RTBG Thursday 9 January 2020

I was grateful when K offered me a lift to the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG). This gave us both a chance to emote strongly about the expected joys of being back volunteering in the Food Garden after the Christmas and New Year break.  And, of course, it was a gorgeous blue sky day. But one that promised to heat over 30 degrees.  Being smart we arrived around 8am instead of the expected 10am, with the view that we would leave early. As it happened most left soon after the communal happy chats of a shared lunch time.  I found some workable shade and didn’t leave until after 2.30.

So what did we do?  It was a day for weeding three week’s new growth.

Coordinator Adam directed K and I to work in an area edged by two high convict built walls, flanked by tall espaliered pear trees, and reached through arches dressed in apple trees and sawdust pathways shaded by a multitude of other fruit trees.  In the centre was a tiny flagged courtyard with a weighty wooden bench for visitors to sit on and meditate in private.  Sometimes this seems like a hidden sanctuary that some wandering tourists never find.  In the heat of the day it is not so pleasant but in the relative cool of the early morning, it was delightful. But overgrown.

Our first job was to trim the low level chamomile and a row of medium height irises, whose flowers were losing their petals, down to ground level before the sun encouraged bees to collect any remaining nectar. The intention was that we would not be stung. The aroma of the herb thyme spread through the air as our hands brushed across this ground cover while we trimmed.  Lifts the spirits.

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There were old borage plants to remove but we could leave the white flowering yarrow in place.

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Intermingled with some patches of chamomile were entwining strands of clover happily enjoying the relative shade offered by the taller stems of the plants. They made it much more difficult to trim everything to ground level.

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Two hours later R joined us;  by the end of the morning we named her the Clover Queen. She had the impressive knack of being able to tame that spreading weed.

The profusion of tall strappy leaves had to be cut to the base.

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Then L arrived and took on the responsibility of identifying those apples into which the coddling moth had a grub or two and then removing these from the trees.

On a walk to get more water to drink I spotted T harvesting the Duganski garlic.

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Back in our corner, the four of us worked companionably until midday when called for lunch. In the meantime we had high filled the buggy four times with the cuttings.  These were driven off to be composted.  In this way (almost ) every plant supports the growth of future plants. Of course, we separated the few weedy oxalis plants from the herd and these went off to be destroyed.

The before …

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The during…

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The after…

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Elsewhere extensive weeding was underway near the recently trimmed artichokes. Spreading strands of nasturtiums were ripped and binned by A and R.

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B and S pulled potatoes, many of which had lost their soil cover and were green edged and therefore not edible.

After lunch I returned to an area, extending from my morning work, which ran next to one convict wall. Only about a metre was in shade and this is where I worked – near the tree with the sign ‘Heritage Apple’.  I didn’t count the number of visitors who stopped and read out the sign and then oohed and aahed. “Heritage”, they would intone in a meaningful voice.  Signs elsewhere specifying a particular type of apple never had that reaction – it was the word heritage that touched a nerve.

Where else to weed?  Where else was in the shade? I looked across the path to the asparagus and Yakon patch.

Before…

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The row of Yakon’s was in shade and the space to the wall was infested with a healthy array of weeds. This was where I spent the rest of my day.  Happily.

After…

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Finally, and exhausted with the heat, and with feet not happy in my gardening shoes, I collected my backpack, added a couple of handfuls of year-old unshelled hazelnuts, two freshly pulled garlics, and some undistributed shallots, then smiled my farewell and padded off to the bus stop. Happy with the day. Very. A lasting image of very tall sunflowers represents my happiness. And don’t you love that blue sky!

Postscript 1: shelling the small hazelnuts with a walnut sized nutcracker is a challenge, but the effort is worthwhile.  Previously, via a stall at the Bathurst St Farmers Market, I have tasted the nut of freshly picked hazelnuts so that I had a comparison with the year olds.  These are terrific but don’t have the spirit or ‘life’ of new ones.

Postscript 2: recently I pulled the remaining garlics from my own garden and nearly cried. They were so tiny and I felt that I would never be able to grow garlic – which everyone tells me, anyone can grow because it’s so easy.  Well I feel a little better knowing that the Food Garden’s garlics, while not as tiny as mine by a long shot, are simply below par.  For some reason this season hasn’t been a good one for garlic.  So I will give it another go this year when planting time comes around.

Postscript 3: I have never eaten fresh shallots. I cannot believe how delicate the flavour and how crisp but soft the texture.  I am in love!  Wrongly I had always thought that these were the second unnecessary cousins of onions. Now I think quite differently.  I wonder if I can grow them?  More research required.

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