garden

Harvest and home

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Autumn swept into Melbourne last week with one last, brutal heatwave, scorching gardens and people alike, and reminding us that our place on this brown and sunburned land is insubstantial. In my family, the threads that tie us to this landscape are gossamer, only two generations young, and our biology has not caught up with our climate. Every time the mercury rises we are driven inside, hiding from the weather in the relative cool of double-brick walls and high ceilings and air conditioning.

Autumn is harvest time, usually a season of delicious bounty, but heatwaves here and drought there and floods over there have left many of my country’s crops rotting, or burned away, or not even planted. Often we are insulated from these events in the city, the travails of the farmers and producers only an hour or two away from us go unnoticed amid bulk discount produce in the supermarket, shipped in on ice from many thousands of kilometres away. But when a head of broccoli soars to $10.75 a kilo, surely more people will start to take notice.

We do our best to buy locally, supporting our farmers or the high-street shops that in turn support the farmers, and we follow the seasons as best we can, buying our food when it is at its best and was picked just the other day and just around the corner (rather than last month and in another time zone).

But if you can’t grow the crops yourself, it’s not always easy to know what is at its best, when.

This was easier in France. Shopping at the farmers’ markets in Dinan every week, I tried to let the produce inspire my cooking, rather than carrying a shopping list with me (I wrote about that in my newsletter last month, and you can read it here if you’d like to).

I quickly learned from this experience how ill-equipped I was as a cook to plan our meals in this way, and scouted around for some kind of guide to help me. And, this being France, naturally I found one. It was a little book called “Agenda Gourmand: use année de recites avec des produits de saison” (which is fairly self-explanatory even if you don’t speak French, but roughly means “Food planner: yearly recipes with seasonal produce”). There was a week to each opening, celebrating the produce that was likely to be at its best on that particular week, and sharing recipes and other tips for using and cooking with them.

Back in Melbourne now, I have decided to create - and paint - an agenda gourmand of my own, noting down the best times to plant, harvest, buy and forage for food where I live, and collecting my favourite recipes, remedies and stories for making use of them. I hope it will become my go-to food guide for seasonal eating, and maybe something I can pass down to my children as well.

I also hope it will become a celebration of the beauty and abundance of nature, both in paint and in words. Another way for me to make peace with my country, even when the heatwaves are relentless and fierce.

So I have started painting, and I have started reminiscing…

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Pears…

They were never my favourite. Too sweet, too juicy, and with that funny, fuzzy texture on the tongue… not for me. (Although hard to surpass in a rocket salad with parmesan cheese and rocket, it’s true, to complement the pork ragu I like to make in autumn).

And then there was that tarte au poire I ate atop the Eiffel Tower in the autumn of 2011, on the holiday from which, unknowing at the time, I would bring my daughter home inside me.

September was cooling down. It had been raining, and parts of the metal steps were slippery as I climbed, alongside two friends I’d known and loved since childhood. I’d been to Paris before but this was my first time climbing the tower, and no amount of cliché, nor the blisters from the new red ballet-flats I’d mistakenly thought would be romantic on a visit to Paris, could make the moment less magical.

At the top we bought hot chocolates, and my friend Lindy chose a pear tart for us to share. It was one of those moments. Paris in the rain. The Eiffel Tower. Beloved friends… and that tart. Sweet, vanilla pastry, a hint of almonds, and juicy pears (fresh, with the skin still on them) arranged in a beautiful flower and glowing under a delicate glaze.

That was the day I made friends with pears.

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Radishes…

Sharp and clean, with a pepper-like crunch that warms a winter salad and makes orange sing. Slice them thinly, then hold the slices up to a window to see them glow like tiny moons.

Radishes are the first vegetable I remember growing. My mother found us a little patch of dirt around the side of our suburban house in Berowra Heights, and told us we could grow our very own vegetables. She told me she chose radishes because they were so easy to grow, even in cooler weather, and they were relatively quick: you have to harvest radishes early or they become hot and spongy.

I remember the touch of the warm soil as I drew a line in my little vegetable patch with my finger, carving a trench just deep enough to carefully place the seeds along the line I’d made, each of them two hands apart, before covering and gently patting the soil smooth again. The staggering weight of the watering can as I tilted it over my future harvest, barely able to hold it up. And the excitement when the first, green shoots poked up through that carefully tended soil… And then the waiting - oh! the waiting! - with the sublime impatience of childhood, for the harvest day to come.

