My Greek neighbours, in Melbourne, with their wonderfully productive front gardens, filled with olives, citrus and decoratively planted edible plants, as well as favourite ornamentals, completely transformed my concepts of approaches to street-front garden spaces.
At that time I was living in a second-floor flat, in Thornbury, in the heart of Melbourne's Greek community. Their bountiful gardens were a daily reminder of the potential productivity of the land we occupy for food crops, as much as beauty. Grape vines climbed over carports and ballustrades, giving a lush feel to the suburban streetscapes, the citrus trees were as glorious as any ornamentals I have ever seen and as for olives, I fell in love with their soft grey leaves that glittered in the sun and moved irresistably in the wind, as well as offering an annual crop to process and consume.
By the time I purchased my first house in Pascoe Vale, I was a convert to the combination of edible and ornamental plants in my own front garden, which was pretty much a blank canvas when I purchased it. The front garden consisted of lawn, with three federation daisies, bordering the fence-line on the western side.
I immediately set about creating a garden of my dreams, I also worked to improve views and block negative aspects, such as a view directly up the driveway of the home opposite. To do this I began with strategically placing a self-pollinating olive to enhance the view from my living room, as well as provide me with an annual crop. Next I added a peach and nectarine, then a raspberry patch in a shady spot. Meanwhile, I ordered in a dwarf, fruiting pomegranite and finally added a blood plum, for the contrasting foliage colour to add a point of interest in an otherwise drab spot.
My garden beds were initially created using some imported soil, until I learned the technique of estabilshing "no dig garden beds", where you lay a thick wad of wet newspaper, then layer up with blood and bone, manure, then straw and keep sandwiching it up to create a new bed, whose weight both suffocates the existing grass, as well as breaking down to improve and enrich existing soil.
My love of roses dictated their inclusion to ensure springs and autumns where the air would be heavy with their heady scent. Then came day lillies, iris and salvias, which I later learned would attract bees and other benificial insects in to my garden. I also interspersed my ornamental beds, with edibles including tomatoes, eggplants, lettuce varieties, zuccini, silverbeet, spring onions, garlic, broad beans, cabbage, broccoli and beetroot.
As the drought led to severe water restrictions, lack of water forced me into giving up on my large north facing vegetable patch in the front yard, due to not being able to adequately protect it from hot north winds in summer. I then planted out this area with drought tolerant perrenials, that would provide habitat and attract birds and beneficial insects. I scaled down vegetable production to more sheltered spaces, still within the front and back yards.
Essentially what I had achieved was to create a self-sustaining eco system within the front garden. More than that, it inspired other neighbours to design their gardens with the same combinations of edible plants, that then married our yards into the existing plantings of my Greek and Italian neighbours further along the street and opposite.
The neighbour to the west and I further worked to integrate planting schemes to meld our front gardens into one, giving the sense of a much bigger expanse of garden, than either of us had in reality.
The sense of community that garden propagated was enormous, resulting in my regularly speaking with community members out walking and admiring my garden. This led to huge numbers of plant and produce swaps happening on a regular basis. A very effective way to inexpensively expand the collection of plants within my own garden, as well as the joy of seeing plants that began in my garden, thriving around the neighbourhood.
Upon moving to Ballarat, I formalised and expanded my knowledge of the practices I was already engaginging, by undertaking a Permaculture Design Certificate course.
I am currently in the process of expanding the areas under cultivation in my front garden here in Ballarat. Already, my hazlenuts and pomegranites were establishing, joined last year by ballerina (verical growing) apples and crab apples for structure. Most recently they have been joined by a row of roses, blending in with the existing established ones. The feijoas I initially planted are looking rather seedy, so I am contemplating moving them to a more sheltered spot in the back yard and replacing them with an olive, again, to screen the driveway opposite and improve my view from the lounge. An added bonus of the olives fine grey-green leaves is that they are both evergreen, as well as being tiny, visually expand the space, giving a permanent screen, right where I most want to improve the view year round.
My front garden has no fence, so my expanding informal hedgerow is way cheaper and greener, than contsructing a "built fence".
All of the above plants will be underplanted with an understory of smaller plants to bring in those beneficial insects and birds. I am planning a low inner hedge of blue berries, and lots of edible succulents close to the concrete footpath, which will retain heat.
I do not apologise for not using exclusively edible plants in my design.
I want my garden to meld into those of the existing homes of my neighbours. I want to include favourite plant species. I want flowers to cut and bring in to my home, as well as perfume to scent the air as neighbours pass and visitors arrive at my home.
I am not bothered by garden fashions or "resale value". I garden to please my own heart and sense of aesthetics. I get to eat produce I use for edges, like lettuce, silverbeet and edible flowers. My garden here in Wendouree, will be one of bounty. My current labours will prove fruitful over the next few years.
As for the concept of a "low maintainence garden", I am yet to be convinced that such a thing exists, unless you roll out that artificial grass, or concrete the entire yard. I can think of nothing worse, on many levels!
The Ballarat City Council has given me permission to turn my nature strip into a haven for indigenous species; bird, insect and lizard habitat. But that will happen in the full course of time.
I imagine my front garden ten years hence: one that will have created a view, where none previously existed, one where I regularly harvest food, one that fills my senses and home with fragrance colour, beauty and bounty.
It is possible to pay thousands of dollars for a "quick fix" designer garden, but such gardens more often than not, lack the soul, that is usually evident, within the gardens of those who work more slowly with their site and follow their heart with their favourite plants and aspects of gardening!
I went to Haworth in Yorkshire, seeking to discover more about the legendary authors and sisters Emily, Charlotte and Anne Bronte, in the process discovering not only did they share my love of dogs, but so it seemed, did the entire village of Haworth.
Especially exciting was The Brontes and Their Animals Exhibition, running at the Bronte Parsonage Museum, during 2014 , which you can discover more about on my fionaludbrook.com blog.
Never before has an eccentric dog blogging Australian woman been made so welcome as in Yorkshire. The common love of dogs created an instant and special bond, that even led to my being invited inside homes to meet dogs and see the trophies they had won, but also ensured I was rescued, when lost on the moors by a very special chocolate labrador and his dad, who were sufficiently kind as to deliver me to my door, at the neighbouring village Youth Hostel, saving me a long, dark and wet walk to my accomodation!
This post is dedicated to those wonderful dog lovers and owners of Haworth, with the usual thanks for consenting to appear here, as well as to the brown cat, who enjoys posing for the thousands of tourists that make a pilgrimage to Haworth annually, where he willingly hangs about the vicinity of the Bronte Parsonage and Main Street and obliges for the camera or a smooch!
I urge any animal lover to undertake a trip to Haworth and explore Yorkshire as fully as possible. Two weeks or more, rather than three days would be my recommendation!
The hospitality and warmth of the people of Yorkshire and their divine animals is a reception I will cherish as long as I live!
I can't wait to return!
These fabulous dogs were caught in London, during my travels earlier in 2014.
I even found dogs inside many tourist attractions!
Special thanks to the dog owners who consented to their dogs appearing here, and the locations and organisations where I took photos to share in this dog lover's experience of London blog post.
The next time I visit England I must make an effort to capture Dogs About Town, from 'Barking'!
Meanwhile I hope you appreciate these gorgeous dogs!
Located at 169 Westbourne Grove, in London's trendy Notting Hill, Verve is the most welcoming and unique Pet Boutique and Cafe I have discovered in any of my travels abroad.
Owner Andre Carless, is a former chef, leather craftsman and dog loving, chihuaha parent, that has combined his talents to create an upmarket haven for dog and cat lovers.
At Verve, dog lovers can select hand crafted collars created by Andre, whilst also enjoying a glass of wine, a fabulous coffee, or a selection of fabulous food.
Initialy, Andre was hand-crafting leather goods and clothing for humans and sought a means of using up the off cuts, so made a collar for his beloved chihuaha Louis. From there, people saw Louis' collar and wanted one for their dog. Soon the demand for Andre's exquisite collars eclipsed the trade for human clients and the unique pet boutique and cafe business was born.
The real boss of the establishment is Louis the long haired chihauha who ensures clients are welcomed and well looked after.
Louis also welcomes a wide selection of canine friends who regularly bring their humans for refreshments, whilst the dogs have a good tail wag.
Stepping through the door, I instantly felt at home, surrounded by wonderful dogs, welcoming clients and staff who will bend over backward to ensure both you and your pet are well looked after.
Amidst Verve's off the rack range all designed and hand made by Andre, I found the exquisite plain, quality brown leather collar, wide enough to be comfortable on Whippet Boy's neck. The leather was magnificent and finished with the kind of solid old fashioned, practical buckle I had searched for in every pet supplier I had entered in Australia. It was the kind of hard-wearing collar that would last my dog a lifetime!
Meanwhile, I wanted a special present to take home to Whippet Boy, one that he could wear when he was out helping me promote Pets and Plants, or wear on more formal occasions.I had long had a fetish for seeing my dog wearing the kind of collar one sees in movies and would catch the light and a bit of attention when we were out about town. For the first time in my life I had the option to have a one off diamond encrusted collar created for Whippet Boy by Andre at Verve.
Sadly, for me, I am a woman of champaigne tastes on a beer budget, so the diamonds were out of my reach.
However, exquisite Swarovski Crystals were way more affordable and caught the light and my eye just as well.
I decided on purple and white crystals on gold plated daisy flower petal bases, with a matching gold buckle and fittings. The hardest part was making a choice between bright orange or lime green, two of my favourite colours.
Andre also advised me that the lime green would highlight Whippet Boy's pale fawn brindle, and white trim colouring, whilst the orange, would make him look darker.
To my surprise, Andre made up our special collar in both colours, giving me the option to decide on my favourite out of the two. Making the choice was difficult, but I decided on the lime green. Of course a matching lead was also essential. Later, my only regret, was not ordering myself a matching handbag, so Whippet Boy and I could be fully coordinated on special occasions.
I highly recommend Andre's services if you want something truly unique created for your dog. You will not be disappointed. I asked for the inside of Whippet Boy's collar to be fully lined, so none of the studwork would catch on his fine skin. This was carried out without question. The entire collar is sufficiently well crafted to withstand robust wear and tear, or perhaps be borrowed from Whippet Boy for special occasions myself!
Even better, Verve carries a fabulous stock of standard bespoke collars to fit all budgets, from high fashion numbers bejewelled with fantastic bling, to the more expensive Swarovski crystals. Diamond collars are locked behind glass, with appropriate high security. For those more practically minded, plain, hard wearing collars are available to fit all sizes and even hard to fit breeds, such as whippets, or great danes can be individually catered for.
Our special. one off collar and lead was a bit of an indulgence, but I know lots of pet parents just love to get their beloved pets something special occassionally!
Verve also stocks fantastic pet carriers, beds, food, coats, toys and treats.
Items for humans can be made to match, or individually crafted to your needs.
I only wish Whippet Boy had been at my side to accompany me into Verve and be as welcome inside as any human. I so wish we had a Verve Pet Boutique and Cafe in our own neighbourhood. Whippet Boy behaves like a true gentleman when we go out together, but here in Australia, health regulations banish us to outside tables, if we are lucky, when we take refreshments together, sometimes making it hard for ordering and my own toilet needs.
At least some cafes and bars in Australia are now putting water outside for clients with dogs, but the London experience of Verve, illustrated just how much better the world can be when well behaved and socialised dogs are as welcome at indoor tables, as those outside.
If you are visiting London, make an effort to visit and experience Verve. If you are lucky enough to live in England and have a dog, take them with you. It is an experience that will remain in your heart forever!
