Tag Archive | Fruit

An A(Fare) to Remember!

THIS IS NOT A GARDENING POST. BUT I’VE INCLUDED IT ON THIS SITE, INSTEAD OF ONE OF MY LINKED SITES, BECAUSE A Fare With Nature is just such a perfect place for gardeners on holiday and in search of good accommodation with an interesting edible garden as an extra bonus.
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Sometimes, you just get lucky! And we got very lucky indeed when we went to stay at A Fare With Nature at Prom Road Farm near Wilson’s Promontory National Park. The “Prom” is one of Australia’s great natural wonders and lies to the extreme south of the continent, sticking out from South Gippsland into Bass Strait (see my article on Wilson’s Promontory on the Tamborine Dreaming website; click on tab above). It’s a “must see” for nature lovers, photographers and bushwalkers.

This is an area of gentle green hills, fat dairy cattle, gorgeous beaches, forest pockets and quiet, meandering backroads. If you want an overseas comparison it’s very like Devon and Cornwall, or parts of America’s Carolina coastline.

A Fare with Nature sits right in the middle of all this beauty; a small B & B which offers just so much more for the money than most. I’ve stayed in guesthouses/B & Bs all over the world and this is my favourite because a variety of small details come together so nicely here to make a happy whole.
First, there is the location, on a hill overlooking the beautiful bay of Corner Inlet which is almost encircled by the rugged northern coastline of Wilson’s Promontory. To the southwest are views of Waratah Bay, on the promontory’s western side, which is studded with rocky islands. Behind the guesthouse the hills rise in gentle swells and in the folds lies a temperate rainforest running down a long, secret gully where the only sound is trickling water and the quiet songs of small birds. The national park is only a short and pretty drive from here while Foster, the nearest small town, is just minutes away.

A sign of good things to come!

A sign of good things to come!

The blue waters of the bay

The blue waters of the bay

Wonderful Wilson's Prom in the distance

Wonderful Wilson’s Prom in the distance

There are also splendid country views

There are also splendid country views

...and another one...

…and another one…

The guesthouse is only a few years old and modern in style

The guesthouse is only a few years old and modern in style

On one side it overlooks this lovely dam, stocked with fish and good for birds too

On one side it overlooks this lovely dam, stocked with fish and good for birds too

I go exploring up the hill behind the house and find   a peaceful and mysterious temperate rainforest

I go exploring up the hill behind the house and find a peaceful and mysterious temperate rainforest

The B &B from the back,  as the winter afternoon sun goes down behind me

The B &B from the back, as the winter afternoon sun goes down behind me

We arrived on a perfect winter’s day when the waters of the bay were as blue as the sky. We drove up the long driveway to the house through emerald fields grazed by black-and-white cattle, for this is a working dairy farm more immaculate than any I’ve seen. When we stepped out of the car the view grabbed us because it takes in such a vast sweep of coastline. The hills of Wilson’s Promontory are much larger than expected (Mt. Latrobe is 754 m and is, I think, the highest point) and make for a dramatic skyline. We were delighted at the thought of waking up to such a view.

The house is modern Australian in style, of brick, with a large upstairs veranda on two sides and a patio downstairs. Inside, the guest accommodation is country in style but not the overly fussy ye olde kitsch style beloved of so many Australian B & Bs. At A Fare With Nature the style is one of simple comfort yet bright and pretty with interesting paintings and photographs on the walls. And, it is amazingly generous as to space. The five bedrooms are all large and the bathrooms equally spacious; ours was so big you could have thrown a party in it! There are two guest lounges too, one upstairs and one down, also of large proportions and very comfortably furnished.

The bedrooms are all spacious and very comfortable - electric blankets on the beds

The bedrooms are all spacious and very comfortable – electric blankets on the beds

Here's another one, which has splendid views of the water

Here’s another one, which has splendid views of the water

I was rather taken with this pretty blue room

I was rather taken with this pretty blue room

But we opted for the twin room - with its giant bathroom

But we opted for the twin room – with its giant bathroom

This isn't our bathroom but gives an idea of the space, modern features and cleanliness - oh dear, I sound like an ad!

This isn’t our bathroom but gives an idea of the space, modern features and cleanliness – oh dear, I sound like an ad!

We relished the space. Those who know us know that we are not usually partial to B & B-style accommodation which requires more sociability than is natural to us (especially Bob!). We usually prefer the anonymity of hotel/motel rooms or self-contained cabins. So part of the great charm of A Fare With Nature for us was that the guest bedrooms are all very separate and private and the guest lounges (two for five rooms!) are so large and well-furnished that you can share them with fellow-guests without feeling overly intimate.

A view of our downstairs guest lounge

A view of our downstairs guest lounge

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...and from the other end

…and from the other end

Despite the bright sunshine the fresh air of South Gippsland was chilly so we were glad to go inside where a log fire was awaiting us in the downstairs guest lounge. And also in the kitchen, which is the heart of this house, as it should be in any good country B & B. This is a kitchen large and splendidly-enough equipped to feature on Master Chef and presiding over it is the REAL secret of A Fare With Nature’s success – the owner and hostess, Rhonda Bland.

Bob with Rhonda in her big and cheery kitchen

Bob with Rhonda in her big and cheery kitchen

Rhonda is a rosy-cheeked countrywoman with a heart as big as the universe and an ability to turn her capable hands to anything from sawing logs and milking cows to grafting pear trees and cosseting guests. She has lived and farmed in the area all her life and her four children are all dairy farmers; one of them runs the farm on which the B & B stands and Rhonda still lends an experienced hand with milking if she’s needed. You just can’t help loving Rhonda the minute you meet her because she is just so cheerfully down-to-earth and dispenses hospitality so lavishly. Her anzac biscuits may just be the best in the world and in her big, warm kitchen she creates all sorts of other country delights. She’s very modest about her cooking but we loved it and others do too. Much of the produce comes from her own garden and the pantry shelves are all aglow with pickles and jams made by her and members of the family.

And then, there’s the house specialty, Rhonda’s rhubarb champagne!

We drank a bottle of this delicately pink, refreshing, sparkly drink and could have drunk several bottles more, but didn’t like to be greedy! It certainly went wonderfully well with Ronda’s roast pork and crisp crackling.

We had to pack a lot into our three days at “The Prom” so didn’t spend as much time as we’d have liked on the property itself (1270 acres/514 ha), though I did have some fun walking around the orchard and vegetable beds, as well as climbing the hill to visit the temperate rainforest which is a place of great enticement for a birdwatcher. As is the large reed-fringed dam beside the house. We spent the first afternoon visiting Waratah Bay and Sandy Point on the western side of the promontory, both gorgeous beach areas even on a cold day (see pics). We also went into the pleasant little town of Foster where you can get food and drink and basic groceries (the pub has an excellent bistro). It was good after this active afternoon to get back to Rhonda’s hospitality and the comfort of our guest lounge. On closer acquaintance we realised just how very well-equipped this was, down to the smallest detail such as tea, coffee and sugar in matching caddies, bowl of fruit and another of chocolates on the dining table in the guest lounge, home-made biscuits in the tin, lots of fresh milk in the ‘frig. The guest lounges have kitchenettes immaculately equipped for limited self catering and Rhonda will provide lunch and/or dinner for those who would like full board. Breakfast, of course, is included in the room price and it’s up to you whether you want the full cooked bacon and eggs and trimmings or just fruit and cereal and toast.

Despite the chill that evening we went on to the upstairs deck to watch the moon rise over the sea while sipping Rhonda’s rhubarb champagne. It seemed an appropriate way to end our first day. Next morning we were up early to enjoy a breakfast of eggs from Rhonda’s chooks before heading out to the national park. I’ve described this in detail elsewhere so it’s enough to say here that we had a great day exploring this very large wilderness area and were exhausted by dusk, when we returned to the warmth of Rhonda’s hospitality – and her roast pork. And more of the rhubarb champagne! The sight of four wombats feeding by the side of the road (not all together for they are solitary critters) was an added bonus because we don’t get these lovely animals in our part of Queensland.

Watching the sun go down over Wilson's Promontory...

Watching the sun go down over Wilson’s Promontory…

...and then watching the moon rise

…and then watching the moon rise

Next morning, before leaving, we did a tour of Rhonda’s edible garden. Though it was winter and the garden not of course at its best, the size of it and the variety of fruit and vegetables grown in it is impressive. The climate of South Gippsland, or at least this part of it, is mild enough, yet cold enough, to grow an amazingly wide range of things; Vietnamese mint flourishes here, and citrus, but so do gooseberries (real English ones as well as the so-called “cape gooseberries”), raspberries, blueberries, greengage and other plums, nectarines, peaches, apples and pears. Some of the latter have been espaliered along trellises by Rhonda’s skilful hand. Vegetables include Jerusalem artichoke and its relative the Yacon, a root cropping plant from montane South America which looks like some kind or radish and has the same crunchy texture, but is juicier and sweeter with a faintly earth taste – it is in fact a member of the daisy (Asteraceae) family and kissing cousin to the sunflower. Bob and I had never tasted this root before and thought it very similar in texture and flavour to the water chestnut.

We wake up to a lovely fresh morning

We wake up to a lovely fresh morning

Rhonda loves her garden. It’s open and sunny and when she’s working in it she can look up and see the sea. The soil is good; improved by mulch regular composting and mulching – and a dairy farm provides plenty of rich manure! Guests love the garden too, especially those who are gardeners themselves and can appreciate how much love and hard work have gone into this one. And there’s a definite charm in strolling around tasting things and knowing that the produce you’re admiring in the ground is likely to be on the table that night.

Say hello to the chooks and admire the pumpkins

Say hello to the chooks and admire the pumpkins

One of Rhonda's favourite places, the warm and sunny conservatory on one side of the house

One of Rhonda’s favourite places, the warm and sunny conservatory on one side of the house

Bob in front of the house, ready to do a tour of the garden

Bob in front of the house, ready to do a tour of the garden

But it gets a bit chilly so he puts on his jacket...

But it gets a bit chilly so he puts on his jacket…

Two gardeners happy to talk together about one of their favourite subjects

Two gardeners happy to talk together about one of their favourite subjects

Rhonda hates being photographed so she'll kill me for this - but just have to show her with the trellis she built herself - and where she espaliers some of her pear trees

Rhonda hates being photographed so she’ll kill me for this – but just have to show her with the trellis she built herself – and where she espaliers some of her pear trees

In this extensive garden Rhonda grows many unusual and interesting things such as Yacon and Jerusalem artichoke - she loves experimenting!

In this extensive garden Rhonda grows many unusual and interesting things such as Yacon and Jerusalem artichoke – she loves experimenting!

I'm pushing my luck here, showing anothe photo of Rhonda - but it's just such a pleasure to see her with her fruit and vegies.  Here she checks out some pepinos - giant sized!  I only wish I could have been there in the spring when her wonderful orchard is in full bloom.

I’m pushing my luck here, showing another photo of Rhonda – but it’s just such a pleasure to see her with her fruit and vegies. Here she checks out some pepinos – giant sized! I only wish I could have been there in the spring when her wonderful orchard is in full bloom.

All too soon we were on the road again because this is a good place from which to visit the small townships around Corner Inlet westward along the South Gippsland Highway, and so we still had some exploring to do. We left reluctantly though, having fallen in love with Wilson’s Promontory, with the rolling green hills of South Gippsland, and with A Fare With Nature and Prom Road Farm. It’s a long way from Queensland – but we’ll be back down there as soon as we can! If you want to check this lovely place out for yourself, here’s the link to Rhonda’s very friendly website:
http://afarewithnature.com.au/

You’ll find we are not the only guests to give A Fare With Nature a rave review.

And so here I am drinking a toast to A Fare To Remember in Ronda's super rhubarb champagne - in the hopes that one day we will be back in this place we love so much.  Thank you dear Rhonda for one of the best holiday breaks we've ever had!

And so here I am drinking a toast to A Fare To Remember in Rhonda’s super rhubarb champagne – in the hopes that one day we will be back in this place we love so much. Thank you dear Rhonda for one of the best holiday breaks we’ve ever had!

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Excite your palate with a true-blue Aussie flavour

Australian rainforest food plants are useful additions to home gardens anywhere in the world where the winters aren’t cold enough for snow or too low in rainfall.  They do best in tropical and sub-tropical climates but most will do surprisingly well in warm-temperate climates if given shelter from cold winds and hard frosts, and plenty of water during dry periods. Other than that, they are pretty tough plants that don’t need a lot of fussing.  And they do add some interesting flavors to your home-grown diet.

 

Their benefits include:  

1.     Human health – though the nutritional values of most of Australia’s edible plants are still little appreciated or understood, they undoubtedly possess not only recognised vitamins but also unique values that benefit health in this climate.  

2.     Garden health – by attracting a range of birds and various pollinators to the garden, they enrich the biodiversity values that are essential to a TRULY sustainable garden  

3.     Habitat restoration – if you live in Australia native food plants extend the natural vegetation linkages that are so vital to the sustainability of both plantlife and wildlife – how wonderful it would be to create a network of gardens and parks across the country enriched by plants that can feed both wildlife and humans!  

4.     Good looks – the rainforest species mentioned in this article are all attractive, garden-friendly plants that can be put to a variety of landscape uses – as single ornamentals, in shrubberies and buffer zones, as hedges, pot plants, street trees and feature plants in courtyards.  

 

Here is my selection of the Top Six rainforest plants for food and good garden behavior:

 

Davidson’s Plum (Davidsonia pruriens)   

 

Riberry (Syzygium luehmanni)

 

Lemon Myrtle (Backhousia citriodora)   

 

Illawarra Plum (Podocarpus elatus)   

 

Finger lime (Citrus australasica)   

 

Red Bopple Nut (Hicksbeachia pinnatifolia)   

 

You don’t actually need to give these plants any care after establishment; they’ll survive and even thrive.  But if you’re growing them for food, a bit of extra TLC will give you more and better fruit.

General cultivation tips: Improve soil at the planting site with compost; provide water in summer dry periods, fertilise young trees for improved yield (but never too much because  too much nitrogen can promote foliage growth over fruit production); prune to maintain manageable shape and size; control fruit fly (in the two plums), protect from weather extremes.  As many soils are deficient in calcium, it may help to add gypsum.  Spring is the best time to fertilise and a high potassium fertiliser will improve fruit development in nut and fruit trees.  

 

Davidson’s Plum   

Unripe Davidson’s plums growing from the trunk of the tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The best of the two subspecies being cultivated, because it produces the largest and nicest fruit, is Davidsonia puriens var. puriens (the other is Davidsonia puriens var. jerseyana). This tree occurs naturally in northern New South Wales and tropical/sub-tropical Queensland.  It’s quite small – to about 8m – with attractive toothed foliage and colourful new growth.  Fruits can be as large as 6cm in diameter and are purplish black with reddish flesh. Very juicy but not very palatable because rather sour, so best if stewed with lots of sugar or honey. A dash of port or brandy does wonders to the flavour!  The plum makes excellent jam and wine, and is a useful extender in other fruit jams.  Fruit is produced mostly in summer (though sometimes both earlier and later) and in mature trees is very prolific.  Improved yield cultivars are now available.   

Cultivation: To improve fruit yield, cultivate the planting area by digging it over.  Add plenty of compost.  Plant in a position protected from wind and frost.   Light shade is best, though a position with direct morning sun will help boost fruit production and flavour. It doesn’t like too much competition from other trees nearby – this slows growth. Davidsonia has a high moisture requirement; like most south-east Queensland rainforest plants it can withstand long dry periods but will grow faster if water can be provided during drought. Beetles may defoliate the tree from time to time but it soon recovers – a much worse problem is fruit fly, so take whatever measures you prefer for this pest and pick fruit when still fairly green, so it can ripen indoors. Ripe fruit stores in the frig and the pulp can be frozen

Propagation: Fresh seed germinates easily.  Early growth is slow.

 

Riberry  (Syzygium leuhmannii)    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above:  This is actually the fruit of Syzygium australe, closely related to the riberry and very similar in taste and texture

This ornamental lilly pilly bears lots of small, pear-shaped, pinkish-red fruits in summer.  It’s a big tree to 30 m and can be widespreading too, so needs lots of room.  It’s also fast-growing – the more water it has the faster it grows! It bears at an early age compared with most rainforest trees – about five years depending on conditions. When mature it’s very prolific.  The crisp, tart fruit is edible though not exciting. It makes a very good juice when boiled with a sugar syrup and also jam, sauce (like cranberry sauce) and chutney, either alone or with other fruit (choco and riberry chutney is good!).  I add it to fruit salads, or any type of salad, and use in a variety of dishes – curries, stir-fries, as a garnish. Also with apple and other fruit in pies. 

Cultivation:  Using cutting-grown stock and pruning regularly means you can keep this to a manageable shrub size – it makes an excellent hedge but DOES need frequent trimming. It’s not fussy about soil and will take temperatures down to zero – and can even recover from frost, though protection when young is advisable. Plant in sun or shade, though full sun means more and better fruit.  Improved (composted) soil will mean better fruit production and water retention, and maintaining an acidity level of around 5.6pH will assist nutrient take-up if you are fertilising your plants. Mulch well. I’ve found that good drainage is essential for healthy riberries and at the same time they like a lot of water (but not waterlogging).  They’re geared naturally to withstand dry periods in winter/spring but growth will slow or stop if this happens during summer – so water may need to be applied. Fertilise with a low-phosphorus formula in spring, when the temperature begins to rise and rainfall begins.  This is only necessary in the first couple of years to encourage growth. I just use compost and it seems to work well. Some commercial producers fertilise again in autumn.   

Prune young plants to encourage a multi-stemmed growth (up to 4); then again lightly each year after fruiting (more if it’s a hedge but remember heavy pruning will prevent a good fruit crop next time because fruit develops on each year’s mature growth).  If the tree grows too large, it will need a good cut back every few years, and this will be followed by reduced fruit production for the next few seasons.   

If you’re planting a hedge, seedlings should be about 2m apart – if planting an avenue of individual trees/shrubs space about 5m apart – depending on desired size at maturity.  Don’t plant too near drains, swimming pools or any buildings.   

The worst problem is a borer that gets into the ripening fruit. I don’t know a sustainable remedy for this – I’d try standard non-chemical remedies as for other fruit. Monitoring is crucial, and fruit should be picked immediately it ripens. Scale and sooty mould can also be a problem – natural oil remedies are the best remedy. 

Improved varieties – for size, flavor and seed reduction – are available.  Fruit stores quite well and can be frozen.  Fresh seed propagates quite easily but cutting-grown improved varieties are best.   

 

Lemon myrtle 

A wonderful plant; every garden should have one because it’s beautiful, easy to grow, useful and versatile. The leaves are the richest source of cineole in the world and useful as a biocide, should you want to go to the trouble of extracting the oil.  It has a real “lemonade” flavour that’s not as harsh as other lemon-flavoured plants and is particularly suited to Asian dishes. It’s also easier to grow, better-suited to predominantly warm and wet climates and not so prone to insect attack as lemon verbena or lemon balm. (But try growing your lemon myrtles with a lemon balm groundcover for a REAL lemony experience!) Some claim that planting this small tree in and especially around a food/herb garden keeps certain pests at bay – even if this is not valid, lemon myrtle makes an excellent ornamental herbal hedge plant if kept trimmed low and bushy. Use for anything in which you need a lemon flavor – it makes good lemonade if leaves are boiled with sugar and water; can be used for lemon-flavoured oil or vinegar; makes a delightfully fragrant tea and is perfect with fish – or in a gin and tonic! The leaf dries well.    

Cultivation: No need to do much except perhaps provide water during very long dry periods in summer. Tip prune regularly and trim lightly once a year in autumn to maintain a manageable shape and height – keep it as a shrub rather than a tree. Protect young plants from wind. Grow in shade or full sun; sunlight develops the leaf flavour. This is a decorative landscaping plant for feature shrub/tree, border planting, hedge, tub or courtyard.   

 

Illawarra Plum (Podocarpus elatus)  

This striking tree is a member of an ancient family of conifers that take us back to Gondwana. Though slender when young, it can grow pretty tall and wide.  In autumn and winter female trees produce a blue-black fruit to about 30mm diameter with the seed carried on the outside of the flesh at the opposite end to the stem. The fruit can be stewed like Davidson’s Plum, or used with other fruits to make jam, chutney and sauces. It tolerates most local soil conditions including alkaline (though it occurs naturally on acid soils), and is also tolerant of light frosts.  

Cultivation: As for Davidsonia but again don’t overdose with high nitrogen fertiliser after the first year or two (when you need to encourage growth).  Apply in early summer, rather than spring. This tree is a bit slow to start but gets away after the first 2 – 3 years.  It needs plenty of water during establishment and again during long, dry periods in summer.  As always, prune lightly after fruiting and tip prune after that to promote bushiness and keep size small. 

This is a tough plant that can be used for buffer plantings and is also a good timber tree.  You need to have at least one male plus a couple of female trees for pollination and fruit production.  Best to look for plants from good nurseries that clone their superior selections.  

 

Finger Lime (Citrus australasica) and Wild (or Round) Lime (Citrus australis)   

Finger limes grow as small, shrubby trees in Queensland coastal ranges and lowand forests. In summer and autumn (usually) they bear finger-shaped fruit up to 10cm long, with thin green or yellow skin and green-yellow pulp. A subspecies with pink to red-flesh and red to purple or even black skin (Citrus australasica var. sanguinea) also exists but is becoming very rare.  The grafted cultivar “Rainforest Pink Pearl”, now popular in cultivation, is bred from this – and is probably the best bet for home gardens because those from the wild take too long to bear – anything from 5 to 17 years!  

The fruits make excellent marmalade, drinks and tangy sauces, and can be used alone or with other fruits including as an extender with exotic citrus. They are delicious if pickled whole in brandy or any other liquor, like cumquats.  

The Round Lime occurs on the margins of rainforests and tolerates drier conditions.  Its fruit is round and looks rather like a small exotic lime, with a thick green-to-yellow skin and pale green pulp.   

Australian native limes are hardy trees and rather slow growing, especially at first – but well worth the effort because they are both tasty and ornamental. 

Cultivation: Like all citrus they bear best if given water, especially in dry periods.  A formulated citrus fertiliser seems to work well, applied in spring.  Or just use a rich compost with plenty of potash added, for fruit development.  Prune lightly in winter to open up trees and maintain height to no more than 4m.

 

Red Bopple Nut ( Hicksbeachia pinnatifolia)

This tree bears a really tasty nut rather like a macadamia.  It’s oval and bright red on the outside, containing an almond-sized kernel. Tree height is about 8m and can be kept smaller by light pruning; or made to develop several trunks if pruned when young (as with riberry).  Seed germinates easily but seedlings need quite a bit of care so buying plants from a rainforest nursery is the easier option. Plant in spring/summer only and give protection from wind.  

Cultivation: As for Davidsonia and macadamias.