Tag Archive for 'Gardening'

Christmas Down Under – Topsy-Turvy in the Antipodes

Christmas Down Under - Topsy-Turvy in the Antipodes

My Great-Great-Grand-Father Edward Hunter arrived in Port Phillip Bay, Melbourne, Victoria, on the 3rd of January 1853 aboard a three-masted barque called The Emigrant.  Edward, his wife Jane and their sons Robert aged 6 and Edward Jnr aged 2 spent their first Christmas in the Antipodes on a sailing ship rounding the treacherous southern coast of Australia (today nicknamed The Ship Wreck Coast after all those ships that didn’t make it to port).  After four months at sea, leaving behind the coal mines of Northumberland England, they caught their first glimpses of their new home.

What a Christmas that must have been, far from family, heading to a new world with landfall only ten days away I can’t image how they must have felt.  Instead of snow and an open coal fire the Hunter’s first Christmas was amidst the roaring waves of the Southern Ocean, Seagulls wheeling overhead in a blazing summer sky, the creaking of timber, sails and rope, the smell of salt and eucalyptus in the breeze and no doubt that feeling of sick expectation a mix of excitement and trepidation played on Edward’s mind and in the pit of his stomach.

E. Hunter - Well the beard is kind of festive?

Unfortunately, there aren’t any records of how the Hunter family celebrated Christmas.  I know that by their next Christmas Edward was the manager of Hartland’s Plant Nursery on the banks of the Yarra River in Ivanhoe Melbourne and that Jane had given birth to another son William.  Edward somehow made the leap from Coalminer / Bricklayer to Horticulturalist in a year, resisting the allure of the goldfields and re-inventing his life in a way that would never have been possible in Victorian England.

I’ve been trying to find out more about colonial Christmas in Australia, trying to imagine my way into Edward and Jane’s life and not having much luck until I found this really amusing scholarly article, “Revisiting a ‘well-worn theme’: the Duality of the Australian Christmas Pudding 1850-1950 by Rhiannon Donaldson. Rhiannon writes about the single-minded determination with which the new settlers set about recreating the traditional English Christmas.  Where Ox Tail was not available to make soup Kangaroo Tail was substituted (either sounds kind of yuck to me). Anyway I think it is extremely funny to trace our social history using pudding – I really am going to study in the social sciences next time round.

The thing to remember about transplanting the traditional Dickensian Christmas to Australia is that it is frequently over 100 degrees Fahrenheit here in mid-summer.  I love this quote from Rhiannon’s paper, which sums up the mid-summer Christmas dilemma “Writing in 1855, William Howitt described this process of pretence undertaken by settlers, as they attempted to recreate a traditional Christmas “with the good old orthodox roast-beef and plum pudding. We…drank a Merry Christmas to all our friends in Old England, in a tumbler of brandy-and-water. We tried to believe it Christmas, spite of the thermometer at 120°, of diggers’ tents in the distance, and the Bush around us”.

I imagine that Edward and Jane finding themselves newly middle-class and missing home would have re-created a traditional Christmas feast of roast and pudding. I hope for Jane’s sake that she had a kitchen with a nice high ceiling or that a least she was able to leave the doors and windows open to get a nice breeze without a million blow-flies (the other gift of Australia to the new settlers) descending on her kitchen. Now we may look back at Jane’s folly at creating this dinner in the blistering heat, shaking our head’s and smiling sagely, but we in Australia have persisted with the dream of Christmas for the 175 years since Melbourne was first settled, it made the journey with us in our cultural DNA.

Oh Christmas Tree, oh Christmas Tree!

As well as substituting Kangaroo for Ox tail the settlers needed to find a substitute for the traditional pine, spruce or cypress Christmas Tree as a consequence there are many different native plants which ended up with the common name: Christmas Tree or Christmas Bush.

My Mother’s Father, Edward and Jane’s Grandson, cut Cherry Ballart Trees for Christmas.  This native cherry looks like a Cypress tree and is covered by red fruit in mid-summer (these fruit are a strange flavour like sweet pine but very yummy). Another favourite in Melbourne was Bursaria spinosa or Christmas Bush a beautiful shrub covered in pure white star like flowers. The one I like the best is too big to bring inside as a Christmas Tree but is a wonderful feature of my neighbourhood around Christmas the beautiful paperbark tree called  “Snow in Summer’ by European settlers.

Snow in Summer

Good-bye from the Garden Shed

It is now Boxing Day in Australia and ironically it is so cold that we have the heater on. The drought has broken and it has rained so much that everything has really slowed down in the garden apart from the weeds!

I’ve really enjoyed writing for TQS and would like to thank SJ for the opportunity.  I’ve learnt so much about my family, the history of Australia and gardening over the last year. As I mentioned in a previous post I am going to continue to experiment by trying to grow vegetables using the advice of the Colonial Gardener published in 1854, so I will be moving this research to this blog.

By Christmas 1873 Edward had become a land owner and an Orchardist in Lilydale Victoria, both Head Gardener and Master and by Christmas 1890 he had was elected the founding president of the Wandin and District Horticultural Society – if only he was still around to help me learn how to garden!

The most important thing that I have learnt through this project is that like the Victorians we are trying to learn how to live on this continent – still.

Final Floral Flourishes

Old World - New World Buttonhole

Here is the buttonhole the Undergardener made for the Mistress to wear on Christmas Day.  It is a mix of English Rose, Teatree blossom and banksia leaves.  A mix of the old world and the new, the modern and the Victorian.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Are there Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden?

Are there Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden?

If you live in country Victoria or have the means to get there (I may have discovered the real reason why Airforce 2 dropped Hilary Clinton in Melbourne instead of our capital Canberra) then you have until this Saturday the 28th of November 2010 to see a fabulous exhibit of Australian Fairy Art from the Victorian era at the Bendigo Art Gallery.

After stopping in Castlemaine recently to visit Tute’s Cottage I drove onto Bendigo especially to see this exhibit – it was well worth the drive.

Beautiful Bendigo

Bendigo is an extraordinarily gorgeous town. The Victorian architecture surrounding Queen’s Park, at its heart, shows the amazing wealth and opulence of the goldfields at their peak. I would have liked to have spent more time exploring but I only had enough time to see the exhibit and get on my way back to Melbourne. I have been eagerly anticipating this exhibit since February as it promised to explore the transposition of the English Victorian Fairy Art craze into an Australian context – very pertinent to our interests at TQS.

The exhibition was beautifully mounted with works from national collections, ‘never been seen before’ works from private collections (fancy how special a family would feel to own their very own fairy art) and illustrations from period books. I loved it but left feeling somewhat unsatisfied.

For me the best works of the exhibit were the two beautiful painting by the Australian painter Frederick McCubbin. Frederick’s work is well known to many Australians as his triptych called ‘The Pioneer’ has graced many a lounge room wall, biscuit tin and tea towel.  It is a stunning work that subtly shows the impact of settlement on the bush. As time passes from left to right in the triptych more and more of the bush is cleared until you can just see a hint of a city in the distance. Unfortunately familiarity has bred contempt for McCubbin’s work and I get the sense that we don’t love his painitings as much as we could – too sentimental for modern sensibilities perhaps.

McCubbin’s fairy paintings have the same sombre mood as ‘The Pioneer’ until you begin to catch glimpses of the winged creatures hidden in the bush. The only clue to finding the fairies quickly is following the gaze of the small children in the paintings. In a way McCubbin is encouraging us to look through the eyes of childhood to see the bush in a new way.

Another highlight of the exhibit was a chance to see new prints of the ‘Cottingley Fairy Photographs‘. These faked photographs from 1917 show two young girls and fairies frolicking in a garden. If you haven’t ever read about the Cottingley Fairy Scandal and the role of Arthur Conan Doyle, the creater of Sherlock Holmes, it is worth following the link above. Given that the girls cut the fairy images out of a popular children book of the time – it is a wonder that anyone thought they were real. I suppose sometimes we just need to believe – and that might be why I love the Cottingley Fairy Photographs. The Cottingley Fairies are also behind the plot of the 1997 fantasy film – Photographing Fairies.

So why did I leave unsatisfied? While the craze for fairy art was an English Victorian era phenomenon it didn’t really take off in Australia until the Edwardian period – so not so much Australian fairy art of the Victorian era. The catalogue to accompany the exhibition is OK but not great. I was left disappointed by the lack of Australian context provided in the curator’s notes. Here there is a brief discussion of Victorian England’s representation of the fae as mischievous, wanton and dangerous as a salve to the taming of the wild by the industrial revolution, when an enormous proportion of the population forsook the rural life for cities. In Australia the burgeoning of fairy art in the Edwardian period is seen as a retreat from the horror of war.

I think that Australian fairy art of the Edwardian period is another version of the ‘Lost in the Bush’ myth of Australian settlement. It might surprise non-Australians to know that in Primary School we are all read and re-read the story of three young children who stray from their parents and become hopelessly lost in the bush. The children become increasingly frightened, the older sister (my hero) snaps gum of Eucalypt trees for her brothers to eat and covers them with her skirt to keep them warm at night until eventually at the point of no hope they are rescued. This is our ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ and our cautionary tale about the wild wood, nature as savage and unknown. Europeans decided very early on after drought and flooding rains that the bush was out to get us. Fairies are a way of making the Australian bush safe. They are chubby cherubs looking out for us or as the Australian Girl Guide rhyme says of the bush spirit the Melluka,  ’I'm a Melluka but you will find, though I play tricks, I’m always kind’.

The answer to the question is of course ‘Yes’!

Purple King Climbing Bean and Fairy

Victorian fairy folklore is full of cautionary tales about farmers who failed to heed the warnings of fairies: don’t plant your potatoes here, don’t call your cows without using their proper name, don’t use all the milk without leaving us a saucer by the front door (so like living in a share house) and the ever popular don’t forget to leave us a corn-dolly from your new harvest. Ruin, failed crops and disappointment in love follow all who don’t do as they are bid.

As a gardener I am fully prepared, if the fairies at any point tell me where they want the carrots planted, I will do as they say (actually I would do pretty much anything to get carrots growing properly)!

Pollen pants means that it is both 'Hammer Time' and a Bee - so not a fairy!

If you look carefully through my posts you will see that on a number of occasions I have been lucky enough to accidently capture images of the fairies that live in my garden – I could tell you how many there are – but the fairies don’t want me to spoil the fun.

Has Beans!

Has Beans!

Throughout this project I have been haunted by the question – what types of vegetables did people grow in Melbourne during the Victorian era (well haunted might be an overstatement … so Victorian). Discovering the answer to this question has not been straight forward. This is an update on an earlier post in which I searched through a collection of ancient seed catalogues in the National Herbarium of Victoria‘s library.  The selection of vegetable seeds available in each catalogue was surprisingly small.  There were artichoke, cabbage, carrot, turnip, onion and other basics. Mmmm…

…so I began trawling other other library collections…

My next step was to visit the State Library of Victoria, in June, a magnificent Victorian beauty, in the heart of Melbourne’s Central Business district.  I went to the State Library to read an original copy of ‘The Colonial Gardener : being a guide to the routine of gardening in Australia with a catalogue of select kitchen, garden and flower seeds as sold by Smith, Adamson and Co, 1854‘. This short pamphlet, with a surprisingly long title, published twenty years after the settlement of Melbourne is now digitized and available to read on-line (and as SJ has said – the Victorians would have loved the internet. I did however enjoy the experience of handling an original copy).

Reading Room at SLV - or what the afterlife looks like!

The ‘Colonial Gardener’ provides advice to commercial and beginner gardeners in an almanac style. I love the foreword to the pamphlet – authentic 1850′s marketing spiel!

“At considerable trouble and expense, we have got the following calendar compiled, by a thorough gardener to meet a very obvious want. It has been criticised by and had the approval of some of the oldest resident gardeners in the colony and though printed principally for the guidance of our non-professional customers, professional gardeners but of short experience in the colony might do worse than be guided by it. It may not enter sufficiently into detail to satisfy all, but we flatter ourselves that the information it does give is substantially correct. Smith, Adamson and Co.”

Finally, a proper list of vegetables! The interesting thing about the ‘Colonial Gardener’ is that it shows the beginnings of working out how to grow vegetables in the new colony. The entries each month provide general growing advice, invariably refer to the unpredictability of rainfall and the extremes of temperature. One of the interesting things I’ve noted about their advice is that they are encouraging gardeners to plant ‘a little and often’ this is still great advice as it means that you have a succession of vegetables available rather than them being ready all at once. This is something that I still struggle with as a gardener because once I’m out there with the seed packet open I’m in a planting kind of mood! ‘Little and often’ also has the advantage of ensuring that in an unpredicatable climate you are more likely to get at least some of your crop. Very clever Messers Smith and Adamson!

My next challenge is to see how many of the seed varieties listed in ‘The Colonial Gardener’ still exist in modern seed catalogues. This task is likely to take longer than the life of this blog – so at the end of December 2010 I will move this research to my regular gardening blog.

