Nursery life doesn't take its Toll

Susan Parsons
Tomatoes in the family's private vegetable garden at Rodney's nursery.
Tomatoes in the family's private vegetable garden at Rodney's nursery. Photo: Melissa Adams

The Toll family has lived in picturesque Pialligo for 38 years, where they own Rodney's Plants Plus, and where Rodney and Cheryl Toll also have an extensive private garden, shared by their four grown children.

Daughter Fiona Toll and husband Paul Coates live on a property at Bellmount Forest near Gundaroo, but return to Pialligo to garden.

The garden is watered from a bore that draws water from an underground river that is part of the Molonglo system.

Fiona Toll in the family's  vegetable garden.
Fiona Toll in the family's vegetable garden. Photo: Melissa Adams

Fiona Toll's Sri Lankan brother-in-law, who is a chef, likes the smell of the silver-grey curry plant, which gives off the smell of curry when crushed or in hot weather, so it is planted to border the garden, interplanted with parsley. ''Pearl'' grape tomatoes, sage and basil are grown in pots. The pots mark rows of magnificent eggplants and frilly red and green perpetual lettuce thriving in the rich soil. Fiona Toll slices the eggplants one centimetre wide, salts them for 20 to 30 minutes, then scrapes off the salt and grills the slices.

Rodney Toll also built a sunken stone garden filled with roses in raised beds edged with box plants, bright blue salvia shrubs, leeks, and strawberries. Thirty apollo-tomato bushes, which have been allowed to sprawl on the ground, and small ''tumbling toms'' are used in the nursery cafe by Emma Toll.

Fiona Toll grows her favourite edibles at Pialligo, including beetroot, which she pickles. She studied horticulture at the Canberra Institute of Technology, then joined the family business, including a decade working front-of-house in Rodney's cafe.

On their 100-hectare country property, Belmere Park, Toll and Coates, who has a farming background, raise cattle - 20 Murray greys and the Scottish highlanders (a large shaggy breed with big horns). They have nine horses, plus ducks, roosters, chickens for eggs - Suffolk and New England varieties, the latter a cross that lays brown eggs - and a silkie rooster. There is one lone sheep that was rescued by their children, Grace, 11, and Abby, 7.

They have fruit trees, including a 140-year-old gnarled apricot, probably a moorpark, and a greengage-like plum that seeds itself.

Toll has added an orchard of miniature pixzee peach and nectazee nectarine trees, apple trees, grape vines and raspberry bushes. She also has a small vegetable garden on the property, and says the truss tomatoes this season have the best flavour she has tasted. She cuts them up and adds finely chopped red onion, a little marinated Persian feta and a dash of caramelised balsamic vinegar.

Two years ago, she did a course through the Old Cheese Factory at Reidsdale on making Persian feta. Now she makes cheese every eight weeks. She marinates the feta is marinated in a sunflower oil and olive oil base with a little balsamic vinegar, crushed peppercorns, herbs including rosemary, sage and thyme and whole bird's-eye chillies.

>>Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer.