More than a cabbage-patch kid

Susan Parsons
Dr Cally Brennan with her cabbages in hand-made 'brassica pods'.
Dr Cally Brennan with her cabbages in hand-made 'brassica pods'. Photo: Katherine Griffiths

Dr Cally Brennan has developed a new concept in her garden in Holt, a place she calls ''very much a work in progress''. This season she has planted savoy and regular cabbages in round individual wicking containers with a net cover over a frame to keep cabbage white butterflies at bay. They look kind of cool and a bit sci-fi, so she has nicknamed them her ''brassica pods''.

Recently, Brennan has made a vertical garden along a north wall, which also uses the wicking concept, with a reservoir of saturated soil at the bottom and an outflow hole half way up the trough. The vertical garden is planted with ''Temptation'' strawberries, watercress, rocket and radishes and beetroot are being raised from seed in the top row to make a ''salad bar''.

Because the yard is small and shared with two kelpies, the plan is to have a low-maintenance food forest full of fruit trees and other perennials including berries. Vegetables with higher water and nutrient needs are grown in wicking beds and pots which are placed around the young fruit trees. A large number of pumpkins were raised on their verge in summer and autumn.

Dr Cally Brennan's 'brassica pods'.
Dr Cally Brennan's 'brassica pods'. Photo: Katherine Griffiths

Brennan was born and grew up in Scotland. Her granddad was a great gardener who managed the ''dig for victory'' vegetable plots in Eastbourne during World War II. Her mother taught Cally and her sister how to garden in Scotland in their own small vegie patches and Cally raked and raked hers until there were no lumps in the lovely soil. They planted radishes and lettuces.

The family moved to Western Australia when she was 19 and growing conditions were very different in sandy Perth. After completing a degree and travelling overseas, Brennan moved to Melbourne to do postgraduate studies in ethnomusicology, but she managed to grow tomatoes and corn on her apartment balcony.

In 2006, she came to Canberra and rediscovered gardening, firstly in a shared rental house in Lyneham, then in Holt in the home shared with partner Jeremy Smith and their 20-month-old daughter, Sophie.

Dr Cally Brennan's cabbages.
Dr Cally Brennan's cabbages. Photo: Katherine Griffiths

In 2009, through a Permablitz website based in Melbourne, Brennan followed the links to a new group that had formed in Canberra and joined their second blitz. She likes the idea of gardening with other people and making friends with those who have similar interests. She has completed a permaculture design certificate and does some teaching.

The ''blitzes'' are planned in advance and they provide the opportunity for people to get involved in garden/landscape work they might not have tried before, like making a chicken coop from old pallets, laying drip irrigation lines, digging swales and French drains, making wicking boxes and a rain garden.

In her own garden, as well as the cabbages, Brennan is growing kale, giant red mustard, parsley, purple sprouting broccoli, snow peas and broad beans. She has planted purple carrots in tubs and Vietnamese mint in pots. A bumper crop of Jerusalem artichokes prompted Smith and Brennan to turn to the River Cottage cookbook for a recipe cooking them with toasted hazelnuts and goat's cheese.

Cally Brennan's daughter Sophie, 7 months,  waters strawberries in their vertical vegetable patch.
Cally Brennan's daughter Sophie, 7 months, waters strawberries in their vertical vegetable patch. Photo: Katherine Griffiths

>> Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer.