In season

August 30

In now: Green garlic is the shoot and bulb of garlic, harvested young, before the head of garlic cloves develops. Used like spring onions – stem, bulb and all – it has a milder flavour than mature garlic.

At its best: Blood oranges develop colour as they hang on the tree so now’s the time for richly coloured juice.

Best buy: Feast on navel oranges. Add segments to salads, and for dessert dress slices with honey, cinnamon and chopped dates, or with shaved dark chocolate and chopped pistachios.

In the vegie patch: Sow a range of lettuce into a sunny, richly prepared spot.

What else:

  • quinces won’t be around for much longer
  • the price of green beans has finally dropped back, though the flavour is still not great
  • both black-skinned hass and green-skinned reed avos are good value at the moment
  • Jerusalem artichokes are humble veg, unless you eat them at Sepia, where Martin Benn roasts them and stuffs them full of truffle and artichoke cream and tops them with shaved truffles. Might have been the dish of a wonderful long night. At home I’ll skip the truffles, but repeat the deliciousness of roasted-until-caramelised Jersulem artichokes.
Other people's gardens

Happy Birthday Capability

This month marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. He’s the man responsible for the beautiful ‘natural’ landscapes that surround many great English estates, colouring the image of England as a ‘green and pleasant land’. A generation of young aristocrats in the mid-18th century returned from their Grand Tours keen to express their newly acquired ‘taste’ by, among other pursuits, pulling out their fathers’ dowdy old baroque gardens and replacing them with the bold plans of Capability Brown.

Brown’s plans were certainly bold. The distinguishing features of a Brown landscape: a serpentine lake resembling a river, with waterfalls; copses of trees on a ridge of hills; and parkland sweeping right up to the house, required massive changes to the topography, and also to the people who lived on the estates. One village, complete with church and graveyard, was moved when Brown decided it interrupted the views.

Croome court, National trust

Croome Court, Worcestershire, designed by Brown in 1758 and requiring the draining of a morass and removal of a village. Photo: The National Trust

His ambitious designs challenged contemporary engineering technologies and horticultural techniques, including the transplanting of mature trees to create those signature silhouetted clumps. Brown’s clients weren’t keen on waiting half a century for the expected effect to grow in, so he experimented with a number of transplant methods. His ‘transplanting machine’ was a long pole attached to cartwheels. The pole was tied to the tree while it was vertical, then lowered by ropes, wrenching the tree from the ground. Success rates varied.

Petworth Park, National trust

An aerial view of Petworth Park shows how Brown made the link between garden and natural landscape imperceptible. Photo: National Trust

Like any new fashion, Brown’s designs operated as a refutation of past practices. Flowers were banned, and so too was ‘foreignness’, represented in older gardens by classical statues, temples and references to antiquity. Instead the new landscapes were expressions of honest English virtues. Livestock replaced statuary as part of the decorative programme. A charming group of cows or sheep could be admired from the house, separated from it by a ha-ha. These ingenious in-ground barriers are formed by a ditch or steep slope bounded by a retaining wall, so that animals are restrained without a visual barrier.

Brown’s new landscapes were also pragmatic. Mowed by the estate livestock they were much less expensive to keep up so landowners could spend their disposable income on other pursuits – like fishing in the lakes and hunting in the woodlands. Brown’s heyday coincided with the development of better guns, so that hunting and shooting became a more important part of aristocratic leisure. Pheasants were introduced to England from India at this time too, and they liked to live on the edges of copses trees that were fortuitously features of Brownian plans.

Croome, National Trust

The stream at Croome, with a Brown signature planting of Lebanon cedars. Photo: National Trust

Brown’s plans were immensely popular and he worked on more than 170 estates through his career, transforming the landscape of England. In effecting that transformation he also changed perceptions of landscapes in a way that resonated across the English-influenced world for centuries. So when Lachlan Macquarie marked out the boundaries of the Botanic Gardens and Governor’s demesne (domain) 200 years ago, the landscapes of Capability Brown shaped his visions.

It’s time to

Plan for daffs
The heritage village of Rydal celebrates spring with thousands of daffodils blooming in public parks and private gardens. Gardens are open on 10-11 and 17-18 September. Go to for details and accommodation options.

Prune hydrangeas
Take out the weak and spindly branches and a couple of the oldest gnarliest ones to allow room for renewal, then cut off the dead flower heads, back to the first pair of fat buds.

Feed the vegies
Keep winter-growing vegetables moving with regular soluble fertiliser.

In season

August 23

In now: The world’s tastiest citrus looks like an ugly tangelo. It’s a dekopon, sold in Australia as sumo citrus, kon fruit or kon mandarin. Supplies are limited but if you see it, try it.

On the way: The Australian asparagus season officially starts on September 1 and early spears are already available.

Worth trying: Figs are a summer crop but it’s always summer in the Northern Territory and this winter the northern figs are really tasty.

In the vegie patch: Sow tomato seed into jiffy pots and keep in a warm spot inside ready to plant out as soon as the weather is reliably warm.

What else:

  • have you been making the most of the truffles? Won’t be on for much longer.
  • green garlic is garlic pulled from the ground as the bulb is just starting to develop. They look like spring onions and can be used in the same way – green bit and white bit. The flavour is milder than mature garlic with a nice grassy freshness.
  • while pears are cheap, buy some to pickle, some to chutney, some to caramelise with lots of butter and some to slice thinly, roll in lemon juice and dry in a dehydrator or low oven.
  • blood oranges are at their best at the end of winter, and this is the moment for seville oranges too. Jam makers should get busy.
Plants I love

Finding the barnacle goose tree

In his new book on 200 years of Australian gardens, Planting Dreams, (more on this next week) garden historian Richard Aitkens bemoans the current practice of valuing plants based on their performance as tools – good for hiding walls, or dividing spaces. I’m with Richard on this. We kill of the mystery, magic, history and culture of plants when we ascribe them a limited purpose, or reveal nothing about them but how to kill the insects that like to eat them.

In my desire to explore the culture part of horticulture I’m old school. Real old actually – at one with the 16th and early 17th century naturalists who believed that you could not understand anything in the natural world without looking at every aspect of it – from the words used to name it, to what Pliny et al had to say about, and every poet since. To these polymaths, the literary and mythological aspects of plants were just as important in understanding them as what they looked like and how they behaved.

You can see how this works in an exhibition of herbals from the 16th to 19th century from the collection of the Sydney Botanic Gardens Library, now on display at Red Box gallery in the Herbarium foyer.

John Gerard's Herbal

One of my favourite herbals is available in facsimile so you can flick through it and have a really good look. It’s John Gerard’s Herball, first published in 1597. Gerard was a great gardener with a fascination for new plants at a time when every arriving ship brought new horticultural treasures from around the world. He was, for instance, the first man in England to eat potatoes he’d grown himself. And he was as good at self-promotion as he was at gardening. He was the first person to publish a catalogue of plants growing in a garden, listing some 900 species in his private garden at Holborn.

Gerard makes a very personable guide through the plant world of the late 16th century, always willing to share his personal experience. Those potatoes, he says, have a texture a bit between flesh and fruit, and are a bit ‘windy’ unless they are roasted in embers and then eaten ‘sopped in wine’.

John Gerard's Herball


The slow and patchy metamorphosis from a Renaissance view of the natural world to an Enlightenment one is evident in Gerard’s book. The potato was a New World discovery and so arrived in England without an ancient or poetic or mythological backstory. Gerard reports about it purely from experience. But flick to the back of the volume and you’ll find him anchored in mythological mode.

John Gerard's Herball


It’s here, at about Chapter 170, depending on the edition, that you’ll find the barnacle goose tree. Gerard claims to have seen this natural wonder with his own eyes, and writes about it alongside a woodblock print which had been used to illustrate a Dutch herbal half a century earlier. The illustration shows a twisted tree blooming with large tulip-like shells, overhanging a cliff. Beneath the tree birds are shown serenely floating on the waves. Birds falls from the shells produced by the tree, explains Gerard. If they happen to fall on land they perish, but if they fall into the sea they become fowl, bigger than a duck and a bit smaller than a goose.

THe barnacle goose tree, John Gerard's Herball

Here’s a barnacle goose illustration from a later edition of the Herball, still holding on to a spot.

Enlightenment writers argued for clear-eyed observation. ‘Knowledge is made by oblivion,’ claimed Thomas Brown who argued in 1672 that the only way forward was to forget everything that had come before and start again, using observation as the only criteria for knowledge. But despite Browns’ call, the myth of the barnacle goose tree lived on until 1780 when two French zoologists conducted an autopsy on the story. Their scientific paper migrated to the popular press where the story was told as the ‘histoire du canard’, which is where we derive the meaning of a canard as a tall tale.

One more postscript: the goose tree survived into the early 20th century in Northern Ireland where Catholics still ate ‘barnacle geese’ on Friday and fast days, sneaking in a feast of roast goose or duck thanks to a centuries-old definition of barnacle geese as seafood.

In season

August 16

In now: The early broad beans have arrived, a promise of spring not too far away.

At its best: All the brassicas improve in flavour when the weather is cold, and gai lan is no exception. Look for fresh, firm leaves, with no wilting or yellowing.

Best buy: The thick skin of the pomelo acts as a source of moisture for the fruit once it’s picked, making pomelo a good choice for the cook who turns out to have far less cooking time than anticipated. The pomelo will wait.

In the vegie patch: Mr Fothergills has released mushroom packs for grow-your-own golden or pearl oyster mushrooms. Soak the spore-impregnated brick overnight, keep moist for two weeks then harvest.

What else:

  • ruby and white grapefruit are both in great shape
  • Australian-grown pomegranates will be finished soon
  • now is not the time for beans, but the Brussels sprouts are terrific
  • try the brown and freckled squat honey pears, also called winter nelis
Yulan magnolia
Plants I love

Moving trees

What to do with mature trees in the wrong spot? It’s a question with currency as National Tree Day has people all over the country planting baby trees, and another of Anzac Parade’s mature Moreton Bay figs becomes mulch. Mouran Maait owns Alpine Treemovals, a company that transplants mature trees around Sydney. If he had his way mature trees would always be considered for their transplant potential well before they were stuffed into a chipper.

Alpine Treemovals, pic Robin Powell (2)

This is the rescue section of Alpine Treemovals Nursery at Glenorie; there’s also a large section of nursery-grown trees.

Maait’s desire to give new life to old trees doesn’t always work out. Sometimes access is impossible or the tree is unhealthy or has no re-use potential. And sometimes it’s a phoenix palm, also called Canary Island date palm, Phoenix canariensis. Maait has black-banned dealing with any more of these, partly for health and safety reasons (those spiky fronds and all that rat and bird excrement captured in the crown) but also because people just don’t want them anymore. A highly fashionable choice in the late 19th and early 20th century, the date palm has been overtaken. New to the top of the desirable list, according to Alpine’s buyers, are banksias, tuckeroos, (Cupaniopsis anacarioides, an east-coast rainforest tree) and magnolias, both deciduous types and evergreens, especially Magnolia grandiflora ‘Exmouth’.

Alpine Treemovals, pic Robin Powell

If I had room I’d love to find a home for that pair of hoop pines Mouran is walking past. Gorgeous metallic trunks.

Some trees can’t be saved; others are destroyed through thoughtlessness. “They just need to give me some notice,” pleads Maait about developers, builders, architects or owners who don’t think about moving trees until the very last minute. “I can’t come and collect a tree if you ring me today, but give me enough time and I can see what can be done.” In his ideal world councils would require an assessment of trees on a property as part of a development approval process.

Alpine Treemovals, pic Robin Powell (1)

It was hard to get the right camera angle, but can you see how the age of form of this weeping Japanese maple gives it a $20,000 price tag.

The current jewel of rescued trees awaiting a new home in Alpine Treemovals’ Glenorie nursery is a 60-year-old weeping Japanese maple from a Waitara property. The call from the property owner came in November – spring – the worst time to move a deciduous tree. The best time to transplant trees in in winter when they are dormant; not in spring with growth energy pulsing through the plant. To reduce the risk, Maait put off the collection until an overcast cool day to lower transpiration. His team had the maple out of the ground and into a bag at the nursery in under five hours. It barely dropped a leaf and has been living happily in its big black bag at the nursery for nearly eight years, awaiting a buyer who appreciates it age and beautiful form enough to part wiht around around $20,000 plus installation costs to have it in their garden.

Yulan magnolia

Yulan magnolia, rescued from TAFE. Also seen at the top of this post.

Less pricey is a mature Yulan magnolia rescued from Ryde TAFE. Around 5m tall, and in bloom with creamy-white cupped flowers, it was drawing the eye of a woman who’d come shopping for her new garden when I visited the nursery. She was tossing up between the Yulan magnolia and a mature, pink-flowered Magnolia soulangeana in the next row. Smaller budgets are also catered to, and $600 will get you a new tree; the saved-in the-nick–of-time backstory comes free.

It’s time to

Book now
It’s still a long way off, but put the Ballarat Garden Show, 13-15 November in your diary. See five private gardens, the Archibald Prize at the fabulous Art Gallery of Ballarat and David Glenn’s inspirational Lambley, 20 minutes away.

See flowers up close
Florilegium: the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney celebrating 200 years tells the 200year history of the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney through 87 plants, illustrated by 64 botanical artists. An exhibition of the artworks featured in the book, called The Florilegium, Sydney’s Painted Garden opens today at the Sydney Museum, cnr Bridge and Phillip Streets, Sydney, July 30 to October 30.

Grow mushrooms
Mr Fothergills has released kits growing golden and pearl oyster mushrooms. Soak the kit overnight, spray daily and expect to be eating your own mushrooms in two weeks. $25, available at Bunnings and independent garden centres.

Aerate the lawn
Mossy areas develop in lawn that is compacted. More effective than inviting stiletto-wearing friends to cocktails is to use a garden fork to pierce the soil. Sprinkle over a little garden lime to reduce soil acidity.