Rediscovering Freycinet part 1 of 7

Tasmanians know of Freycinet Peninsula, on the state’s east coast, even if they haven’t travelled or stayed there. In my case decades have passed between visits. Each time I have marvelled at the land and sea and sky and promised myself to return again soon. Promotion for the area from Freycinet Lodge, an accommodation option located within the Freycinet National Park, claims “The Freycinet Peninsula enjoys worldwide recognition for breathtaking scenery and walks; with stunning flora and fauna in proximity, it is a hiker and photographers paradise!” With the prospect of a big birthday number looming, and after two years of not celebrating because of Covid restrictions, I decided it was time to take the plunge, to leave home, and travel somewhere for pleasure, for learning, for entertainment and, overall, for a grand thrill in one of Tasmania’s iconic landscapes albeit a tourism hot spot.

The road from Hobart to the Freycinet Peninsula extends just under 200 kms.

Louis-Claude Desaulses De Freycinet (1779-1841), who sailed from France in Le Naturaliste, arrived off Van Diemen’s Land (later renamed Tasmania by the British) on 13 January 1802. With others, he surveyed around the D’Entrecasteaux Channel in the south east of Tasmania for more than a month before sailing north towards Bass Strait. He shared in this expedition with Nicolas Thomas Baudin (1754-1803) and their party aboard the three ships Géographe, Casuarina, and Naturaliste. For a while they anchored in the Derwent River near what eventually evolved into the city of Hobart that was established by the British in 1804. Together, the French men worked as cartographic surveyors and naturalists. The Freycinet Peninsula’s high point of , (2,011 feet [613 metres]), surveyed later in 1802 as they sailed north along the east coast of the island, was named by Nicolas Baudin the French captain, after his lieutenant, Freycinet.

There was a nervous moment in British history during the Napoleonic Wars when England feared France might claim Tasmania and run up their flag. Their method of prevention was quickly to establish an English base in 1803 soon supported by convicts, near what became Hobart. Notwithstanding the occupation of indigenous controlled lands by British forces, a number of sites around Tasmania still retain French names indicating their presence in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

The current lure of the Freycinet Peninsula revolves around long clean sandy beaches, walking trails over hills and mountains within the Freycinet National Park, oyster farms, cruises which may see passing whales, dolphins and all manner of sea birds, sea kayaking, air trips and vineyards with cellar door wineries. Accommodation varies across a wide area from tent based camping through all levels to extreme luxury resorts, and the eateries include every style from gourmet restaurants serving the best of Tasmanian fresh produce and wines, to easy grab and go take away.

I stayed at the Freycinet Lodge for two nights and enjoyed food from one of their casual restaurants and delighted in the food from the illustrious Bay Restaurant. That’s saying a lot – I only eat vegan plus seafood with foods low in saturated fat, and all the Lodge’s food outlets served me with many choices and no bother. In fact the menus assumed many guests could be vegan or, on any particular occasion, prefer vegan food. Such a relief.

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A special Ukrainian tomato

There has never been a better moment to reintroduce to you a variety of tomato, the Hurma Ukraine, which was mentioned in a 2019 blog post here.

Right now, I would rather forget any association with Russia.

Two years ago I bought a healthy plant from the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Garden’s annual tomato sale. After a good crop and harvest, I collected seed from a couple of outstanding specimens. By September last year every seed I planted had germinated (inside the house in my sunny front porch) and now I have a number of plants growing profusely in my garden. Their many arms keep spreading out, and my staking for support leaves a lot to be desired.

Whether because of climate change or simply a wetter end of last year, tomatoes in my neighbourhood have been slow to colour up. Almost begrudgingly the plants soften one fruit at a time and days pass before they start colouring up another. At the moment I have dozens of green tomatoes, and they are ordinarily unspectacular.

But it is worth waiting; the ripe fruit adds sunshine to my life. Golden, even orange, each one glows in the fruit bowl once picked. The flavour is not strong, but the firm flesh sits well when chopped in salads or sliced within sandwiches.

If you live around Hobart and would like me to collect seed for you in a month or so, please make contact.

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Zucchini Pickles prepared my way

Each year I preserve fresh produce in a number of ways. Recently a friend asked me for my recipe for the jar of zucchini pickles that I gave her at this time last year. I almost never follow a recipe and use my gut feeling (and I have a big gut so lots of feeling) to create concoctions. So, in order to see if I could produce a batch that my friend would value, I have made a few jars of pickle today following the donation of some plump zucchinis.

The ingredients were a medium/largish zucchini, one large onion, one garlic clove, whole peppercorns, whole cloves, apple cider vinegar, salt, dried dill, and two teaspoons of leatherwood honey.

The peppercorns, salt, dill, chopped garlic, and the sliced and chopped onion were dropped into a pot. I halved and quartered parts of the zucchini before slicing, then added them into the pot.

The next step was to pour apple cider vinegar into the pot but not enough to cover. I was working on the assumption that fluid from the zucchini would add moisture, and the zucchini would soften and settle.

On the stove I soft boiled these ingredients for approximately 5 minutes then added the honey and cooked the mix for a further couple of minutes, before turning off the heat. In this time, the colour changed from a fresh-picked-green to a muted softer green.

This quantity of ingredients was sufficient to fill three medium jars.

Now I have a perfect accompaniment for salads and sandwiches. The jars are labelled with all ingredients and one will be given to my friend for her taste test.

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Thursday 24th February 2022 – RTBG

I am never sure what aspect of my Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) experience will thrill me when I volunteer, but I prepare, travel there, and then discover some freshness, vista, or collegial atmosphere that lifts my spirits. This week’s visit was no different. The produce continued to ripen letting some plants move on their path to death, the changing climate and weather lit the landscape with different colours and shadows, the people I worked with told new stories of ways of understanding the plants in their lives, and general visitors remained engaging – one way or another.

On arrival I was met with an array of boxes of tomatoes and a smaller collection of golden nuggets of pumpkin, cucumbers and beans. Later these wonderful vegetables were taken to a charity, Second Bite, for distribution to those in need.

In conversation with a casual visitor, we moaned a little about how we’d like everything to stop growing for a moment so we could catch up on our gardening chores – but, of course, plants are our reminder that we as humans are never in control and that change by the millisecond is the norm. When I see the harvests that the Food Garden of RTBG produces, they are remarkable affirmations of life. Clearly, managing the changing needs of our gardens is simply part of living.

For example, in order to get good apple crops, a nip or two of summer pruning is required. All day Neil worked at the archway trimming off the tentacles that sought more and more sunlight.

The vegetation around the secluded seating area through the apple tree archway had become overgrown – rather woolly – so that Pam and Trixie, later helped by Lesley and Meg, spent the day clearing. Coordinator Adam buggied away loads and loads and more loads of spent vegetation to the main Garden compost piles. Eventually the tools could be returned to the shed.

Nearby, Meg and Sandra cut horseradish and skirret down to size until they had a bonfire sized pile ready for despatch to the compost heap.

When I spotted dandelions, dandelion look-alikes and some other unwanted weeds trying to hide beneath strawberries and ground covers of thyme, I set to digging these up in order to leave carpets of wanted plants across the soil.

Elsewhere there were two types fruit trees that amazed me; every year they do so but it’s never less than amazing. The two varieties of quinces and the chestnut.

I was surprised to see sweet potato growing and thriving. This vegetable is not normally known for success in our southern climate. Undoubtedly the warm protection offered by the location of the RTBG Food Garden, is a great support.

How could a person not be moved by this collective largesse!

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A salutary tale – sequel to the gardening tools instruction session

Look before you leap! Then, if you look also think or, alas, your world may change irreversibly.

Inspired by yesterday’s demonstration of the ease with which one can clean and sharpen gardening tools, today I had a look at my own secateurs and my telescopic (failed function) bypass bush/tree lopper and thought I would work on them.

On the latter the nuts were clear so I unscrewed them – without looking at the reverse side, and therefore without thinking about the possible consequences.

The equipment was quickly and easily disassembled and with sandpaper I gave the parts a superficial clean. Then with an aged stone (when I left home to go to Art School over 50 years ago my father gave me a box of tools and the stone was one of its contents) and WD-40, I set about sharpening the blade. It wasn’t easy. One side of the stone had a well worn concave depression and was the wrong size, so I used the flat reverse. But it certainly wasn’t as easy as it looked yesterday. Eventually I cleaned up, reinserted the bolts and set out to tighten the screws. If only I had looked on the reverse beforehand.

The back of the bolt was a smooth slightly convex shape and this meant it was impossible to retighten the nut sufficiently because that end kept moving with each turn of the nut. There was no way to get a good grip on this to stop it moving as the nut was tightened. Consequently, I was never able to finish the reassembly and was left with a blade about half a centimetre apart from the other side – a useless gap.

Never again could there be a close bypass. The loppers were no longer functional so they have been consigned to the rubbish bin.

By the way, after extensive efforts to tighten the nut I fixed it sufficiently tight so as to not be able to undo and start again with a different plan of attack. Yes, I was stuffed!

It should come as no surprise that when I looked at the secateurs, I decided not to pull them apart and simply clean with sandpaper and with difficulty use the stone on parts of the blades. With the angles on the stone, and the size of the stone relative to the curves of the secateurs blades, resharpening was almost non-existent. Yesterday I had Lesson 101, maybe I need lesson 102!

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Thursday 7th February 2022 at RTBG

Summer in the Food Garden of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) is a delight.

Fruit and vegetables are ripening a plenty as can be seen by today’s harvest collected for charity: tomatoes galore of many types, a variety of beans, zucchinis, plump yellow squash and bunches and bunches of the aromatic herb basil. As usual, Tony did an excellent job picking the fresh produce. In the first photo he can be seen hunting for beans (hop bush with flowers in the foreground to the right).

Some of the basil before cropping was growing happily.

The garden jobs today included the deforestation of the self-sown parsley patch from near the voluminous sweet smelling rosemary bushes, shovelling truckloads of dirt into garden beds, and removing weeds from a future garlic bed, digging it over, then thrashing seeding lettuce stalks around in order to encourage a covering of lettuce over the next couple of months. Lesley tackled the removal of the sneaky Medicago weed from its encroachment on the golden marjoram. The bonus for the day was a demonstration by our Co-ordinator of how to take garden tools apart, clean and resharpen their blades, then how to screw them back together. A terrific real time non-webinar experience from which we all learnt a great deal.

I took a casual walk around the Food Garden and was in awe of the produce and how some plants were profusely covering an area.

The overgrown and dying parsley was a thick forest before we started clearing. Once cleared the only deposits remaining were deliberately left parsley seeds to bring on a new ground crop. The roots were thick, deep and many and I contemplated making Parsley root soup.

The garden bed with soil removed (an onion weed infestation made the soil unusable) looked as follows. The second photo shows the new fill of healthy weed free soil.

Our patch, with its layer of distributed lettuce seeds, looked very neat when we had finished.

For the educational moment with tool sharpening, Adam showed us the difference between bypass and anvil secateurs, then unscrewed a bypass, and showed us how to clean and sharpen this using WD40, a stone, and a Stanley knife blade. Sandpaper could have been used. Working on the bevelled edge of the blades at the exact angle and not to create a bevelled edge where none were meant to exist, was the essential process. A clean up with methylated spirits at the end of the process removed surface WD40 which plants do not appreciate. We are now all inspired to tackle our own tools at home.

Pam returned home inspired and immediately harvested a few tomatoes from her own garden: some specimens came from plants grown in the RTBG nursery which she acquired at the annual tomato sale. The regular connections we all have with the RTBG, has enhanced each and every one of our lives. We continue to learn a great deal every visit, and our own gardens are so much better for our privileged opportunity to work there.

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Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens

The Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) continues to be open to the public, because staff and volunteers are all vaccinated.  Of course the Food Garden (ex Pete’s Patch) continues to flourish. Yesterday, volunteer Pam took a swag of photos to show the lush rampant growth.

Various different kinds of beans grow in different spots. There are climbers and small bushy varieties, including soya beans.  All plants are looking magnificently healthy and bumper crops are expected.

The grapevines are heavy with grapes.

Of course there was the usual weeding and clearing; in particular wildly spreading nasturtiums were removed to the compost.

Garden bed preparation preceded the planting of a new crop of coriander plants.

The sun shone, the temperature rose, and visitors to the Gardens ambled and took immense pleasure from the energy of the plants. There is no best time to visit – in every season, every week even every day, new growth and development of fruits can be seen. 

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Tasmanian native cherry

Blog reader June has been bushwalking in southern Tasmania a great deal in past weeks and recently was delighted to see many examples of the native cherry fruiting gloriously and conspicuously.  She sent through the following photos to share.

Her initial remark was Exaocarpus cupressiformis is hemiparasitic on the roots of mostly eucalypts.  How cool is that?  I’m reminded of you telling me about all the trees working together underground.

She provided a link to an article about the native cherry here (https://theconversation.com/native-cherries-are-a-bit-mysterious-and-possibly-inside-out-108760).

What a gorgeous jewel! Thanks June.

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Inspired by nature

In its recent issue, Tasmania’s premier literary magazine, Island, published six new articles inspired by nature. 

These can be accessed here.  The non-fiction stories are:

Happy reading!

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Les keeps walking the Overland Track

I like people who remind me to give things a go, get out there, and not be limited in what I believe I can achieve.

The story of Les Whittle, about to embark on his 20th walk along the 6 day Overland Track that starts from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair in central Tasmania, has to be one more inspiring example of a continuation to be physical despite maturing years.

In the past few weeks my 66 year old sister and 70 year old brother in law have made it a point of undertaking a decent bush, mountain or beach walk each day. My (ex) sister-in -law takes off for walks almost every day despite the relentless humidity of north Queensland. A couple of Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens fellow volunteers ramble with the Ramblers on medium and challenging walks around Tasmania. There are many opportunities and many people are taking these up, within the constraints imposed by Covid.

This story grabbed my attention for a second reason. I am a descendant from a Whittle family and I wondered if Les and I were related. However further research seems to indicate Les hailed from Western Australia originally, a long way from any of my known family members.

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