Fetherston Gardens Friends digs deep to restore Weston site

Susan Parsons
Spring springs: Espaliered pear blossom at Fetherston Gardens in Weston.
Spring springs: Espaliered pear blossom at Fetherston Gardens in Weston. Photo: Lesley Pattinson

Fetherston Gardens Friends met in October to celebrate the first anniversary of the re-opening of   a hidden landscape in Weston, one  well known to former CIT School of Horticulture students, who began establishing the arboretum and woodlands in 1973. Fetherston's cheerful and industrious community volunteers have weeded and planted, spread mulch and cleared paths. An irrigation system has been implemented through a partnership with the ACT government's Territory and Municipal Services.

A highlight of the site is the pome fruit espaliers. The first planting was in 1974 and the second in 1978. In the front row are a two Delicious apple trees and   pears  – a Packham's Triumph, a Josephine de Molines and three Winter Nelis.  In the back row are two more Delicious apples, a Granny Smith and  pears –  two Beurre Bosc, a Winter Cole, a Josephine de Molines and Winter Nelis. There is also one Glou Morceau, a seldom-seen Belgian dessert pear raised in Mons in 1750. The trees fruit well with little care other than pruning to keep their  shape.  Birds enjoy the fruit and the volunteers have turned some into jelly.

Working bees at Fetherston Gardens, co-ordinated by Lesley Pattinson, are held on the second Wednesday and last Sunday of  every month. Email contact via Weston Creek Community Council: wccc.com.au

Cutbacks:  Old pome fruit espaliers at Fetherston Gardens in Weston get some TLC.
Cutbacks: Old pome fruit espaliers at Fetherston Gardens in Weston get some TLC. Photo: Lesley Pattinson

 As any keen gardener knows, there are three types of toilers:  benders, kneelers and squatters. I belong to the latter. When I arrive, the working bee  is well under way and lots of bottoms  are in the air and I recognise, backview, horticulturist Paulene Cornish who is a bender. 

Pattinson, a kneeler who uses knee pads and a kneeler to rest on "down among it all", believes a good morning tea and chat time is essential for any gardening activity. At Fetherston, it is about connecting with other volunteers while restoring a unique garden.

 During morning tea under a shady arbor by a large pond, there  is a discussion about  each other's gardening garb.

Pretty in pink: Espaliered pear blossom at Fetherston Gardens in Weston.
Pretty in pink: Espaliered pear blossom at Fetherston Gardens in Weston. Photo: Lesley Pattinson

Trevor Wilson, convenor of the Friends and his wife, Christine, became involved through the Weston Creek Community Council of which she was secretary.  They thought local people needed to play a role in an effort to retain the old CIT gardens and develop them into a community facility.

The Wilsons have lived in Holder since 1972, rebuilding on site after their house was destroyed in the 2003 bushfires. They grow vegetables and fig, persimmon, lemon, cumquat and feijoa trees.  Trevor is contented weeding, either bending or kneeling. Christine is a kneeler  and was wearing spongy, black knee pads, made for people who do tiling or masonry work.  She bought them from Magnet Mart  for $30 and says they are very comfortable.

Rosemary Drabsch has on very dashing kneelers with gold plastic, patterned centres.  She bought the Gel Knee Pads in February at Aldi at Cooleman Court and says they are comfortable to wear and fit any size leg. The saucer-shaped pad is kept on with an elastic strap and Velcro fastener and it makes hard surfaces tolerable and stops prickles when kneeling down weeding.

Rosemary lives in a townhouse in Weston where there is no garden space to grow fruit and vegetables so she relies on the generosity of others who share their excess – with which she makes jams, pickles and chutneys to sell and raise money for the Cancer Council ACT.

Gina Howlett is a bender in the garden, which always leaves her feeling stiff in the hips, she says. At Fetherston Gardens' morning teas she is the cake maker.   Today, the treat  is a lemon-syrup cake but most popular is her walnut cake made from fresh nuts  bought from Alpine Nuts of Eurobin at the Southside farmers' market.   The recipe is from a work colleague and the walnuts are combined with carrots, spices, sugar, flour and eggs. 

Later in the season, Gina says, she could make a "protein-rich" codling moth apple cake from  her homegrown fruit. Her tree is old, large and unmanageable and she has been unable to find someone to spray it for her.  However, it  provides screening and shade in  her back yard so she guiltily keeps growing  the moth-infested fruit, which she collects and gives to a friend's chooks. Their gleeful consumption relieves her guilt. 

Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer