From the ground up

Susan Parsons
Bronwyn Blake checks on her artichoke while Harold Blake carries some sunflower seedlings at their Gundaroo home.
Bronwyn Blake checks on her artichoke while Harold Blake carries some sunflower seedlings at their Gundaroo home. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

In spring, the broad Yass Valley on the way to Gundaroo is bordered by alpacas running up the hills and lambs lying on green pastures. In Gundaroo on a Sunday, locals and Canberra cyclists drink coffee outdoors at Cork Street Cafe, where an old red scooter sits atop a bathtub filled with a huge parsley crop.

There are four red Ferraris outside Grazing and at the back door the new cafe and wine-tasting room overlooks the flourishing kitchen garden. They sell bags of just-picked garden mesclun with fronds of fennel and young pea shoots.

In 2008, Howard and Bronwyn Blake moved from a small block in Ngunnawal to a rural space in Gundaroo. The couple and their three children spend as much time as they can creating a diverse garden with a large and productive patch.

The Blakes dug up the front garden with a jackhammer then added meadow hay from local farmers, fertiliser and forest litter to a series of vegetable beds. Garlic, broccoli and Swiss chard are cropping now and Harold Blake has planted strawberries, fennel, potatoes, carrots and beetroot, with asparagus having just produced its first spears. Heirloom tomato seeds are being raised in seed trays in a hothouse.

Bronwyn Blake works for Open Gardens Australia, so much of her life is spent with gardeners in their varied landscapes. At home she tends a herb garden on a large deck that overlooks the back garden. The predominant colour is grey with a windbreak of Acacia covenyi and splashes of deep red. Focus plants in the garden beds are huge artichokes that are bearing their first crop.

A highlight is the orchard and as we stand admiring it, there is a frog chorus from a neighbour's large dam. Among 20 espaliered fruit trees are 15 apples, two quince and two pear trees. There are also two plum trees, a cherry, peach, apricot and nectarine, an almond, a fig and a feijoa. There are also four olive trees and a hazelnut. Wildlife is an issue so the Blakes recently bought 100 metres of bird netting to drape over timber framework.

All the family cooks and seasonal favourites include pizza cooked in a brick oven and carbonara made with eggs from the family's chooks and fresh thyme. During our visit Harold Blake was making Seville orange marmalade using a recipe from A Year in a Bottle, by Sally Wise. He uses lemons from his mother's garden in Scullin and juice from Leeton blood oranges he buys from the farmers' market.

Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer.


To celebrate spring we have a copy of the Open Gardens Australia Guide 2013-14 ($19) to give away. The book gives details of all district open gardens and includes the Shorthouse garden, 266 Dryandra Street, Lyneham, which is open on Saturday and Sunday, with a kitchen garden that has featured in this column. Email me at and name a favourite garden, with produce, that you've visited in the past year.