Gardening it's in your Genes

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Ever since I can remember I have wanted to have my hands in the ground to be close to nature and grow. It has always been that way.  Growing up in England it was customary to have your baby outside with you whether in the pram or on the terrace or in the garden depending upon the season.  As your baby grew they would increasingly spend more time outside sometimes on a blanket sprawled out on the lawn catching every opportunity to take in the fresh air.

It puts a smile on my face today when, flicking through the family photo albums, I see pictures of myself on the lawn picking daisies and getting very close to the sparrows who ventured close to me.  I didn't appear to be afraid of anything.  Apparently I had a fascination with insects and bees.  I would pick them up in my hands and hold them tight never harming them but giving my mother grief as she worried I would get stung.  I was never stung and continued to do this every time I was in the garden until finally I would open my hand and they would fly off unharmed leaving me happy and content.

I'm not sure whether this has anything to do with my sheer love of gardening or not however my senses were being stimulated from an early age. My parents are both keen gardeners and even when we moved to New Zealand when I was still young, we would spend time helping them out in the garden.  When we were old enough they set a little space aside for us to garden on our own.  We had a very large kitchen garden which was always producing something edible as we played.

We would have so much fun running around the garden and then stop for a refreshment.  I took for granted the ability to pick and eat on the run.  I thought everyone lived like this.  It didn't matter what season it was, there was always something to snack on. Summer of course had plenty to delight me as a child starting with berries, plums, peaches, even tomatoes that tasted so sweet they were irresistible.  I learnt some valuable lessons about eating too much fruit one year something I never forgot.  The plums were in season.  We grew a variety that fruited at different times throughout the season, some earlier than others.  Some specifically for preserving, others for eating.

It was the early fruiting variety that taught me a lesson one day.  As a child you are blissfully unaware of the dangers of eating too much of a good thing.  I love the taste of plums picked straight from the tree still warm from the sun, juice dribbling down your chin onto your clothes.  Of course your mother is going to have a fit as it stains like crazy.  I was always in trouble for this. This day was no exception.  I ate far too many plums causing a dreadful reaction.  By the early evening I was covered from head to toe in welts which were really itchy and made me feel rather poorly and sorry for myself.  Of course I was spoken to rather sternly about over indulging and vowed never to do it again.  I'm sure I did as it's really hard when you like something so much, and it tastes so good, to know when to stop.

We always had more than enough to share with friends and to preserve, turning them into jam and bottling them for winter desserts, which my mother excelled at and we enjoyed.  As the summer progressed we would enjoy sampling the other vegetable crops that were growing and picked raw while tearing around as you do when you're young.  I can honestly say I have never disliked vegetables and have always eaten them first when my meal is served.

We had plenty to choose from.  Beans were a clear favourite.  I particularly remember scarlet runner beans, they grew tall and required a very sturdy frame to grow on.  Each year the bean frame would be moved to a new location as you always need to rotate your crops otherwise the soil becomes depleted of nutrients and encourages disease.  The ground was prepared and the seeds planted.  Beans grow quite quickly, attaching themselves to the frame easily winding around all the way to the top.

Dad was rather clever.  He knew how much I loved the beans and would pay me to collect the shield bugs which were a threat to the crop eating the leaves, flowers and even the bean itself.  Shield Bugs, as I knew them, give off a pungent odour when threatened including notably when they are picked off the vine and popped into a jar.  They became Stink Bugs to me.  It was impossible to get the smell off your hands even after repeatedly washing with soap.  Payment at the end of the day for each bug pulled off the vine was a handsome reward and the knowledge that we would have plenty to eat and freeze for the winter sufficient incentive to persevere.

It wasn't always fun working in the garden, lets face it I was a child and I wanted to play.   For our summer holidays we would always go camping to a remote part of the north island in New Zealand. Our school holidays would start before Dad finished work for the year with us being kept busy doing chores in the garden as we were going to be away for a while.  Weeding was at the top of the list, and we had to do it properly pulling only the weeds and not the plants.  I learnt to appreciate from an early age the difference between a plant and an unwanted weed.  My fathers' forward planning was also very impressive actually now I come to think about it.

Summer is obviously the main growing season and we needed to ensure that we had enough to preserve for the winter.  Vegetables need to be well cared for.  They need to have enough water otherwise they struggle and don't crop well and can become tough and unpleasant to eat.  Dad knew exactly when and what to plant ensuring that we would not miss out.  Whenever we returned home from our vacation the garden was always producing at its peak and overgrown with weeds.

I'm still not sure whether all these experiences in the garden from an early age, no matter where we lived in the world, are responsible for my love of gardening, however it was my parents who set the passion alight in me and I dare say that they would say the same of their parents and so on, there has to be something in our genes.

Moving to the Northern Beaches

Thursday, September 5, 2013

My husband and I moved to the Pittwater in 2003.  Initially we had had ideas of finding a weekender, maybe something in the country perhaps.  Instead we sold our house and moved up to the beaches and decided to live there full-time!

The Pittwater is some 40 kilometres north of the city of Sydney and is a particularly beautiful waterway that extends north from Newport and their beautiful marinas to Palm Beach where the Pittwater waterway opens out to Broken Bay and the Pacific Ocean.

To the west the Kuringgai national park runs down to the foreshore and provides us with a spectacular backdrop to the most beautiful sunsets of an evening as we watch the twilight regattas and boats of all shapes and sizes looking for little secluded spots to weigh anchor for the evening.

Susan Duncan in her book A Life on Pittwater has produced a most inspiring account of her life and experience here with wonderful photography by Anthony Ong.  I highly recommend it as a great read particularly if you are into local history and early settlement and the impact this had on the indigenous population.

We bought a very original house with the most captivating view west looking across to Scotland Island and the national park and have spent the last ten years renovating it and taming the native bushland that runs down the cliff face.  We have met some wonderful people in that time and have been accepted as locals in a community that is adapting to the changes and challenges of Sydney's urban sprawl.

The local village of Avalon provides essential services without having to leave the peninsula and is just south of Palm Beach some twelve minutes further down the road north by car.  The Bilgola headland provides a wonderful vantage point to watch the migration of whales each year up and down the coast and dolphins are a regular feature just out of reach of the surfers chasing their favourite breaks from Newport to Avalon, Bilgola to Whale and Palm Beach.

Overall life on the Pittwater is calm and peaceful and fabulous for entertaining friends and family.  There really is no need to go anywhere on weekends if you don't need to.  There's nothing we like more than to watch the sunset with a glass of champagne in hand sharing the moment with friends.  Locally it is known as the insular peninsula and after ten years I'm beginning to understand why.

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