Something else I remember: the extraordinary underwhelm of my first bite. Pepper! I suspect I wailed, “Too hot!” The flavour that now brings me so much delight (is there anything better, paired with pomegranate seeds, watercress, honey and fresh mint?) was a resounding failure in my childhood vegetable patch. I don’t remember what came next. Carrots, maybe?

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Apples…

The apple tree at the front of our house is fruiting this year. It’s just a crabapple tree, nothing we can pick and munch for morning tea like the gala apple I’ve painted here (I had to label it in the ‘fridge: “Mummy’s art, don’t eat.”) I chose the crabapple for our tiny front yard because the blossom trees on the next street over were so spectacular that in spring they would take your breath away. I think you could see those rows of blossoms from space, and that’s something special in the inner city. I love these trees so much I contacted the chief arborist at our local council to find out exactly what variety they were, so I could have my very own piece of blossom heaven.

I missed the blooms on our tree last year, because we were in France, but my husband tells me they were every bit as glorious as I’d hoped. And now our little tree is fruiting. Every morning as the children and I set off on our walk to school, we say hello to our tree and inspect the baby fruit, which seems simultaneously so improbable and yet so lovely in our tiny city yard.

In Dinan, there was a public apple orchard. Mostly cider apples, growing wild and unharvested on the side of the hill beneath the castle walls. There was a path winding through the apple-trees down to the river (they called the path a ‘Chemin des Pommiers’ - an apple walk), so covered in fallen apples in October that a gentle stroll became a slippery and treacherous clamber. But the air inside the orchard was perfumed with apple-flavoured honey.

Also this podcast about apple trees, with Lindsay Cameron Wilson, makes me so happy.

What are your stories?

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Lessons from the summer garden

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I have been waiting for the weather to cool.

The summer’s evening we returned home from France, I stood in my little garden in the shocking humidity, and took these pictures. It was a jungle. Abundant and overgrown, some plants thriving and other plants choking, and I made plans to gently nurture it back to life. My very own Secret Garden.

I made a start, cutting back the valerian and unwinding the clematis so the other plants could breathe. There was no saving the blueberry bush, one of the hydrangeas or two of the camellias. Two out of three of the Japanese maples were looking decidedly sad.

But I still held out hope for the roses, the pomegranate, and my favourite oak-leaf hydrangea, and the honeysuckle was so healthy it had all-but swallowed the children’s cubby house whole.

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But instead of making it better, I only made things worse. Clearing away the overgrown vines left my space-starved plants vulnerable when the heat came - and come it did, less than a week later, in waves of day after day with temperatures in the late 30s and early 40s, Celsius.

No amount of water can keep alive a plant that is being literally burned from the sky. One of my happily-blooming fuchsias was the first to go. At the end of one particularly long, hot day (long after dark it was still 36 degrees), every leaf had turned brown. When I cupped the leaves in my hand, they fell from the stems and crumbled to dust.

The little Jack Frost plants soon followed suit, and most of the Japanese windflowers. Soon my gardenias were looking sad, the oak-leaf hydrangea crisped at all the edges, and the leaves began dropping off the Japanese maple.

None of the border plants survived, and brown began to swallow green.

The poets of ancient Jerusalem wrote, “To everything there is a season.” (Or were they quoting Pete Seeger?) And nowhere is that more evident than in an actual garden, where the seasons govern, and human intervention can only go so far in changing or mitigating what nature intends.

One of the things I noticed about the public flower gardens in France was that in spring and summer, they were more beautiful than anything you could imagine: full of shocking, extravagant colour like a fragrant, bee-filled rainbow explosion. But when autumn came and the seed-heads drooped, gardeners cut everything back, aerated the ground, and let it rest for the cooler months. It wasn’t pretty: brown patches of earth with the odd leftover strand of sad annual eking out the last of its days.

We don’t tend to do that in Australia. We plant and tend for year-round cover, and seek colour in every season. I know I’ve tried this in my own little garden, filling those brown patches as best I can in winter so we only look out on green.

But respecting the season means working with nature, rather than fighting it.