Making a start on this research in June the first Victorian vegetables to go into my garden were broad beans (Yes Fava Beans! Liver and Chianti fffff). The Colonial Garden lists two bean varieties for planting in June: the Mazagan and the Long Pod. Looking in the American Heirloom Seed Companies catalogue the Mazagan are described as an early fruiting dwarfed plant.  I can’t find seeds available to Australia so far.

Long Pod have also been hard to identify as there seems to be a long list of bean types that have been called Long Pods – the Mr Smith of the vegetable world. In Mrs Beeton’s Garden Management – The Art of Gardening, Mrs B cautiously promotes both the Mazagan and Early Long Pod with the following advice

“…but whatever sort is grown, the culture is the same, and as it is not a favorite vegetable with many persons, it should be carefully considered how much ground can be devoted to it without encroaching on space required for more important crops”.

Crimson Broad Bean in flower by October (mid-spring Melbourne)

Eventually I found an ‘Early Long Pod’ Broad Bean in the Australian Yates Seed Catalogue. I love broad beans so despite Mrs B’s warning I planted a whole garden bed and added some ‘Crimson Flowered’ Broad Beans another old variety of bean rescued from extinction by seed savers in the 1970′s. One of the main themes that I keep returning to in my reading, and it is especially evident when you look at old fruit catalogues or read ‘The Victorian Kitchen Garden’ by Jennifer Davies, we have far less variety of vegetable seeds available to us now than the Victorian gardeners had.  One of the losses that I feel most keenly is that we no longer have the knowledge of what grows well in our own neighborhoods and in many cases we have lost the plants.

Now it is November (late-spring in Melbourne) and there are broad beans ready to eat. They have grown so well this year as the weather has stayed wet and humid. Our first wet spring in ten years! I harvested a big pile and turned to Mrs Beeton’s Household Management to see if she included receipies for broad beans.

Has beans!

Young beans liberated from their pods.

Here is Mrs B’s receipe

1092. INGREDIENTS – To each 1/2 gallon of water, allow 1 heaped tablespoonful of salt; beans.

Mode.—This is a favourite vegetable with many persons, but to be nice, should be young and freshly gathered. After shelling the beans, put them into boiling water, salted in the above proportion, and let them boil rapidly until tender. Drain them well in a colander; dish, and serve with them separately a tureen of parsley and butter. Boiled bacon should always accompany this vegetable, but the beans should be cooked separately. It is usually served with the beans laid round, and the parsley and butter in a tureen. Beans also make an excellent garnish to a ham, and when used for this purpose, if very old, should have their skins removed.

Time.—Very young beans, 15 minutes; when of a moderate size, 20 to 25 minutes, or longer.

Boiled Ham Beans and Swirls of Parsley Butter - Yummy!

Something to bear in mind is that if you salt and boil tender young broad beans for 15 to 25 minutes they will taste and look like grey sludge (hence Mrs B’s contradictory views on the enjoyment of beans). My advice is to get some unsalted water boiling rapidly and blanch for 3 minutes any longer and they are yuck, yuck, yucky.

Parsley butter (cut parsley up finely and mix with butter) was a revelation with the ham and beans and is really worth trying. I made little swirls with a piping bag rather than placing in ‘a tureen’ as directed – with only two to feed a tureen would be over-kill and the parsley butter doesn’t keep very well.

All in all I highly recommend growing and eating broad beans with or without cannibalism and Chianti.

Time Traveling to Tute’s Cottage, Castlemaine

There is a garden in country Victoria that I’ve been wanting to see ever since Mandy Stroebel’s fantastic new book ‘Gardens of the Goldfields – A central Victorian sojourn’ came out in July this year – Tute’s Cottage. This tiny cottage now jammed between a road reserve and the Forest Creek embankment was built in 1858 when the surrounding area was still being mined for gold. Tute’s cottage was occupied under miner’s rights – the right to fence off a small amount of land to create a productive garden, these types of gardens were amongst the first gardens of settlement, and were not owned by the occupiers but leased from the Crown.

Tute's Cottage - lived in by 'Miner's rights' from 1858 to 1997.

In Mandy’s book she describes her project to recreate an 1850′s productive garden in the bones of the remaining allotment garden at Tute’s. This garden is now looked after by a collective of neighbours who live near the cottage and is occasionally open to the public – especially on Castlemaine’s Open Garden Weekend – the weekend after the Melbourne Cup each year.

Broad Beans (Back Left) growing in Tute's Cottage Garden.

Mandy also notes the difficulty of finding nurseries and seed catalogues that still stock Victorian seed varieties and plants. You will see in the photo of Tute’s Garden that the beds are edged with local sandstone rocks. Miners had to be resourceful in creating their productive plots from materials at hand and gardens of this period were often edged with bones or bottles – these were subsistence rather than pleasure gardens.

If you feel like time traveling to the 1850′s and can’t afford a Tardis or Star Gate then a day in Castlemaine during the yearly Garden Festival is the strategy for you. Failing that boil up some broad beans and ham.

The Splendour of the Turf

The Splendour of the Turf

Today is the 150th Anniversary of the Melbourne Cup, the world’s richest horse race, which was run on the turf at Flemington for the first time in 1861. The Melbourne Cup Spring Racing Carnival has come down to us from the Victorian Era with many of its traditions intact. In many ways the Melbourne Cup became our equivalent of Spring (May Day) Festivals.

Turf Racing 1881

Almost from inception the Cup became a Melburnian institution with 100′s of 1000′s of people of all social classes attending. The Cup was a place to promenade and picnic, to see and be seen. To underscore its importance to the social life of the colony the Victorian Government made the first Tuesday of November, Melbourne Cup Day, a public holiday in 1873 closing all banks and government offices.

Fashions on the Field 1881

Today  as I enjoyed my public holiday I spent some time trawling through the internet looking at historic images of the Cup. There is very little to pick between images of 1881 and 2010. Men and women still dress in their finest and promenade on the lawn. Despite the waxing and waning of fashion hats have endured as a constant feature of race day – ensuring that millinery has remained a thriving art in Australia.

A traitor to my city I have to confess that I’m not interested in horse racing. I’ve never managed to get excited about the idea of dressing up and attending but nevertheless I feel a social obligation to place at least one small bet on the Cup each year (look in Melbourne parents take their kids to place a bet from the moment we are born). I have bucked the trend in my family who on both sides have loved racing from both sides of the turf. I’ve even found an extraordinarily wealthy ancestor, William Bailey, who (apart from being a career criminal) was exceptionally fond of a flutter. His 1906 obituary is online and a good third of the text lists the horses he owned, races won and the seemingly ridiculous amounts of money he paid for yearlings (1000 Guineas – This is why we are no-longer rich, ‘Damn you Bill’, I say as I shake my fists at the heavens).

Where did the money go Bill?

Fashion and flowers remain an important part of the carnival especially roses. Each of the major racedays at Flemington has an official flower. Victoria Derby Day is the Corn Flower, Melbourne Cup Day is the Yellow Rose, Oaks Day the Pink Rose and Stakes Day the Red Rose. There is a modern staff of 12 gardeners that tend the enormous race track rose gardens and lawns with modern equipment; in previous eras this staff would have been much larger.

By the 1860′s the vast expanses of turf at Flemington would have been mown using horse drawn mowers. Horse drawn mowers were developed in the 1830′s. Previously lawns were managed using scythes (think Grim Reaper). To protect the turf from damage from the horses’ hooves the horses were fitted with leather booties.

These boots are made for mowing...

Mrs Beeton’s Book of Garden Management has an extensive section on the newly developed Mowing Machines. All are a hand pushed version of the mowers that horses pulled along.

Mrs Beeton gives the following advice on when to mow the lawn:

“A scythe works better in the morning when the dew is on the grass, or when it has been wetted by a slight shower of rain, so when mowing is effected by means of the scythe it is better to get the work done early in the morning.  The mowing machine, which works on an entirely different principle, acts more smoothly and pleasantly when the grass is dry, and may therefore be used even at midday… to produce a soft elastic velvet-like surface of fine short, close grass, a lawn should be run over with the machine at least once a week.”

One of the models recommended by Mrs B.

Taking up Mrs Beeton’s advice I have been mowing our front lawn with the modern equivalent of the ‘Excelsior Junior’. The hand mower is definitely a lot more work than the petrol lawn mower. If the grass gets too long or sends up flower heads it wraps around the blades and jams the mower. This is one of the reasons that you do need to mow the lawn every week when using these devices. With out a scythe (I really think that me doing the lawn with the scythe would be the very last straw for our neighbors – which has almost inspired me to find one) I use hand clippers to cut down the long pieces.

As for a finish that looks like “a soft elastic velvet-like surface” well … it looks more like a neatly tossed salad.

The Junior Salad Tosser!

So now that Melbourne Cup Day is in its dying hours I can go to bed with the knowledge that while I didn’t back the winner again this year or solve the puzzle of where the Bailey millions went (I imagine it was all lost at the track) – a least my front lawn is almost up to scratch!

Beekeeping and the Steampunk Gardener!

Beekeeping and the Steampunk Gardener!

Head Gardeners have often kept hives to provide honey for the ‘Big House’ and bees to ensure pollination in their garden. Without pollination flowers don’t turn into fruit.  In many ways bees are the real Undergardeners in any productive garden. Coming into Spring it’s time for this Undergardener to tend her bees.

A smart bee sting or two in hot, sultry weather benefits gardeners by causing them to perspire more freely, and feel much lighter afterwards. Journal of Horticulture 1871

I have always been fascinated by bees and I have a hive of my own. I’m still a beginner and very much the apprentice to a few more experienced Beekeepers who live locally. Beekeeping is my first authentic experience of the apprentice – Master relationship which was the foundation of how men learnt their trade in gardens during the Victorian era. I’ve always been very comfortable learning from books. With bees it’s different. No matter how much I read my hands and my eyes need ‘to do’ and ‘watch’ to learn this skill. Like the ancient trades this has to be passed from Master to apprentice with time, care and many stings.

After a long winter hiatus it is time for this apprentice to begin actively managing the hive towards the reward of robbing honey.

I’m reading a lot about the history of beekeeping at the moment. I have learnt that how we tend bees today has changed very little since the Victorian Era. In fact the Victorian Era saw the innovations that created the modern box bee hives.

Straw Skep

Before the Victorian Era bees were kept in straw skeps. Skeps are essentially upturned straw baskets under which bees form their naturally curvy honey comb. In this system when the beekeeper collects honey the swarm of bees are killed or made homeless in the process. This means that each year the beekeeper needs to start again by collecting a new wild swarm.

The Victorian Era saw the rise of the amateur naturalist. Bees were cultivated by middle class gentlemen not for honey but science. The most famous of these amateur beekeepers was Charles Darwin who kept at hive in the garden at Down House. Darwin marshalled his children into an army of laboratory assistants in order to track the flight paths of Bumble Bees. It is postulated that keeping bees helped Darwin formulate his theories on evolution.

Nor ought we to marvel if all the contrivances in nature be not, as far as we can judge, absolutely perfect, as in the case even of the human eye; or if some of them be abhorrent to our ideas of fitness. We need not marvel at the sting of the bee, when used against an enemy, causing the bee’s own death; at drones being produced in such great numbers for one single act, and being then slaughtered by their sterile sisters; at the astonishing waste of pollen by our fir-trees; at the instinctive hatred of the queen-bee for her own fertile daughters. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species 1859.

In 1860 another amateur naturalist the American Rev. Lorenzo Langstroth patented his design for a box hive. With only slight regional adjustments the Langstroth hive is the standard box hive still used by 75% of the world’s beekeepers. The Rev Langstroth designed a hive that provides bees with frames in which to build their comb and store their honey.  The advantage of this design is that beekeepers can remove the frames to check for disease, control swarming by removing cells that will lead to the birth of Queen Bees and rob honey with out destroying the hive. This potentially allows beekeepers to increase the yield of honey they can rob each year as the hive builds its numbers.

An open hive box showing the frames.

The clever thing that the Rev had realised is that bees build their natural burr comb in sheets separated by a standard distance, the width of a bee, now called the ‘bee space’.  By designing frames a ‘bee space’ apart the bees don’t glue the frames together or to the hive box with comb. This is what makes the frames ‘removable’.

The second clever thing about the Langstroth hive is that by placing a grille (the Queen Excluder) between the box containing the Queen Bee and the boxes from which you wish to collect honey (called the Supers) you can stop the Queen from laying brood in the honey. The grille is also based on the ‘bee space’ – worker bees can fit through to stock honey, Queeny can’t get into to lay eggs – genius.

Hive frame with comb and bees.

Here in Australia there are more than 1500 species of native bees.  Most of these are solitary bees that don’t form large combs or colonies this makes them mostly unsuitable for hiving.  There is a native sting-less bee that can potentially be hived but not in the cool south were I live.  In order to ensure the pollination of the crops that European settlers brought to Australia eight hives of the European Honeybee (Apis mellifera) were first brought to Australia in 1822. Unfortunately they don’t record how they managed to bring hives of bees safely to Australia across rolling, boiling seas for six-months. I imagine that they feed the bees on honey or sugar-water and lashed the hives down tightly in the hold. Possibly the boxes were marked with a big ‘Don’t unpack mid-voyage’ sign.

I enjoy the fact that in keeping bees and learning from other more experienced keepers I am participating in an authentically Victorian gardening activity – this is the most steampunk gardening gets!

Mr. White, the naturalist, says, that both horse-beans and peas sprang up in his field-walks in the autumn; and he attributes the sowing of them to birds. Bees, he also observes, are much the best setters of cucumbers. If they do not happen to take kindly to the frames, the best way is to tempt them by a little honey put on the male and female bloom. When they are once induced to haunt the frames, they set all the fruit, and will hover with impatience round the lights in a morning till the glasses are opened.  Mrs Beeton HM

Wattle Day – Welcoming the Aussie Spring

Wattle Day - Welcoming the Aussie Spring

Welcome to spring from south-eastern Australia!  The bush around Melbourne is a blaze of golden-yellow Wattle blossoms signaling the end of winter and offering the promise of sunshine to come. Now on the one hand I’m loving all the drought-breaking rain we are currently experiencing, on the other hand I’m OVER IT, bring on the sun!

In 1838 the movement to recognise the 1st of September as Wattle Day in Australia seeded in the island state of Tasmania.  This movement, grew throughout the mainland colonies, fully flowering as a day of national celebration in the early 1900′s. Traditions associated with this day include the wearing of a Wattle sprig as a buttonhole and the festooning of public buildings in Wattle garlands.

Our interest in Wattle Day has waxed and waned since 1838. Modern Australians don’t seem as comfortable as the Victorians were with overt demonstrations of national pride (unless we are beating another nation at a sporting event). So there has been no festooning this year. There was a flotilla of politicians wearing Wattle buttonholes just now on the News but that is just of whole lot of ‘baby-kissing’ as we still haven’t managed to form a Government (enough fussing with buttonholes guys and more focus on the politics).

Wattle - The Sprig for Spring

Historians argue that by tracking the history of Wattle Day and the debate to select our national floral emblem (the glorious Golden Wattle – Acacia pycnantha ) it is possible to track the creation of a national identity. This is a link to a really interesting article by the fabulous historian Libby Robin that follows that discussion.

Wattle Day is certainly the closest that we have ever come to developing a spring ‘May Day‘ tradition. Wattle Day was always more about nationalism than the rites of spring. It lacks the sex, drugs and rock and roll of an old fashioned fertility festival.

To the Indigenous Kulin Nations that lived in the Melbourne region Wattle has different associations. The blooming of Wattles signals a time to consider our ancestors and to acknowledge the passing of Elders in the late winter. The Kulin described seven seasons in Melbourne rather than the European experience of four. This time of the year is really a pre-spring or the Kulin Guling Orchid Season. While as a nation we are still battling to reconcile with each other, this landscape and our climate I take it as a sign of hope that the Wattle is often worn, as a substitute for rosemary in remembrance, by people of both Indigenous and European decent.

The Victorians urged us to unite as a nation beneath the golden blossom of the Wattle there may have been some deep wisdom in their musings after all.

I think the final word needs to go to Monty Python’s ‘Bruces’ Sketch.

“This here’s the wattle, the emblem of our land, You can stick it in a bottle, you can hold it in your hand.”

Experiments in Victorian Floristry Continue…

Experiments in Victorian Floristry Continue...

in which I am both Under Gardener and Lady’s Maid.

Well time travellers I feel that I have a good handle on how to make floral buttonholes now. Emboldened I decided to tackle the task of creating a floral hair decoration and dress garland. “Why ?”, I hear you ask – well as I have learnt floristry in large Victorian estates was the responsibility of the Head Gardener.

Roses for 'The Duchess'.

Supplying flowers for an exacting Mistress must surely have been one of the Head Gardener’s most terrifying tasks – I can imagine many a stout and tweedy fellow quaking in his Wellingtons at the though of displeasing ‘Her Upstairs’. Luckily my dear friend ‘The Duchess’ has a beautiful head of hair and the patience to put up with a very inept Lady’s Maid.

The hair do.

Step 1: Make a Pony Tail.

Step 2: Pull the Pony Tail back through the hair.

Step 3: Split Pony Tail into 3 Plaits.

Step 4: Turn the plaits up and pin.

Step 5. Place pinned roses in hair.

Step 6: Poke small flowers around roses.

My own unruly head of hair is evidence that I don’t know very much about hair styling. In order to work out how Victorian ladies wore their hair I looked at more than a hundred images on-line – these were not very helpful for the uninitiated and frankly a little scary. Severe was definitely the ‘new black’ of the Victorian age.

It seems that early in the Victorian period hair styles were very controlled and neat and as the era unfolded hair styles became looser and less formal. Clearly my untidy hair marks me as a natural Edwardian. I watched the film ‘The Young Victoria‘ again for inspiration and found Queen Victoria’s hair do’s were just too complicated to try as a first go – all those tiny plaits, perfect neatness and twirly bits. I decided to pick an informal style which would allow for some margin of clumsiness. I found this clip with a demonstration which was a big help.

Well the Duchess and I had a very fun afternoon but I learnt that I would be a rubbish Lady’s Maid. It took me about an hour to put together a hair style that probably should only take ten minutes. Luckily as an Under Gardener all I would need to do is make sure that I grew the appropriate roses and picked them as instructed – whew!

Dress Garlands

Next step was to make a matching dress garland for the Duchess.

Rose Garland.

The DVDs that I ordered of the BBC’s Victorian Flower Garden, Kitchen Garden and Kitchen have finally arrived and I have loved watching these three fabulous series again. This clip shows the enormous amount of foliage that really grand Victorian women would wear on formal occasions. Attending a ball must have been like watching a swaying garden!

In the photo above you can see my attempt at a garland.  I used thin paper-covered milliner’s wire and tied the roses to the wire using green paraffin tape. The paraffin tape melts as you mould it with your hands and gives a very realistic effect of all the roses growing from a single stem. I’ve not been able to find out what Victorians would have used but a very knowledgeable gardener I work with suggested that Head Gardeners would have used thin gauze silk. I think the garland turned out OK but would be better if I had added more greenery and some smaller flowers amongst the roses.

Next floristry challenge will be to dress a full dining table but I plan to leave that to the spring – which for me here in Melbourne is next September.  In the mean time back to the garden as it is past time for getting the winter seeds in the ground.

Finally we have a photo of the Duchess’ beautiful companion modelling her own garland.

Beautiful B

Scented Geraniums and Stealing Cuttings

Scented Geraniums and Stealing Cuttings

We are coming to the end of the summer in Melbourne. Leaf-curl Spiders have strung their webs and leaf hammocks throughout the garden and the morning air is decidedly crisp despite the paper’s promise of afternoon heat. These are the first stirrings of autumn in the garden and the deciduous leaves will soon be turning and falling. As Mrs Beeton suggests it is time for the Under Gardener to plan for winter and time to take Geranium cuttings to increase the plants available for display next spring.

1817 Geraniums. Now that the planting-out season may be considered over, attention should at once be directed towards furnishing a supply of plants for another year. The class of plants which will require propagation first are geraniums, of which both the fancy and common bedding kinds must be struck in time to get established in small pots before winter, and the different scarlets and horseshoes and zonal sorts. There is no plant more useful for decorative purposes; many are, besides, deliciously fragrant, and there is none whose cultivation is more simple.

Mrs Beeton’s Garden Management.

Geraniums are great plants! They are fabulously egalitarian growing in just about every garden in Melbourne from the burbs to Toorak mansions. One of the reasons they are so popular is that they are very easy to grow from cuttings; so easy they are practically free. They were swapped and traded by early Victorian settlers and as an ongoing tribute to our convict ancestry they are still stolen from botanic and backyard collections today. I am descended from a man transported from Britain to the Australian colonies for the ‘term of his natural life’ for “using exciting language and inciting men to riot” so I know that crime is wrong – very wrong.

Striking Geranium Cuttings

Striking Geraniums

To grow a Geranium from a cutting all you need to do is break a piece off a large plant. If you are doing this by moonlight while hanging over your neighbour’s fence just remember not to make enough noise to wake their Pit-bulls.

Remove three sets of leaves from the bottom of the cutting carefully so as not to strip the stem.  Once you have removed these leaves dip the bottom end of the cutting in honey. The honey will help to stop the cutting from rotting and will promote root growth. Then pinch out or cut off the top pair of leaves, make a hole in a pot of soil with a stick or your finger and place the cutting into the soil.

Keep watered and warm.

The pots then needs to be keep damp and warm until the next spring. I place the pots on a sunny outside window sill through the winter.

In colder climates the pots will need to be taken into a glasshouse or sunny inside window until spring as Geraniums are not frost hardy.

When is a Geranium a Pelargonium?

If you are interested in learning the difference between Geraniums and Pelargoniums then have a look at this link. Confusingly Geraniums and Pelargoniums (both members of the family Geraniaceae) are commonly called Geraniums. To avoid confusion (and annoy the botanists) I’m going to just call them all Geraniums!

Biodiversity and the Collecting Bug

Geraniums from South Africa were first introduced to Europe in the 1600′s and to Britain via Paris by John Tradescant the Elder in the 1700′s.  During the Victorian Era they became extremely popular and the craze for collecting and breeding new hybrids sweep through Europe, America and Australia.

A very diverse family of plants!

Depending on which book you read there are now some 2000 varieties of Geraniums and you can see in the photograph on the left that there is an enormous variety of flower colour, form and leaf shape available in these genera.

The other reason that Geraniums were so loved by the Victorians is their enormous range of leaf perfumes. It is possible to find varieties that smell like rose, lemon, ginger, cinnamon, mint, incense, pyrethrum, southern-wood, nuts, balsam, apple-cider, nutmeg, orange, coconut and fusions of this list such as minty-lemon or lemony-rose.

The Victorians grew Scented Geraniums along the edges of pathways or placed pots inside in winter where wide crinoline skirts would brush past and release their scent.

A Vase of Geraniums for the Library.

Cut Flowers

I had a go at following the technique for placing flowers in a wide vase outlined in the BBC’s Victorian Flower Garden DVD.  Instead of modern green oasis block Victorian Head Gardeners would cut lots of small pieces of English Box and place these in the vase to hold the flowers.

I don’t have any Box in my garden so I cut pieces of Rosemary to hold up the smaller Geranium flowers.  I think it works well but it would look neater if I had cut all the pieces very short and evenly.

In the Kitchen and Household

Lemon Scented Sugar

The Victorians used Scented Geraniums to make flavored sugars. I have a Lemon Geranium in my backyard which smells just like Lemonade Icy Poles. Australians will know exactly the smell that I mean. I guess the smell is just about the same as Lemon Verbena but fizzy.

Rose Geranium leaves baked into Plain Cake

To make the flavored sugar all you need to do is layer the Geranium leaves in sugar and seal in a jar for two weeks in a warm spot.  As I have learnt from bitter experience it is a good idea to make sure that you have flicked all the insects off the leaves before entombing them in sugar. You then sieve out the leaves and use the sugar to flavor desserts or dust on cakes.

In Denise Greig’s book Scented Geraniums and Pelargoniums she describes how the Victorians flavored cakes with Geranium leaves. So I had a go by placing Rose Geranium leaves at the bottom of a buttered cake tin before pouring in Plain Cake batter.

Dust icing sugar over leaves as stencils

Once the cake was baked I peeled off the cooked leaves, placed fresh leaves on top of the cake and sprinkled over icing sugar. I think this makes a nice pattern on the cake. So did it taste of Rose Geranium? Well no actually; not to me. The Master of the house said that he could taste a faint herby rose flavor which he liked. Not sure I would try this again unless I find a really strongly rosy Geranium.

A Scarlet Geranium Buttonhole

Geranium Buttonhole

While doing the research for this article I came across what looks like a fabulous book, A Passion for Pelargoniums, by Anne Wilkinson. In one of the extracts of the book that I read online Anne describes the Scarlet Geranium as Charles Dickens’ favourite flower and one that he frequently wore.

Unfortunately this book has not been published in Australia and mysteriously we can no longer buy books like this via Amazon (what’s going on Amazon?). So my family in the UK will help out by sending it to me. I just wanted to share my frustration in not being able to get me hands on this book immediately!

The extracts speak tantalizingly of the Victorian craze for collecting plants and the criminal lengths that people would go to to get their hands on that elusive Geranium specimen. I have read about the wanton Orchid and the Orchid thieves in their thrall. Who ever would have though that the gentle Geranium so frilled, flounced and proper could excite such passions? There is something so addictive about the Scented Geraniums. I can feel the irrational need to seek out and find that Apple-Cider scented one – I need it now and I don’t know why! There is a Dark-Purple Flowered Geranium in a house around the corner from me; when you see me on the news being carted away in a police van you will know that it was all in the name of Victorian authenticity – your Honour!

Love Apples for Valentine’s Day

Love Apples for Valentine's Day

We are now in High Summer in Melbourne.  February brings warm weather, windy skies, very little rain but if we are lucky a glut of tomatoes for Valentine’s Day.

This week I am continuing my quest to find out how Australians gardened during the Victorian Era. Did we grow and eat tomatoes?

Turning to the esteemed Mrs Beeton it is clear that tomatoes were grown in Victorian England but were not as popular as she felt they should be.

Tomato, or Love Apple an admirable sauce by itself, it enters largely into a great number of our best and most wholesome sauces.  It also may be cooked and brought to the table like other vegetables, in several different ways; or eaten raw cut into slices like cucumber, but much thicker, and dressed with salt and pepper, oil and vinegar in the same way. When prepared in this manner, as a salad, a few slices of onion will be found an improvement. Further, it is extremely palatable when eaten as a fruit, dipped in sugar. Those who have analysed its properties say that the tomato is singularly wholesome, and very useful, especially in cases of bad digestion; still, it is not appreciated or cultivated as it ought to be.   Mrs Beeton’s Garden Management.

Mrs B's Simple Love Apple Salad - Yummy!

Inspired I prepared tomatoes with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper as Mrs B suggests.  The tomatoes were still warm from the garden; served with crusty bread this simple salad suggestion was simply fabulous.

Mrs Beeton’s advice for growing tomatoes follows the steps that would be very familiar to any modern gardener. Tomato seeds are planted in late winter keeping the pots in a glasshouse or on the window sill in the sun.  The seedlings are then planted out once the soil begins to warm up in spring in a hot and sunny spot in the garden.

In the reading that I have done so far one of the things that sings out loudly about Victorian Head Gardeners is how clever they were, if successful, at using and creating micro-climates within their gardens. If you have good soil and water in Melbourne it is easy to grow tomatoes. In colder British gardens large estates built walled gardens which allowed gardeners to take advantage of the reflected heat off the sun facing walls to grow crops such as tomatoes. It seems that really successful Head Gardeners needed to cultivate a strong connection to the seasons and the particular conditions and opportunities of their garden – I take my hat off to them!

The plants should be well watered with liquid manure to keep up a rapid growth. As soon as the blossom buds appear, watering should cease.  Stop shoots by nipping off the tops, and throw out all those sprays that show little signs of fruit, exposing the young fruit as much as possible to the sun and air, only watering to prevent check in case of very severe drought, of which the state of the plant will be the best index. Mrs Beeton’s Garden Management

When I first learnt about growing tomatoes from my Father nipping or pinching out the lateral tomato shoots was still the preferred practice.  It means that the tomato plant can grow neatly straight up a tall stake. The theory behind this practice was that you would get fewer but larger tomatoes than a bush that was allowed to sprawl unchecked. The Victorians were very interested in precision and efficiency and their estate gardens needed to be as beautiful and orderly as they were productive.  I can see that neat stakes of tomatoes would appeal to their aesthetic tastes. Interestingly research by the Digger’s Club shows that un-pruned tomato plants produce more (and a greater weight) of tomatoes than their pinched out cousins.

Tigerella and Cherry Bite Tomatoes

So did Australians grow tomatoes during the Victorian Era and what other vegetables were grown in colonial Melbourne gardens? In order to answer this question I visited the library of the National Herbarium of Victoria which has a small collection of seed catalogues from the mid 1800s. I have a thing for seed catalogues I love reading them so this was a great treat.

The selection of vegetable seeds available in each catalogue was surprising small and didn’t list varieties.  There were artichoke, cabbage, carrot, turnip, onion and other basics but no tomatoes! In a present day Australian seed catalogue produced by Eden Seeds there are 162 varieties of tomato listed from Black Russians, Green Zebras to the delicious Tigerallas.

I’m finding it difficult to believe that this meagre list of seeds represents the only vegetables that were grown in the mid-1800s. It could be that settlers were still purchasing seeds from England. If they were free settlers rather than convicts it is very likely that they brought their favorite varieties with them on the voyage to Australia. I’m reading a really interesting book called Green Pens by Katie Holmes, Susan Martin and Kylie Mirmohamdi.  In this book a reproduction of a letter from a land agent Henry Widowson in 1829 to prospective settlers of Tasmania encourages them to bring seeds “I should recommend every one to purchase a quantity of the best kinds of seed previous to leaving England.”

I’m still dipping in and out of Green Pens but it seems clear from the letters reproduced that settlers were sending seeds back home as they found native plants that they liked and requesting seeds in return from home. Plants, cuttings, seedlings and seed were also swapped between settlers as a means of making friends or establishing status. It isn’t difficult to imagine that creating a garden as a way of establishing a sense of home and belonging let alone growing food would have been a priority for settlers.  Interestingly gardening seems to have become the province of women very early on in Australian settlement. It isn’t until the late Victorian / Edwardian era that gardening is exhorted as a suitable occupation for women in Britain.

While the seed catalogues in the Herbarium have very few vegetable seeds they are full to overflowing with fruit trees, roses, azaleas, fuchsias, geraniums and pelargoniums. Roses don’t seem to have ever gone out of fashion here in Melbourne; they are just as popular today as they were in the Victorian era.

Ballam Park Homestead 1855 - The view from the rose garden

Roses and Chocolate

On the weekend I visited Ballam Park Homestead a local property maintained for public display by a volunteer historical society. Ballam Park was built in 1855 and where I live now in suburban Melbourne was once a field in this 8000 acre estate.

The great thing about Ballam Park is that much of the 1855 ornamental garden, gravel paths and orchard are still intact. I took this photo standing in the recreated rose garden.  To the left of the house is an Oak tree which would be one of the oldest oaks in Melbourne to the right is a Carob tree – the only Carob I’ve ever seen.  The pods of this plant were used by the family who built this house to create a chocolate substitute – good to see they had their priorities straight – get settled grow chocolate!

The orchard follows the main road way to the house and was planted with apples, fig and olives.  There isn’t any trace of a kitchen garden and the guide book to the house doesn’t talk about a location for a kitchen garden. Apparently the President of the society is a font of knowledge and I have been invited to call in again to talk to her at the tea-rooms now run next to the homestead. It maybe that the archive has records of the kitchen garden. So I will report back on our meeting.

Ripe Carob Pods - still fruiting 165 years on!

Again not possible to take photos in the house.  One of the interesting things about the house is that the dairy is attached directly to the kitchen with a stable door for bringing the cows into be milked. It looks a lot like a cow garage.

Ballam Park was in the middle of nowhere when it was first built and was accessed by boat across the bay from Melbourne and then a long walk along the beach, through swamp and then scrub.  The house has a small lantern room at the front of the top storey of the house. It is believed that a whale oil lamp was hung in this top window, which faces the bay.  This was to provide a guiding light at night to people trying to find the homestead. This seems a risky strategy during the days of bushrangers.

I still haven’t tracked down a copy of the Colonial Gardener but I have found that their is a copy on fiche at the Victorian State Library.  Once we get some cool weather I will make time to visit the VSL and to sit and read it in the great Victorian domed reading room – sounds like fun.

A Button-hole for Valentine’s Day

I think the Victorian’s would approve of this button-hole with a dusky red rose for love on Valentine’s Day. This variety of rose is called Tradescant and is named for one of the most famous Head Gardeners of all time John Tradescant the Elder born in 1570. Not a Victorian obviously but his work was tremendously admired by Victorian Head Gardeners so it seems an appropriate choice. The rest of the button-hole is purple Plectranthus flowers called Mona-lisa (because the Mistress is a big fan of purple), Yellow Lomandra flowers a sweet scented Australian native plant and a Rose Geranium leaf. This button-hole has a very fragrant rose perfume. Happy Valentine’s Day for this coming 14th February 2010!

Happy Valentine's Day

Time Travel to Marvelous Melbourne – Como House

Time Travel to Marvelous Melbourne - Como House

Last week I was overcome with excitement when my copy of Mrs Beeton’s Guide to Garden Management – the art of gardening arrived in the post – finally! The tricky thing is that this Wordsworth Reference Series book doesn’t let you know when it was first published or reprinted.  It does own up to being newly type-set in 2008. So should I assume that it is abridged?

I’ve never heard Mrs Beeton’s name associated with a gardening book. I have seen reference to a Mr Beeton’s gardening guide. Doing some googling I found that Mr S.O. Beeton published this book in 1861. So now I’m not sure which book I actually have?

On the plus side this book does have one very long article on the usefulness of the Dutch Hoe. Be advised do not operate heavy machinery while reading this coma-inducing quote.

The Dutch Hoe, or Scuffle, as it is sometimes called, is shown at A. It consists of a sharp and comparatively narrow blade, attached to the socket by two arms, which spring from the lower end of the latter, and are fastened at their extremities to the blade, one on one side and one on the other. The blade of the hoe being thus attached forms an angle with the handle, and by means is almost parallel to the surface of the soil when in use. The edge is thrust into the earth with a pushing motion and cuts up the weeds, which, with the surface soil, pass through the aperture between the arms.  By this arrangement the tool meets with far less resistance, and the labour is rendered far lighter than it would be if the opening was closed, or even if the socket for the handle proceeded immediately from the centre of the blade.

The mysterious and legendary Dutch Hoe

As we know the Beetons were editing or compiling these books from many other uncredited sources rather than writing them. This gardening book like BOHM is a grab bag of articles from horticultural magazines, journals and pamphlets. This led me to wonder about the reliability of this book as a text for explaining how the Victorians gardened. Was this the kind of book that you owned rather than used? Certainly it is likely to be a reference book that came out to the colonies but does it capture gardening in Australia in the Victorian era? Australia has such a radically different climate to the Mother Country.  In other words have I been barking up the wrong tree?

Como House - Living in very grand style in colonial Melbourne

While I try to find some Australian gardening reference books I decide to visit Como House in inner-city Melbourne. This amazing house was built in 1847 and is still furnished with its original period furniture and boasts a vegetable garden – hazar!

Apart from being stonking enormous it really has a very plain exterior or I guess elegant depending on your point of view. It actually looks more like an English Regency house than a English Victorian country mansion. The family that built this house were extremely rich owning some 1 million acres of sheep farms across Victoria – baa! It seems unlikely that lack of money was the barrier to a  full flowering of fanciness in architecture.

I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside due to the low lighting that they use to conserve all the soft furnishings. Have a look at their gallery if you are interested.  I was however allowed to take as many photo’s as I wanted in the laundry – very happy!

The laundry outhouse at Como

So by way of an update to my earlier post exploring Victorian laundries here is the real thing.

The devices on the window sill are for ironing crimps into fabric and lace.

In the back left hand corner is a wood fired copper in the corner. Just to the right of the copper is a black iron stove for heating Flat Irons.

Stove for heating irons.

This laundry would have been a hot and steamy spot. It does at least have high ceilings and lots of doors and big opening windows. So not as bad as it could be – still I bags working out in the garden rather than in the laundry as a Washer Woman. I do love the old shabbiness of this room!

A green winding mangle just like Grandma used to use.

That’s probably enough laundry porn.

The kitchen was really unbelievably basic which is surprising as it was the kitchen they used right through until the 1960′s when they sold the house to the National Trust.

The benches in the kitchen were all low; about mid thigh in height.  I’m 165 cm (5ft 6 in) and I would have had to stoop down uncomfortably to use them. The tour guide said this was evidence of how short people were during this era – I don’t know – this would make them very very small indeed.

The scullery seemed cramped for catering to such a large household so maybe they used more of the outdoor space around kitchen than just the indoors? This would be a good solution apart from the flies.

Scullery - not the Queen's

Unfortunately the 5 acres of garden remaining around the house are a legacy of the the 1920′s. The vegetable garden is a recreation of a garden planted by the Mistress of the house in 1925 and uses varieties that were available in Melbourne between the wars.

The 1925 Vegetable Garden with chicken coop but no Art Deco stylings

A little disappointing for me as I was hoping to see how Victorian-Melburnians grew their vegetables. While my time traveling experiment wasn’t entirely successful I have since found one fabulous book and a lead on another.

Remembered Gardens – Eight women & their visions of an Australian landscape by Holly Kerr Forsyth is a wonderful read. Forsyth states that

“Gardens created in the colonies during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837 – 1901) displayed all the plants popular in Britain.  In towns and cities, front gardens of the less wealthy continued to feature circular and oval beds surrounded by upturned rock or glazed tiles…Gardens of the wealthier settlers now featured edging of Box, introduced to the colony in about 1828, and even carriage circles. A typical front garden for a large Victorian terrace house might have a parterre of box hedges encasing standard roses.”

So nothing yet specifically about the vegetable gardens but it is likely that Melburnians were using the same vegetable seeds as the English.  To confirm this I need to track down an 1858 publication called Brunning’s Australian Gardener. More time travel maybe required!

Artichoke flowers at Como