Category Archive: Vegies & herbs

Hallam Primary School’s vegetable garden.

By James Wall

Today I had the pleasure of attending the official opening of Hallam Primary School’s vegetable garden and kitchen. It is of course another primary school participating in the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation.

Official opening of Hallam Primary School vegetable garden.

Official opening of Hallam Primary School vegetable garden.

According to one of the speakers there are now over 35,000 students from 267 schools participating in the program. Students learn how to grow and cook their own produce. Because they have played a part in the growing of the fruit an vegetables, they are much more positive to eating it. The presentation included pictures of  before and after the project. Basically a patch of muddy grass was converted into a very inviting meeting place of gardens.

A very healthy broad bean crop.

A very healthy broad bean crop.

Carrots soon to be thinned out.

Carrots soon to be thinned out.

After the presentations the sun was out and we were shown the beautiful new food garden. I was very impressed in how clean the broad bean crop was and how well the sweetcorn seeds had germinated.  But it is not just the plants, but the passion of the people, from Shirley the headmaster through to Ross the gardener that really shone through. With a bit of stimulation, communities like this can do anything – especially with help from people like Rotary, Inner Wheel and local businesses. Together they shall grow.

A photo of the garden being constructed.

A photo of the garden being constructed.

A Weeping mulberry takes pride of place in the centre.

A Weeping mulberry takes pride of place in the centre.

The design of the garden beds was done by a student. Much to the disdain of the construction crew a trapezoidal design was chosen. A trapezoid is a quadrilateral with two sides parallel – basically a cross between a triangle and a rectangle. These things were a lot harder to make than rectangles ! However a landscape architect would have been most impressed by this design

A trapezium shgaped garden bed.

A trapezoid shaped garden bed

There were some artistic scarecrows.

There were some great sweetcorn seedlings not long germinated.

We then ventured inside to see a classroom that had been converted into a kitchen. It had a superb freezer and restaurant grade dishwasher through to a number of ovens and workbenches, all tastefully decked out in natural but modern colours. Congratulations to whoever designed and built this wonderful kitchen.

Tasty treats were a plenty !

Tasty treats were a plenty !

There were some other tasteful things including sausage rolls, vegetable tarts and a delicious  finely chopped salad. What impressed me was the flavour of various herbs coming through which made this food very tasty. I finished off with a scone covered in lemon curd, berry jam and freshly whipped cream. Lemons came from the lemon tree, and the berries were picked last summer and frozen and then used to make this wonderful jam once school had resumed. This resourceful school had filled me up and there would be no need for lunch.

We never had a program like this when I went to school. It’s like learning without even realising you are being taught to. I am sure that every guest that left that school had a glow like mine. The world has so many good things going for it, and this day was one of them.

Happy gardening Hallam !

Happy gardening Hallam !


An alternative winter food garden.

It’s amazing what you can find to eat in a suburban winter garden.

We have a rare fruit tree expert that works at the nursery on Saturdays. His name is Dennis, and here are a few snaps of his winter suburban garden in Melbourne.

The first stop was the amazing Tamarillo tree down the side of his house in what seems like a really shady spot. It literally has over 100 ripe tamarillo in vibrant red. What a ripper !


The amazing tamaraillo tree

Walking back I spotted this beautifully espaliered persimmon tree. This type of growing makes great use of limited space.

Espaliered persimmon tree

right next to that was a big bushy macadamia nut tree. It was laden with fruit which Dennis said were a few months away from ripening. Definately something to look forward to. Not all nuts you buy are fresh, but these ones will be.


Macadamia nuts ripening

Dennis has quite a small house block, but has learnt how to grow many plants in pots. He manages to fill in all the spaces. What was this next plant ? I had no idea. I think it is a vanilla bean plant, but will check with Dennis. I can however imagine him making a batch of vanilla bean ice cream. Vanilla is the second most valuable spice after saffron. UPDATE: Message from Dennis – They are not Vanilla Beans but Carob beans, seedling Carob trees are male or female but grafted trees of “Clifford” have both so will crop well at an early age.  Beans mature to perfection in Melbourne in summer.

carob bean

Carob Beans

OK, so there was some “normal” edibles like these lettuce growing from seeds and ready to transplant. This mixed non-heading lettuce can be grown all year round in Melbourne, but if you grow icebergs, make sure you choose the winter varieties for growing now.

Lettuce seedlings

Round to the front garden and here is some kaffir lime. These ugly looking fruit make great juice and of course the leaves are used extensively in Thai cooking. Both the leaf and the zest of the rind is used.

kaffir limes

Back to the more unusual, I see a babaco, which is a type of paw paw that you can grow in Melbourne. Next to it is a fairly inconspicuous green fruit which turns out to be a black sapote or chocolate pudding fruit as that is what the middle of the fruit is like. It is actually a type of persimmon native to the Americas.

A babaco is a type of paw paw

Balck sapote or chocolate pudding fruit

Balck sapote or chocolate pudding fruit

Of course a visit would not be complete if we didn’t have a little snack once back inside. But first there was something new to learn. you can keep your mango tree inside over winter and it will grow quite happily. What a wonderful idea. I have seen a cafe do this with arabica coffee plants, but never anyone do it with a mango.

A happy little mango tree growing inside over winter

We first tried a pepino which looks a bit like an apple cucumber but tastes more like a melon. It is actually more closely related to the tomato and eggplant family (Solanum).  I liked it. It is apparently hard to transport, so you will never taste one as good as this if you ever see it in a fruit shop.

Next was a persimmon. Not sure where Dennis got this from as it seemed totally out of season. It still tasted good though. UPDATE from Dennis: The Persimmon was off the espaliered tree and of the “Fuyu” variety.  Great choice as it is Non-Astringent so can be eaten crisp like an apple or left to go soft like an Astringent variety.

This pepino was delicious


The persimmon wasn't too bad either

To sum up, it is always a joy to pop in and see Dennis’ garden if I am ever in the area. He has a wealth of knowledge, including that gained from when he lived in New Zealand, which is probably an even more challenging environment to grow some of these plants in than Melbourne. Dennis will be ordering some more of the sub-tropical plants for the nursery once it warms up a bit. Now is not a good time to be planting some of these as young plants. You need to nurture and condition them to our cooler climate.

Come and have a chat to Dennis on most Saturdays, down at Gardenworld.

This last photo sums up his garden – a very efficient use of space !

Using a small space wisely

Using a small space wisely

Oregano could be used for prostate cancer treatment.


Oregano, the new super-herb.

Years ago, some research was done that showed eating pizza lessens the chance of getting some cancers. It was assumed the lycopene from the tomato sauce was responsible. Now it seems oregano may also assist in destroying cancer cells related to prostate cancer.

There is an ingredient in oregano called carvacrol which Dr. Supriya Bavadekar, PhD, RPh, Assistant Professor of Pharmacology at Long Island University, is currently testing on prostate cancer cells. The results of her study demonstrate that the compound induces apoptosis in these cells. Apoptosis is programmed cell death, or simply “cell suicide.”

“We know that oregano possesses anti-bacterial as well as anti-inflammatory properties, but its effects on cancer cells really elevate the spice to the level of a super-spice like turmeric,” said  Bavadekar.

If the study continues to yield positive results, this super-herb may represent a very promising therapy for patients with prostate cancer.

Oregano makes a great addition to pizza, spaghetti and many famous Greek dishes, including lemon and oregano marinated lamb and oregano baked chicken.

For more information on this research, click here.

Yates 125th birthday in Australia

By James  Wall

Yates commemorative seed tin - the lid.

Young Englishman Arthur Yates migrated to New Zealand in the late 1870s to escape the damp weather of his native Manchester. In 1883 he opened a seed shop in Auckland and, during a visit to Sydney in 1886, he realised there was an opportunity to establish a similar business in Australia.

Arthur YatesIn 1887 Arthur left his brother Ernest to manage the New Zealand side of the business and set up his branch shop in Sussex St, Sydney.

My Dad bought seeds from Yates and so do I. Not only is there 125 years of tradition. There is a guarantee that seeds will germinate or your money back. What started as a family business is now part of a listed company. Companies however never forget their past and it is with great pride that Yates release their commemorative seed tin with 12 packets of vintage seed. Most of the varieties included were part of the first Yates Australian catalogue back in 1887.

It might seem rather daggy to be sowing your own seed in this day and age. Seedlings are at least 5 weeks ahead, and you could even  just buy harvested vegies from the fruit shop. There are a myriad of reasons not to sow seed in this fast paced world, but that’s not stopping thousands of people that we sell seed to every year from getting down and germinating their own.

Get organised, sow your own seeds, and you will save lots of money and live naturally. You see the thing about most packets of seeds is that you don’t use the whole pack. In fact you often get several successive sowings and many seeds are still viable many years after the official use by date. You may get a little less germination, but you will get enough to feed yourself or to enjoy a little flowering treat in your own backyard. You also know what the plants have been sprayed with, and most of all, you get a sense of achievement, an inner glow. Try it and you will see.

The special edition tin is just $19.95 and contains over $35 worth of seed in a commemorative tin that you can use to store seed for many years to come. Gardenworld is offering the tin at this very special price and it is also for sale online with free delivery Australia wide.  Stocks are strictly limited. Click here to purchase.

Checkout the pleasantly simple names in the tin:

Beetroot Blood Red

Carrot Manchester Table

Cucumber Apple Shaped

Foxglove Fine

Leek Musselburgh

Onion Brown Spanish

Pansy Good Mixed

Radish French Breakfast

Spinach Round

Sunflower Tall Yellow

Tomato Large Red

Watermelon Ice Cream

Read the full story here.

A vegie garden with ambience.

By James Wall

Sometimes a garden just clicks. Ok, to the actual gardeners responsible for it, this is surely not the case. But to the occassional visitor, they sure make it look easy.

That was the case when my family took a couple of days off over summer and ended up at a little pizza bar in Balnarring today. It is called Ciao Bella and the food has that simple fresh food that uses seasonal produce and is quite flavoursome. Pastas seem to be where they really excel.

But for me the highlight was the vegie garden. It was part of a larger grassed and treed area that is given a pounding in this child friendly restaurant. But the vegies and herbs are beautifully fenced off and the only interest the kids take, is learning from each other what the different things growing are.

Different types of wood have been used to extentuate, border and support the plants. The feeling is homely with a pang of a thought saying why can’t I create this at home. My vegie garden just doesn’t have the same emotion – yet !

What about the painstaking length people go to support their tomatoes. You can’t rush. A bit of pruning of the plants. An engineering feat with timber that has been intricately wired at certain points. Some string lines. Oh, they’ve just made it look so easy, and original.



And have a look at the quarter wine barrel on the wall idea – that is a good one, and perfect for these citrus.

An old fence that has probably only cost time. Time is not always money. You can’t put a price on the ambience, it just seems to evolve as this charming little vegie garden has.

Ciao Bella – get their early, or you might miss out !




Growing Artichokes

Artichoke plants have a little bit of mystique with me. It was many years ago that I was on a nursery tour in California. We came to a little town seemingly in the middle of nowhere. There was a shop there, with a giant artichoke. Yes, much like we have the big pineapple here in Australia, the USA has the big artichoke. I had some deep fried artichoke hearts and either I was very hungry, or they were pretty darn tasty – it was just too long ago to remember really.

Ever since then, I have enjoyed eating artichoke pieces out of the jar, and on gourmet pizzas, but last year started to actually grow some. I think I planted a young seedling in early spring, and it didn’t bear fruit until early spring this year, a full 12 months later. The first artichoke was a real thrill for me, so much so that I am sure now that I harvested it too early, while the artichoke was to tight, and hadn’t formed a heart. I cut what I could from out of the centre of it and cooked it in boiling water for a bit and then stir fried it in a pan with some garlic – it was fairly forgettable.

Ok, so I was pretty disappointed in my first home grown artichoke and thought maybe that was it for the season. But no, apparently some plants can have up to 30 fruit per season. Yep, soon up popped 2 larger ones up the top and then wow, 2 baby ones a bit lower down. All was looking good.

Then came a big storm. When I got to the plant, it was on its side. I was mortified. Have since harvested the 2 big ones and staked the plant, which thinking now, maybe I didn’t plant quite deep enough. Anyway, it is still alive. Now I am searching for recipes, and will continue my quest, to cook something decent, with a home grown artichoke.

Someone told me about a recipe where you lay out a piece of prosciutto, layer it with buffalo mozzarella, a basil leaf, and half a baby artichoke heart. Roll it up, toothpick it and cook it for 5 to 10 minutes in the oven at 180C. Maybe I will try that one.

Artichoke from side on:
thorn: sharp thorn at end of each leaf
outer leaves: a small partis edible where leaf is attached
inner leaves: edible in young artichokes
choke: non edible fine haired fuzzy bit
heart: the tender meaty bit you can buy bottled
stem: edible bit in its centre

So to sum it up, artichoke plants are in actual fact a thistle – yes, a bloody weed. Let them flower and they look not to dissimilar to a scotch thistle. I do however love their big jagged leaves. The key is to harvest it before it becomes a flower but not while the big bud that it is, is too tight. Then once you have successfully grown one of these, you just have to work out, how to cook with it. That is the real challenge !

……..OR, it does look pretty good in a vase with some roses……and maybe I just eat the broccoli instead !

A Melbourne Garden in August

We got some new bulbs in last week. These varieties are summer flowering and include the uncool gladioli. I say uncool, because of course Dame Edna Everidge used to grow them in Moonee Ponds – how uncool! Smiles come to mind remembering her cuddling a big bunch like it was a baby. My wife actually grew some last year in a terracotta bowl and did they stand proud with lipstick red flowers. We found them quite easy to grow, and most rewarding.

Other available bulbs and tubers include Canna lilies, alstromeria, bearded iris, asiatic lilies and peonies. There are also Jerusalem artichokes which are nothing like globe artichokes. They have a sunflower like flower and form a tuber, which can be harvested and cooked. They are selling well since Billy on Masterchef had to cook with them during the New York week. He had to slice them into little chips, deep fry and then poke them into the top of soup.

If you haven’t got strawberries in, now is the time. If you plant them later, you don’t get as much foliage growth which means less fruit. GardenWorld is pleased to announce that we have secured an exclusive variety from Sunnyridge Strawberry Farm in Red Hill. These will be the tastiest strawberries you have ever grown. Plant in pots or garden beds, and when they finish fruiting, next winter cut them back and they will go again for another season.

If you only do the vegie patch for the spring season, start weeding now. Dig the beds over to get oxygen into the soil, and fertilise with chicken manure. We recommend Attunga’s Organic Life, as it also contains fish meal and seaweed. Attunga are a local company based in Dandenong that also supply us the famous Humus Plus, a secret formula that will give every garden bed a lift.

Pruning fruit trees is a slow process. Don’t rush it because you can’t sticky tape the branch back on ! Go for a classic wine glass shape, cutting out any weak internal branches so as to open the middle of the plant up a bit. I also like to control height, because when harvesting, the ladder only goes so high.  Even little blueberry bushes could do with a culling of the weak internal branches.

Of course this is the month to watch and enjoy the magnolia flowers literally open befrore your eyes. Towards the end of the flowering period, fertilise big trees with a bucket of Organic Life or Dynamic Lifter and this will ensure nice dark green leaves and vigorous growth. A prune after flowering will make them bushy, but you might like to leave yours tall and lanky. Thats the other beaut thing about these trees – all, the different shapes and sizes.

Camellia Dr Clifford Parks and Magnolia doltsopa

a close-up of the same Magnolia doltsopa

Also feed azaleas, camellias, daphne and trim back evergreens lightly, including box hedges, so as to ensure the new growth takes off from nice bushy plants. Sow spring seeds of petunias, marigolds, capsicums and tomatoes. GET READY, as the frenetic spring season is almost upon us.

Bulbs to plant this month: Dahlia, Gladioli, Canna lilies, Alstromeria, Asiatic Lilies and herbaceous Peonies.

Foodcrops: Asparagus, Beetroot, Broad beans, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Coriander, Lettuce, Leek, Parsnip, Onions, Potatoes, Rhubarb, Radish, Strawberry runners, Shallots, Snowpeas

Magnolia soulangeana

Googling a few peas turns up Gregor Mendel.

As I was on google today, I noticed their logo had been turned into some pea pods. Closer investigation shows it is a man called Gregor Mendel’s 189th birthday. A bit more googling, and I realised what a significant man he was.

Mendel, this Czech-German guy did some amazing experiments on peas and then bees – what a nerd! He even created some hybridised bees that were so viscious they had to be destroyed. Later he cut down on the research to concentrate on priesthood and other religious duties.  You don’t see many CVs like this one.

Although he is referred to as the “father of modern genetics” while he was alive, no-one really agreed with or accepted his work. They were in fact the underlying principles in hereditry.

Peas would have been good to experiment because they grow very quickly and have both male and female reproductive organs and can either self pollinate themselves or cross pollinate with another plant. However, from 1856 he grew 29000 pea plants in 7 years! – And no believed what he found out until the 1930s, 36 years after his death in 1884. Its like being a famous artist.

He cross pollinated peas and came up with 7 traits:

1.    flower color is purple or white 5.    seed color is yellow or green
2. flower position is axil or terminal        6. pod shape is inflated or constricted
3. stem length is long or short 7. pod color is yellow or green
4. seed shape is round or wrinkled

Flower colours were nothing in between – only purple or white and not a blend.  But do not let me try to explain it. If you are really interested, there is an excelent website with some great diagrams at :

Excellent info about Mendel’s pea experiments.

Also wikipedia has some good general info about the man at:

Hydroponics Made Easy – the Autopot System.

New Book Release: Hydroponics Made Easy, by Jim Fah.

By James Wall.

Jim Fah is a legend here at Gardenworld. He is the inventor of a very special system called Autopot. This system has a smart valve that ensures singular plants in their individual containers dictate when they get their supply of water according to their needs.

Jim has spent well over 20 years developing and improving his system. The system is being used commercially around the world, including Malaysia where they grow these bright yellow melons (Kuning Jati) in no growing media at all. Each crop takes 65 days and they are producing 2.5 tonnes of fruit a week.

Another project included a wall of plants along the Flemington Racecourse horse track. At one stage more than 1000 Purple Craze petunias were being watered from one pump. My experiences with planting our spreading petunias around here at Gardenworld has been a maintenance free system that ensures months of spectacular blooms. It is something we are famous for over summer, and because the flowers don’t get wet by this system, they last for many months longer than an overhead watering system.

Jim has also had to contend with copy cats, including a trusted former distributor who has even copied the Autopot name. Sure there are patents and potential legal avenues, but this can come at a great cost. Jim is focussing on developing the technology further, so the copy cats will never be up with the latest design.

It is with pleasure that I have just received a copy of Jim’s latest book. It is called Hydroponics Made Easy. It is actually the 3rd edition of his original book, but the 2nd edition came out over ten years ago, and a lot a developments have been made since then. As well as providing plenty of information about the Autopot System, you will also learn a lot about Hydroponics in general. There is also an interesting chapter on starting plants from seeds and cuttings.

The colourful book is 111 pages and is on sale for just $15 at both the nursery and the Hydroponics shop here at Gardenworld. It is also available online from with a $6.95 freight charge Australia wide.

What I like about this book is that you get an honest appraisal from the author of his own system as well as a wealth of information of tried and true fertiliser requirements of various crops. Following the instructions of this book, both backyard growers and commercial producers should have bumper crops of quality fruit and vegetables.


Why use Certified Seed Potatoes?

Certified seed potatoes have been in hot demand since we got them in the nursery last week. Being the start of winter, it is still early to be planting, but some people just can’t wait to get them in. In most areas you would go from August to February, but in sandy frost free areas they can also be sown during June and July. In cool areas you need to plant 1 month before the expected last frost – sometimes a tricky question.

This year, potato growers are being especially urged to use only certified seed potatoes to help stop the spread of the disease Potato Virus Y. This virus has already cost the potato industry many thousands of dollars in lower yields and reduced quality. Althugh this virus has been around for many years, new strains that are more aggressive are appearing. It is becoming a global problem.

Although the virus can be transmitted by aphids and possiblt thrips, the smart way to control the disease is to not only control these insects, but definately  not to use infected plants for future planting stock. Infected plants can have mottling and yellowy chlorosis of foliage and the potatoes themselves can show major cracking, circular wounds or marks. It can quickly transmit through a growing district and could even affect home gardens.

Certified seed potatoes are now available at Gardenworld. They can be delivered in Melbourne for $20. For details go to our online shop.



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