removed from the channels along the extensive bed and the weeds gone, the garlic has a renewed chance of growing well.IMG_6822.JPGTime for lunch. We sat in the warm sun admiring the garden, and talking about how proprietorial we have become about the changes in the garden.  That is if, in past weeks, we had a hand in clearing some ground, planting some crops or pruning a tree, we all remarked that on arrival each subsequent  week we would check on that area to see what was happening. We were curious to see whether our handiwork had born fruit or otherwise been useful.  There was a sense of invigorated excitement to be able to be part of something that makes such a difference to the Gardens, to its visitors, to those who need food handouts –to the life of the planet.

It was during this break we talked about free courses and I learnt the University of Tasmania (UTAS) offers an online Science of Gardening course as part of its Diploma of Sustainable Living.  Already I have googled information and can see a new course starts on the 24th June – I have applied.  If you are interested, then read more here.  The application process was long and not user friendly – I have enjoyed the simple experiences of enrolling for the Dementia and Multiple Sclerosis MOOCs run by the Menzies Institute of UTAS and expected something similar.

After lunch, we tackled a harvest on the heavily laden Red Cherry Guava tree.   IMG_6829.JPG



IMG_6831.JPGBeneath the tree lay hundreds of fallen fruit so, by holding a tray beneath a branch and wriggling the plant, the deep wine-red coloured ripe fruit was prepared to drop off freely and be collected easily. Of course, most of the tiny fruit had to be individually hand-picked. We left thousands on the tree yet to ripen.

What is the red cherry guava like to eat? It has a texture of slightly firm dry skin enclosing a tiny amount of flesh and small seeds which, once you know what to expect, you either plan to swallow or to spit them out.  A slight tangy taste complements the not-too-sweet flavour. Usefully, the fruit has a high Vitamin C content so it is beneficial for consuming for good health in the seasons of colds and flu. When spots of rain accompanied our guava picking, clouds blotted the sun and the temperature began to drop, we had almost completed our fruit picking.

As we finished the day, standing around the workbench, I was introduced to the fruit of Medlar trees. What a treat!  I was shown how to peel back the thin brown skin on these soft fruits. Inside was a delightfully thick mushy jam-like consistency that was not too sweet to eat. The Medlar fruit is not particularly attractive but its contents were a marvel. I fell in love, brought a couple home and soon devoured them.   IMG_6833.JPG



IMG_6843.JPGTo me the Medlar fruits seem like the ‘nectar of the gods’.  I have kept the seeds from one and, in ignorance, I will make an effort to grow a Medlar tree – although I am not sure where one will fit in my increasingly crowded garden.IMG_6844.JPGIn addition to bringing home a few Tamarillo and Medlar fruits, I brought home a large quantity of Red Cherry Guavas. Tomorrow’s blog post will cover the story of my attempt to make Red Cherry Guava jelly.

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