Kitchen Garden

Dynamic duo ... Neville and Pam Bleakley in their Chifley garden, where he looks after the fruit and vegetable and she arranges the compost.
Dynamic duo ... Neville and Pam Bleakley in their Chifley garden, where he looks after the fruit and vegetable and she arranges the compost. Photo: Jay Cronan

The spring garden of Neville and Pam Bleakley in Chifley is a picture of blossoms on their cherry, apple, pear, apricot, nectarine and crabapple trees.

Although the cherry tree is only two years old, they picked two kilograms of fruit from it last season, and their meyer lemon gives two to three crops every year, yielding several hundred lemons that provide a valuable kitchen crop for the couple and their neighbours and friends. A 40-year-old pear tree was in full blossom on our visit. The crop is not attacked by local cockatoos even when they devour other fruit in the garden.

The couple moved to the house in 1979 after living the nomadic life of an Air Force family. Pam Bleakley, who has a university medal in biochemistry and worked at the John Curtin School of Medical Research, now teaches yoga in a charming studio with a courtyard designed by local landscapers. Red azaleas reflect on the crimson interior walls of her yoga room.

Melting pot ... Neville Bleakley grinds home-grown kaffir lime leaves with chilli using traditional Balinese mortar and pestle ? a ??cobek??.
Melting pot ... Neville Bleakley grinds home-grown kaffir lime leaves with chilli using traditional Balinese mortar and pestle called a "cobek". Photo: Jay Cronan

She looks after the compost in the garden, and her husband looks after the fruit and vegetables. For winter into spring he grows Asian greens for salads, broccoli that is putting out edible side shoots, full-hearting red cabbages, a large circle of broad beans, dark red mustard greens, and kale. Rows of emerald tight-curled parsley line up along above-ground brown watering hoses. Climbing beans and tomatoes are being planted in the coming fortnight in one of two spaces where Neville Bleakley rotates the crops. The soil is rich and friable and he weeds using a ''Ho-Mi'' from Allsun at Gundaroo.

Some years ago, for his birthday, Pam Bleakley, started giving her husband cooking courses. He then attended Elise Pascoe's cooking school at Jamberoo and he trained in the first diploma course under Jan Gundlach at the former Senso in Fyshwick.

Following the Bleakleys' first visit to Bali, he fell in love with traditional Balinese cooking and culture, and on subsequent visits, while his wife did yoga, he sought out cooking opportunities with Balinese families in their village homes.

He says the women shop at the markets early every day but most families grow as much as possible at home. All cooking is completed by midday and the meal is eaten in the most peaceful place available, sometimes beside the rice paddy belonging to the community council. The meal is usually eaten in silence and some food and drink is placed on the ground as an offering.

In Canberra, Neville Bleakley has run a course for Slow Food on Balinese cooking and culture. He uses recipes from Swiss-born chef Heinz von Holzen, who has worked as executive chef at the Grand Hyatt at Nusa Dua and runs a cooking school, Bumbu Bali, in Tanjung Benoa.

Neville Bleakley uses a Balinese mortar and pestle, a cobek, to grind peanuts for a sauce to accompany pecelan - a mixed vegetable salad. A sliced chilli ground with home-grown kaffir lime leaves and lemon juice created an enticing smell during our visit. He also cooks with a ''kukusan'' - a clay pot with a bamboo conical top.

>> Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer.