Growing optimism and vermicelli


Ruby chard and red mustard reappearing as the snow melted three weeks ago

Today was a grey grey day … but only weatherwise. So many other days vanish because their sameness turns them grey and blurry in memory … or perhaps they turn grey simply because they haven’t been recorded and so get forgotten.Today, however, was colourful and memorable. To make sure it doesn’t become part of the grey blur I’m going to carve it into my memory with words and pictures.


The colours of today were predominantly red and purple, and they positively glowed against the greyness of the day  … two different flowering purple irises, purple flowering sage, purple flowering chives, purple aquilegia, violets, red purple poppies, red waratahs next to purple prostanthera (mint bush), crimson flowering broadbeans, red mustard, red kale, ruby chard, deep red scented roses, red strawberries, the first red currants, the most deliciously red freshly made tomato soup down at the Quarry Garden, (they’d run out of nettle soup by the time we arrived) and the first lush red rhubarb of the season which I stewed with apples and angelica this evening.




The most striking thing about today was the dramatic change in the weather. Yesterday it was warm and sunny, reaching 19C (25C the day before). Today it was wet, cold, foggy and didn’t get above 10C. I think the damp made it feel even colder. One could have predicted it would happen because it was the Rhododendron Festival and it usually gets cold and wet for the parade.


Fortunately the rain stopped for the duration of the parade!

I’m amazed that plants respond with such equanimity to dramatic changes that would easily throw me if I had to be outside for 24 hours a day. In the last few weeks we’ve had 8 inches of snow, temperatures hovering near 30C and now cold wet fog blocking off sunshine to plants rearing to grow. And still the garden oozes optimism and beauty … which I breathe

in deeply as I walk through again and again. I can’t get enough of it at this time of year.

Local knowledge has it that it’s almost always grey and wet on Rhodo parade day, and also that you should never plant frost tender plants before Melbourne Cup Day. Three days to go before the race, but I wonder how long this handed down wisdom will still be useful to gardeners? I’m going to try to record what happens on a daily basis in the garden so that I can begin to observe the changes over time.

The forecast for the coming week doesn’t suggest a frost, so last weekend I planted out bean, tomato and zucchini seedlings. Will try and get all my other seedlings out tomorrow and keep my fingers crossed.



Last night Michael Mobbs spoke to us about his new book “Sustainable Food”. More than 50 people squeezed into our garden studio to hear him speak. Over the years he’s come to the conclusion that food is the thing we all have in common and that, because food consumes so much water and energy to come to us via supermarkets, decisions about how we source, produce and consume our food will be one of the main gamechangers for the future of the planet.

I chaired a panel at the Blue Mountains Sydney Writers‘ Festival last year called Cultivating Desire and spoke to food writers about how they’ve been able to cultivate the desire for change in regard to what people choose to eat, when so many other people have attempted, but failed, to inspire real change in other areas.

There is clearly a connection we all have to food that gives us pleasure, and that sometimes also promises better health and a longer life, and so we’re open to exploring new things because the rewards are often so delectable and/or beneficial.

Unless you’ve grown your own food it’s hard to understand how growing it can change your life. There is an extraordinary pleasure that comes from nurturing, then harvesting and eating food from your own garden. Gardens can be good for the environment and for cooling our cities, as Michael so clearly points out in his book. Organically homegrown food is also good for your health, but connecting to gardens and growing your own food is equally important for the sheer joy and beauty it can bring to your life and for the ability of plants, perhaps more than anything else, to inspire optimism by the constant renewal they demonstrate.

A crushed garden about to bounce back to life

I once memorised a poem called My Garden by Thomas Edward Brown, that my friend Jane wrote out for me when we were still at school, and often recite it with fond amusement:


My Garden


A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot!

Rose plot,

Fringed pool,

Fern’d grot –

The veriest school

Of peace; and yet the fool

Contends that God is not –

Not God! in gardens! when the eve is cool?

Nay, but I have a sign;

‘Tis very sure God walks in mine.


“God” is certainly walking in mine at the moment … in robes of red and purple!


But back to food.


Growing food has clearly become increasingly important in my life, but, more recently, finding ways to use what I’ve grown has begun to focus my attention even more than before. So many plants have come and gone in my garden without being harvested and utilised in any way.

Today Oscar and I harvested our first snow peas … the crunch and sweetness as we ate them within minutes of harvest still lingers with me and is part of the “colour” of today. Some foods, however, take a little more effort and a bit of information on how best to use them. I’d include spaghetti squash in that list.



Last night, for Michael’s event, we had a feast of local food, predominantly from my garden. Over the next few blog entries, in response to requests last night, I’ll post the recipes for the meals we had. I’ll start with:



Thai inspired spaghetti squash salad 

I think the spaghetti squash that we’ve grown have probably been cross-pollinated with zucchinis because they look rather like watermelons. The flesh in them is amazing … when cooked it separates into strands just like vermicelli, so can be used as a noodle substitute without the calories and with a much higher nutrient content. The seeds can be roasted, like pumpkin seeds. Tonight I washed the seeds and laid them out on a towel to dry. I grew so many spaghetti squash on one plant last summer that I still haven’t used them all.

Firstly, chop the squash into quarters. Peel off the hard outer skin and remove the seeds. This is fiddly and takes some time, but worth it because then you have the seeds too. Boil or steam the flesh for about 15-20 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Separate the strands with your fingers so that you have, in effect, a big dish of vermicelli. Even the solid parts of the flesh become vermicelli-like when cooked.

Make a classic Thai style dressing. This is what I did last night –


Combine the following ingredients:


1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 tablespoon sesame seed oil (I used local olive oil here)

Juice of one lemon (or lime if you can grow those)

2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 dried chillies, finely chopped

2 teaspoons sugar

pepper to taste

3-4 finely sliced spring onions

Fresh coriander, finely chopped

Fresh mint, finely chopped

Chopped nuts (I used hazelnuts because we grow them here)


Pour over the “vermicelli” and use your fingers to make sure all the “vermicelli” are coated, sprinkle with additional nuts and garnish with mint or coriander.