Christmas gifts for kitchen gardeners in Canberra

Susan Parsons
Burmese growers at Tribal Garden stall in Pialligo.
Burmese growers at Tribal Garden stall in Pialligo. Photo: Sandra Lloyd

For friends who walked the "camino" path to Santiago de Compostela a decade ago and Canberra couples who return to France every year for the food and wine, language, villages and je ne sais quoi, a perfect gift is Dee Nolan's A Food Lover's Pilgrimage to France (Lantern/Penguin. $79.99).

The author, after a distinguished career as a journalist, and her husband John Southgate, run an organic farm established by her grandfather at Gum Park in the Limestone Coast region of South Australia where they produce olive oil and wine and breed southdown sheep.

There is a recipe for mouth-watering gingerbread loaf Pain d'epices, to serve at Christmas with blue cheese and a salad of dressed leaves. The monks and markets, cheese and chefs provide a magnificent journey for a sometime traveller.

<i>Food Lover's Pilgrimage to France</i>.
Food Lover's Pilgrimage to France

The greens

To enliven your homegrown oak leaf and coral lettuces, toss them with two parts Australian extra virgin olive oil and one part South Australian Coriole Aged Sweet Vinegar ($12.99 for 250mls from The Essential Ingredient in Kingston).

Serve greens on a melamine Rene Magritte surrealist plate. For the garden, choose the bright yellow giraffe in a wine glass (Le bain de cristal', 1949) (National Gallery of Australia $26.95) or at the coast house, the beachy blue dove plate (NGA Contemporary).

Tribal gardens

Sandra Lloyd of Companion House is encouraging everyone to support a Canberra social enterprise.  Three Burmese families who have garden lots at a Pialligo farm are supplying and operating the Tribal Gardens Saturday Stall from 9-11am at Rodney's Nursery in Beltana Road.  Come and meet them and buy the organic produce from Canberra's newest growers.   

Golden green stag beetle painted in watercolour by Cheryl Hodges of Jerrabomberra.
Golden green stag beetle painted in watercolour by Cheryl Hodges of Jerrabomberra. 

When I looked at their plots in March there were beautiful hibiscus-like flowers on tall green plants but no one was around to ask what they were.  It was okra, not easily grown in Canberra, and the edible green pods had not yet formed.  When cooked they are often mucilaginous or "gooey", the leaves are also edible, and oil and coffee have been made from the seeds. 

Bug off

Fiona Toll from Rodneys Nursery says Lad's Love (Artemisia abrotanum)  ($14.26 for 140-millimetre pot, advanced size) can be planted around eating areas to help keep mozzies and other bugs at bay. Crush the leaves and rub them on your skin or just gently squeeze the foliage to make the repellent stronger.  It is said that churchgoers used the strong smell of this species of Artemisia to keep them awake during long sermons.

To discourage ants from running up the trunk of your lemon tree and forming scale on the branches, try placing a small branch cut fresh from a bay tree at the base of the tree.  Am not sure if bay leaves in your socks would stop ants from running up trouser legs.


Beetles for Christmas

 As an alternative to the Christmas beetle, let's celebrate this year with the Golden Green Stag Beetle (Lamprima latreillii) that may be found in the ACT even in our Australian National Botanic Gardens.  It feeds on rotting wood. The male is a handsome shape with stags and appears bright gold under the sun. 

Cheryl Hodges of Jerrabomberra won "Best Still Life in Show" at the Artists' Society of Canberra members' exhibition in September for her watercolour painting of a Golden Green Stag Beetle, seen here in the illustration.  The image has been printed on to cases for iPads ($55.88) and iPhone cases ($31.05) available from


In his book Gardener's Choice (1988) Melburnian Dr James Hitchmough wrote of the entrancing landscape spectacle of a field of wheat or barley with the flaxen flowering heads swaying in the wind.

Now working at the University of Sheffield, Hitchmough was behind robust flower displays at London's 2012 Olympics and, last November, he encouraged a vast 3000-square-metre planting of wildflowers for Melbourne City Council. The riot of bold colour lasted for months.

We have one packet, 14,000 seeds, of the Wildflower Summer Meadows mix that was formulated by Diggers and includes sunflowers, dill, barley, cosmos and rhodanthe.  Email me if you and a guerilla gardening team can think of a place to sow them:

Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer.