Good life ... Gary and Stephanie Rake are reaping rewards from their Kingston cottage built in 1934.
Good life ... Gary and Stephanie Rake are reaping rewards from their Kingston cottage built in 1934. Photo: Jay Cronan

For six years Gary and Stephanie Rake lived on 17 hectares at the bottom of the Hoskinstown Plain south of Bungendore. Rising beyond their farm were the Tinderry Mountains.

When he was appointed chief executive of the National Capital Authority in 2008, they decided to move back to Canberra to save travel (Rake is now chief operating officer of the Therapeutic Goods Administration), and in Kingston, the family found a little cottage built in 1934.

They sold their farm and bought the Kingston cottage in 2009, moving in with daughter Cara, now 21, and son Ben, 17.

Thriving ... Gary Rake's rhubarb and silverbeet.
Thriving ... Gary Rake's rhubarb and silverbeet. Photo: Jay Cronan

They repeated a trick learnt on the farm. The Kingston backyard had only lawn, so as they unpacked, they broke down the cardboard removalist boxes, laid them over unwanted sections of lawn, then added 10 centimetres of ''Canberra compost'' from Corkhills. Within months the grass was dead and the soil was rich and full of worms. Mulch makes for good soil and you can never have too much, they say.

They brought plum and almond trees from the farm, where the trees hadn't been happy. They're now thriving, with more than 20 kilograms of plums last season.

In August 2010, Rake told me he had planted two persimmons, two kiwi-berries, a jostaberry, blackcurrant and two cranberries. New fruit tree plantings included an apricot, a Williams and a Packham pear tree, three apples, quince trees, a hazelnut from a Canberra wildling and two cherries.

Now they have heirloom St Dominique fig trees from Diggers in Victoria, grapes, an apricot, two mini ''Fantasy'' pears and a China flat peach that Rake says is the best for small yards, having tiny fruit and sweet white flesh. They use grey water from the washing machine on fruit trees and all parts of the garden except where they're growing root vegetables.

They have laid pathways with old red Canberra bricks and recycled railway sleepers. The vegie patch is fenced with sheep-yard panels brought from the farm, and a gate insert, also a farm relic, is framed by a pair of olive trees. Gary Rake has planted one section and Ben Rake, a horticultural apprentice, planted the other.

The winter beds are filled seedlings of brown and white onions, Brussels sprouts, green broccoli, purple broccolini, snowpeas and celery. Asparagus has a space of its own and they have a big raised potato bed filled with kipfler and King Edward potatoes. Globe artichokes have been divided for the first time this year and all seem to have survived, Rake says. Silverbeet is growing everywhere and the rhubarb is swelling.

Rake's recipe for a lazy dessert of good carbs, dairy and vitamins is creamed rice (recipe above) - he still uses a recipe he adapted from the Women's Weekly Original Cookbook that he bought in 1990. He substitutes good arborio rice so the dish is like a sweet risotto, adds freshly stewed rhubarb and stops the cooking before it turns to mush.

His grandparents were early residents of Mossy Point, before the bridge to Broulee was built, so he grew up enjoying south coast holidays. Seven years ago, the Rakes bought a place at Tomakin near Mossy Point, where there is good soil, and they are growing avocadoes, macadamias, mangoes, mandarins, bananas and feijoas.

>>  Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer.


Gary Rake's rice pudding

4 cups milk, or use 3 cups milk and 1 cup of cream
⅔ cup sugar
½ tsp salt
½ cup arborio rice
½ tsp vanilla
1 vanilla pod

Mix the sugar, salt, rice and vanilla pod with half the milk and heat gently. Add the rest of the milk slowly as the milk is absorbed. Using a cup of cream instead of the final cup of milk makes the dish decadent and suits stewed fruit that has not been overly sweetened and still has some tang. Plums or rhubarb are perfect. Or try it with a small dollop of a sour cumquat marmalade.