Those plants in my garden shouldn’t have been left to smother one another but, once it was done, I should have known better than to strip things bare right when the worst of the heat was about to begin. And I had known it would begin: January and February where I live are the hottest months of the year.

But I was impatient, eager to reconnect with my home by putting my hands in the earth, and I wouldn’t wait. In many parts of Europe, brown and grey are the colours of winter. I made them the colour of Melbourne in summer, too.

Gardens teach us patience, if we will let them. To everything there is a season. There is a season for brown, and a season for colour. A season for hot, and a season for cold.

A season for abundance, and a season for rest.

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My friend Brenner and I send one another voice-messages most days, little audio missives that carry with them the ambience of our respective worlds. In mine, while soaring temperatures burn everything around me and sting my eyelashes, there is a heartbreaking crunch of dry things underfoot as I walk and talk. In Brenner’s messages, sent to me from her home in tropical far-north Queensland, I hear frogs and cicadas, and the soft and ever-present sound of rain. Up there, these seasons aren’t spring-summer-autumn-winter. They are known as the wet season, and the dry.

Nature comes back.

Even my burnt plants will re-shoot leaves. And if they don’t, others will clamber over and take their place.

So I will wait. When the weather cools, I will replant but, when winter comes, I will allow my garden to rest. To lie fallow, the way nature intended. It’s ok, I will remind it, to be brown.

Come spring, I hope I can bring you a rainbow.

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Botanical project: leaf skeletons (non toxic)

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Whenever I discover a leaf skeleton in the garden it feels like a little piece of magic. Rare good luck, like finding a four leaf clover or seeing a double rainbow. The circumstances for nature to create a leaf skeleton have to be just right: damp enough for the fleshy parts of the leaf to decompose, sheltered enough (probably under other leaves) to encourage microscopic organisms to eat away at those leaves, and somehow exposed at just the right time for me to find the leaf while all those lovely veins are still in place, before it breaks or blows away. 

I love to send leaf skeletons as gifts in my mail. They are something special, precious, a memento from my garden or a walk I've taken that is tinted with enchantment. But because they are so hard to find, I wanted to learn how to help nature along, and make my own leaf skeletons. Turns out there are several ways to do it, following processes that range from a couple of hours to a couple of weeks, and using everything from water and pantry ingredients to caustic substances requiring rubber gloves and goggles, and straight-up bleach.

I have tried three of the non-toxic methods, and am here to share them with you today.


Step 1: Pick & prepare the leaves 

No matter what method you use, some steps to making leaf skeletons are always the same: 

  • Choose your leaves: for best results, choose leaves that have a strong vein system. Tougher, more waxy leaves have better results than softer, younger leaves
  • Clean the leaves: gently rinse them in a bowl of water, and wipe any dirt or mud away with a soft cloth. If the dirt is stubborn, use an old toothbrush to (gently) scrape it away

Step 2: Choose your method

How you choose to make your leaf skeletons will depend on the time you have available, the materials you have in the cupboard, and how willing you are to work with potentially caustic substances. Here are the pros and cons of the three methods I'm sharing today. If you click on any of the methods below, you'll jump straight to the relevant instructions. 

a) Water

Pros: 
* Completely safe
* Nature's method
* Gentle on leaves

Cons: 
* Takes several weeks
* Gets gross and smelly

b) Bicarb & baking soda

Pros: 
* Completely safe
* Easy to find ingredients
* Relatively fast results

Cons: 
* Can be rough on leaves
 

c) Washing soda

Pros: 
* Supposedly faster
* The Internet loves this method (lots of tutorials)

Cons: 
* Dangerously caustic
* Hard to find ingredients
* Can be rough on leaves


Step 3: Make your leaf skeletons 

a) Water method

  • Take a shallow dish (like a baking dish) and fill it with water. The dish should be ceramic or glass, not metal (I don't know why. Maybe it's to avoid rust, or has something to do with the minerals or chemicals in metal?). Place the leaves in the dish (it's ok if they're on top of each other) and weigh them down with something heavy to ensure they stay covered with water. 
  • Leave the water to sit for between three and four weeks. It will get murky, and start to smell really bad (like a vase when you've left cut flowers in it for too long). 
  • Take one leaf out of the murky water, place it on a flat surface, and gently try to brush away the gunk and membrane from the leaf. Use an old toothbrush (softly), or a paint brush if you're worried the toothbrush will break the leaf. If it's too tough, put the leaf back into the water and give it a few more days to soak. 
  • Rinse the leaf in clean water. If necessary, continue brushing away any remaining pieces of the pulp while it's in the water. Once you're done, lay it on a paper towel to dry.  

b) Bicarb soda & baking powder method

  • Dissolve equal parts bicarbonate soda and baking powder in a saucepan of water. I used one tablespoon of each, and approximately a litre of water. 
  • Place your leaves into the pot, and bring it to the boil. Reduce to a simmer, stirring it gently from time to time. The water will froth up, and will get brown and murky. 
  • Watch the leaves until they have softened, and you think they are ready to clean away. This could take several hours (I was using hardenbergia leaves and it took about an hour and a half). If necessary, top  up the water from time to time to ensure they leaves remain covered. 
  • Take the leaves out of the saucepan and place them into a shallow tray of clean water. Using and old toothbrush, gently try to brush away the gunk and membrane from one leaf at a time. If the leaf is too fragile, use a paint brush instead of a toothbrush. 
  • Once you're done, lay the leaf on a paper towel to dry.  

c) Washing soda method

Note: washing soda is not the same as baking soda. Washing soda is sodium carbonate: it's a powerful cleaner and non-toxic, but is highly caustic and definitely not edible. Wear gloves and goggles while working with it, and try not to inhale any dust that might float up when you stir. 

  • In a saucepan, dissolve 3/4 cup of washing soda in about one litre of water. 
  • Place your leaves into the pot, and bring it to the boil. Reduce to a simmer, stirring it gently from time to time. The water will froth up, and will get brown and murky. 
  • Watch the leaves until they have softened, and you think they are ready to clean away. This could take several hours (for some reason the camellia leaves I was using took forever - like about six hours - but general consensus on the Internet is up to two hours). If necessary, top up the water from time to time to ensure they leaves remain covered. 
  • Take the leaves out of the saucepan and place them into a shallow tray of clean water. Using and old toothbrush, gently try to brush away the gunk and membrane from one leaf at a time. If the leaf is too fragile, use a paint brush instead of a toothbrush. 
  • Once you're done, lay the leaf on a paper towel to dry.  

How to make washing soda

If you can't find washing soda at the shops, try this easy at-home process.

Pre-heat your oven to 200C (400F). Spread two cups of baking soda evenly on a large baking tray, and place it in the hot oven for about half an hour. You'll know the transformation has happened when you look at the powder: washing soda is more grainy and dull than baking soda, and when you stir things around (not with you fingers!) you'll see it doesn't clump together. If you're not sure, grab some baking soda and put the two side by side, to see if they look different. 


Step 4: Press the leaves 

  • Leave cleaned leaf skeletons in a warm, sheltered place to dry for approximately one hour. 
  • Once you are sure the leaf is completely dry, place it between two paper towels and store it under a heavy book until you are ready to use it. 

Step 5: Decorate 

I prefer to leave the leaf skeletons their natural colour, but you can absolutely play with other decorative ideas if you wish. After all the pulp has been removed but before you dry and press the leaf skeleton, you could place it in bleach to whiten it, or in food colouring. Alternatively, once dried and pressed, you could carefully paint the leaf skeleton (metallics look really great!). 

That's it! If you decide to make these, let me know how you go. I'd love to see how they turned out, and learn what you think of the process. 


ps. I've been working on a little video to show people how to make leaf skeletons using Method 2 (the baking powder and bicarbonate soda method), as part of a "botanical crafts" course I'm developing. The video is not finished yet but, in the meantime, I've created a printable tutorial using screen-grabs from the video to give you a more visual step-by-step guide, if you think that will help. You can download that tutorial here: 

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Composting for tiny gardens (even courtyards & balconies)

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Hello! This is my city garden! It is the size of a single car-space, because until two years ago, it was a single parking space. We gave up having a guaranteed place to park our car in favour of creating a green room in which to relax, ponder and play, and it was the best decision we made in our entire home. The photograph above was taken last week, while I was cleaning up after a garden party during which we had had 40 guests over for afternoon tea. It was a warm day, and there were not one but three compost receptacles decomposing away in this very small garden. But nobody could see them, and nobody could smell them. Hurrah! 

How did we do that? 

In my ongoing quest to reduce waste in our home, and lessen our impact on the planet, it has particularly irked me that we didn't have a composting system. Even after we built the garden, I continued scraping mountains of food-scraps into the bin every day. 

Essentially, space was the problem. Even the smallest of compost bins were quite big in relation to our garden. They'd create a giant, plastic eyesore, taking up precious growing-space. And, more to the point, occasionally smelling bad. (I know, I know, properly managed composts don't smell. Much. But if your garden is so small that you can all but touch both sides of it when stretching out your arms, that puts you in very close proximity to the compost no matter where you go. I live in Australia, friends. Things get hot in the summer. Pile as much dry matter and mulch as you like into that bin, the stench of slowly rotting watermelon rinds and browning banana peels will find a way to cut through, as do the sandflies. It's gross.) 

Day after day I kept scraping rinds and pulps into the rubbish bin, wishing I could scrape the guilt of my wasteful habit away with them. And to add insult to injury, I was paying good money to buy compost for the the garden in spring-time! I did my best to keep the waste low, by planning better, shopping smarter, and being more creative with my cooking. Thanks to the magic of the Instagram community, for example, I now have a host of delicious ways to use the green parts of leeks in my cooking. Recently I've learned how to dye fabric using avocado seeds and skins. But still, the rubbish bin is full of compostable matter every week. 

Or I should say, was full. Enter the composting cannon. 

Fair warning: I am about to wax lyrical about this product. I'm not being paid, sponsored or in any other way encouraged to say this stuff. These links are not affiliate links, and these makers don't know I'm writing this blog at all. I'm just thrilled to finally have found a solution to my organic waste problem.

(BTW in case the composting cannon doesn't appeal to you, I've also provided a bit of a product round-up of some other fantastic composters for small spaces, as well as beginners tips on composting, at the end of this blog post.) 

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I discovered this little Australian invention at the CERES Community Environment Park, but you can also buy it online here. It is such a simple idea. You simply bury the cardboard cylinder in your garden (or in a planter box or big pot). Empty your food scraps into the cylinder, add a bit of mulch or shredded paper for dry matter, and push it down with the plunger provided. There's a mesh lid that keeps vermin away, holes in the side for worms to make their way through, and the whole thing breaks down over many months, delivering compost direct to your garden! 

When I first took mine home, I couldn't quite figure out how it worked (it was just too simple - surely I was missing something!). So I've created a kind of mini tutorial for you in case you want to try it yourself. 

How to use the Composting Cannon in a tiny garden

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Step 1: Take the cannon out of the box, stare at it a while, and scratch your head. It will look like the picture above. There will be three cylinders, all with holes in them, each one fitting inside the other (like matryoshka dolls). Wire lids sit on both ends. Finally figure out that you have actually bought three "cannons" for the price of one, and feel very silly for not realising this in the first place. Separate them out. The wire lids are sized to fit the different width cylinders. 

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Step 2: Find somewhere in your garden where you can dig a hole about 12 centimetres wide, and 30 centimetres deep. If you're using pot plants, as long as the pot is at least 30 centimetres deep, you can use that just as easily. (The only challenge will be if your pot is too shallow - you don't want part of your composting cannon sticking out the top, looking ugly). Bury the cannon, leaving just enough of the rim sticking out of the top so that you can fit the wire lid over the top. 

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Step 3: It's ready to use! Tip any plant-based food scraps you like into the cylinder (some tips: citrus, onions, dairy and vegetable-fat products will slow down the composting process so should be minimised; and meat and animal fats should be kept out altogether because they attract rats - and smell really bad. There's a more extensive guide to what should and shouldn't go into a compost in the download at the end of this post). Now add a handful of mulch, dry leaves or even shredded paper on top. Use the plunger (it comes with the kit) to push everything down, then put the lid back on. Repeat this every time you have more food scraps, and that's it.

There is literally no maintenance - the worms do all the work for you, not only breaking down the scraps and creating the compost, but then carrying that compost through your garden or planter box, delivering it directly to the roots of your plants. 

According to the website, each of these cylinders will compost more than 20 kilograms of organic waste during a four-month period. So with three, that's more than 60 kilograms transformed from stinking landfill into beautiful, nutrient-rich compost for the garden. 

This is a really unobtrusive composting system. My three, when I'm not topping them up, look like the picture below. Actually they look even less obtrusive, because wind and birds cover them each day with the mulch, which I had to move aside to take this photograph. 

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The contents of your cylinders (and the cylinders themselves) will start to decompose after about four months. It takes even longer than that for them to start to be unusable, after which you can replace them (they are not expensive to buy, especially when you consider how long they last) and start all over again, adding more nutrient-rich compost to other areas of your garden or potted balcony. 

One last thought: I do think you need to be somewhat realistic about just how much food waste you can fit into these little babies. We are a hungry family of four and, thanks to 50 percent of our family being pre-school aged, a lot of food gets dropped, tossed, played with or otherwise rejected (especially the vegetables!) so we tend to generate a lot of waste. On some days, when (for example) we've eaten through four bananas, made freshly-squeezed orange juice for the whole family, had a few slices of watermelon, and made a vegetable stir-fry for dinner, we can fill an entire cannon in one hit. If I've filled all three in quick succession, I do sometimes have to wait a few days and go back to putting the food scraps in the bin, until the food breaks down a little. So that's not ideal, but it is still a LOT better than our previous habits, and a great result for a tiny, inner-city garden. 


Clever composting solutions for tiny gardens 

Here's a quick round-up of some innovative composting solutions I've discovered online that appear to be great for reducing organic waste and creating garden nutrients when you only have a small space in which to work. (Remember I've only tried the Composting Cannon. I think I'll try the Bokashi next, and the two systems can supplement one another). 

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Composting Cannon: a cylinder that is buried directly into your garden and slowly breaks down

 

 

 

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Compot: another system (more like a plastic bucket) that is buried directly into your garden

 

 

 

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Tumbleweed Compost Tumbler: a barrel on a stand than can be spun every couple of days to aerate the compost without needing to dig or turn

 

 

 

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Bokashi scrap fermenting: a system that is used to actually ferment kitchen waste (including meat and fish) by using micro-organisms to break down scraps, without creating bad smells

 

 

 

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Hungry Bin: a continuous-flow worm farm, on wheels so you can move it around your garden or balcony 


What do you think? I'd love to know your ideas or experiences on composting or otherwise reducing and reusing food waste in small spaces. And in the meantime if you're keen to get started but this is all new to you, I've created a handy, guide below with some basic tips on composting for beginners (including what to include and what not to include in a healthy compost), whatever system you decide to use. 

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Winter's coming

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I have trimmed all the wild and rampant late-summer flowers of my garden back into neat, stumpy little mounds. Bending close, I can just see the buds of spring's growth waiting there, sleeping now until the southern hemisphere circles back closer to the sun. The pomegranate, crepe myrtle and Japanese maple trees are all putting on colour, and dropping leaves like golden confetti at our feet.

Twice a week when I go out early to exercise in the still-dark, the cold air hits like a slap when I open the front door, and my fingers and toes are numb from wind and wet grass* before we even get started. But when we all lie down on our yoga mats to prepare for crunches, I look up, up, beyond the black outlines of the trees, to a sky that is so full of stars they look like rain-drops, frozen in time, and it is perfect. And is that Venus I can see, glowing so big and bright? Why is the sky so much cleaner and more... precise... when it's cold? Dawn breaks somewhere in between plank-holds and left-hook punches, and mist makes clouds of our puffing breaths, before real mist rolls up and over the park, and swirls like a familiar cat around our ankles. 

We have pulled our winter hats and scarves and coats out of storage, and I have turned my thoughts once again to soups and casseroles and mulled wine and home-baked bread. I am even ready to befriend the slow-cooker

Knitted gloves and wooly socks, wading and dancing through rivers of fallen leaves, watching the Christmas pine-cones pop and crackle in the open fire, toasting marshmallows, baking good things with apples, and lighting candles at meal-times. Winter's coming, my friends! 

 

*Wet shoes and socks are the WORST

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New crush: Botanical Threads

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The next time you make guacamole, don't throw away the avocado seeds. 

Instead, leave the stones to dry on the window-sill, then heat them in a pan for up to three days, eventually extracting a colour that looks deep red. Soak some beautiful fabric in the red liquid, dipping it twice and leaving it for several days each time, adding soya milk to help the colours stick.

At the end of all this, if you're very lucky, your fabric will have turned a beautiful, rosy shade of pink. 

Alternatively, you could skip steps one through five and just buy some of the truly gorgeous organic dyed tea-towels, scarves and other items lovingly made this way by British lass Alicia, the talented gal behind the simple and ethical online shop Botanical Threads.  

Alicia studied fashion design but now works as a gardener, and this shop combines her two passions. Alongside the avocado seeds, she also uses rosemary, nettles, lavender, pomegranate peels and onion skins to create some truly stunning colours and patterns.

I could do with a set of those tea-towels to use as placemats. I think they'd be amazing at our table! What would you choose? 

 

 

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A touch of green. Some inspiration for you

flower “A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in - what more could he ask? A few flowers at his feet and above him the stars.” Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

* I'm not ordinarily a fan of embroidery as art on the walls, but I'd make an exception for these little vegetable bouquets

* What a lovely alternative to flowers in vases

* This spring salad looks beautiful and sounds delicious

* I've never seen an office organiser like this. So pretty!

* Such a pretty expanding origami pot for plants

* Always walk on the grass

* I would like to live here, please

* Really love these lazy season pots

* Sweet little mini vertical garden made from vintage jars and bottles

* Where to find free botanical artwork

* Potted plants in Taipei

* Wouldn't these edible terrariums be wonderful for a garden party!

So much inspiration for your indoor plants

Nature bingo looks like fun!

* Gorgeous waterfall of leaves

* Perfect for summer nights: caramelised pear salad with goats cheese toast

* The Forest Feast for Kids: Colorful Vegetarian Recipes That Are Simple to Make

* How to make natural dyes from plants and flowers in your garden

 

Image credit: photo by Jaime Spaniol, licensed for unlimited use under Creative Commons

 

 

 

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Winter solstice

solstice-winter I welcomed the sunrise on the morning after the winter solstice in the solitude of my still-sleeping house. The first cup of tea of the day was beside me on the window-sill, making miniature mist on the cold glass.

Slowly the long, long night - the longest night of the year - burned away into grey dawn. The first light pierced the antique glass above our front door, now pink, now gold, and soon the whole room swam with morning. Upstairs, my family began to stir, and the day began.

My winter coat, draped over a chair to dry, still smelled of damp earth and woodsmoke from the previous night's solstice bonfire (a bonfire which, thanks to a week of rain, had taken a lot more coaxing to ignite and somewhat lacked the primal oomph of last year's fire, but was nevertheless beautiful and brilliant in the end).

On the solstice night there had been a tiny break in the clouds as we waited for the bonfire to catch alight and, seeing it, Ralph had yelled "The moon! I want to touch the moon!" We showed the children the Southern Cross, and the two Pointers that show the way, and, glowing steadily directly above the moon, we found Venus. Ancient fires and rocks, all of us, spinning and hurtling through millennia, marking the dark days. And the light ones too.

As the morning's temperature crept into double digits, I ventured into my frost-melty garden to dig and plant and prune, and to think some alone thoughts about winter and hibernation and stillness, and about all the quiet rest and rejuvenation that happens underground, for life to burst forth life in spring.

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The first of June

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Last night I had a dream that it snowed in Melbourne.

I was awake before the rest of my family and I looked out into the still-dark garden and saw whorling white. Raced upstairs, and woke everyone up. We played in the blanketed garden in our dressing-gowns until we were all wet and frozen, and then came inside for hot baths and hot chocolate.

The mornings are growing colder. My garden is gathering into itself for the coming winter dark, and thick steam from the shower in our cold house has more than once set off an over-enthusiastic smoke alarm.

Comfort-food cravings. Warm, oatmeal porridge in the mornings. Hands wrapped around steaming mugs of tea, cold fingers tingling against hot porcelain.

I return inside from training climbing roses, tending straggly gaura, pruning back salvia, and wash my cold-stiffened hands. Boil the kettle for a cup of tea. Sit down to write another postcard, and make tiny envelopes out of century-old transparent paper.

(Smells like old books).

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Mail art: words about herbs

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Painting this botanical series (more here and here and here) has inspired me to re-explore the magic and folklore of herbal remedies. A new garden project could be in the wings.

Candlewick OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Comfrey OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Feverfew OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Primrose OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Rosemary OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Valerian OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Soapwort OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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