I discovered Verve en route along Westbourne Grove to London's legendry Portobello Rd market, which is a few minutes walk away. Verve is also close to Bayswater Rd and Ladbroke Grove. The nearest tube station is Notting Hill Gate on the Central Line. Buses also run along Ladbroke Grove.
Nothing beats potatoes baked in the coals of a hot fire!
Just take as many medium to large potatoes, pierce the skins and pop them directly onto the hot coals. This way the potatoes will have a blackened, charred exterior, but the sweet, floury nuttiness of the inner potato is divine.
Method two involves wrapping in foil. Preparation can be a bit more extensive. Cut a cross over your potato, massage with olive oil and then salt. Wrap them in the foil before putting them into the fire. About 15-20 minutes in to this process, partially unwrap you potato and return to the coals. Remove when your potato has a golden bron, crisp skin!
Either way, serve with lashings of butter and salt and pepper to taste!
To test if your potato is cooked insert a skewer. If it resists the skewer it needs longer. If soft, it is cooked to perfection!
Should you leave your potato in too long, the coals will have claimed it as one of their own!
Potatoes cooked over hot coals have a much nuttier flavour than when cooked by any other method!
Damper is a very basic form of bread, cooked in a camp oven or directly onto the hot coals of a traditional Australian barbecue.
I like to wrap mine in foil before baking, to avoid a totally charred inedible crust. Then I pop it directly onto coals!
Damper is essentially made from flour and water, with a raising agent, like baking soda or bicarbonate of soda added.
It can be embellisehed with dried fruit for extra nutrients and flavour.
The easiest way to make damper is to mix self-raising flour and water together to form a dough. Begin by making a well in your flour and adding water, or perhaps milk. working with clean hands, until the dough forms a ball. Flatten it out a little to form a pie shaped round loaf, then either wrap in foil, place in a hot camp oven, or put it directly into coals.
I learned to make damper from a stockman, who was walking Tasmania's glorious Overland Track, at the same time as I was!
My gut feeling is that Australian damper was derrived from early Eurpoean settlers/invaders, learning or observing traditional damper making by indigenous tribes. Australia's Aborigines have traditionally ground wattle and other native seeds into flour to make damper. In the early days of colonisation at Botany Bay and Sydney Cove, when Europeans were close to starvation, I can't help but wonder if the Eora tribe of Sydney taught their invaders the art of damper making with indigenous foods?
Experiment with different grains and nuts, wholemeal and plain flours and perhaps some dried fruit or a sprinkling of lemon myrtle leaves to give your damper very different flavours and textures.
As I write, I wonder about mixing the dough with some olive oil as well as water, to make a kind of Middle Eastern version, a bit like Turkish bread?
Perhaps the Afghan Cameleers introduced it, or reinforced its importance within the young colonies?
Damper was certainly a mainstay in the diets of stockmen and women and swaggies, that form part of Australian folklore and cultural heritage.
It is best when eaten straight from the oven, piping hot!
The secret to lighting a fire outdoors in inclement weather is to have a little dry kindling set aside to get your fire started.
Keep plenty of air in your kindling/ paper arrangement starting point. That is, don't crowd or clog up the airflow with too much of either.
The very best wood and kindling come from collecting small and larger twigs dropped naturally by gum trees. Dry wood can usually be found under one, even on a wet day.
Ancient river red gum droppings are perhaps the ultimate for giving your Aussie barbecue its distinctive eucalyptus char grilled flavour!
The wood of truly ancient gum trees is much denser than that of younger trees and burns very hot and more slowly.
My dad, Fred Ludbrook, was legendary for being able to light a fire, even in the wet tropics of the Kokoda track, during World War 2. His secret was to always carry some dry kindling and paper, as well as carrying matches within a condom, keeping them dry, with their own personal raincoat!
To make authentic billy tea, just like my dad Fred Ludbrook taught me, you firstly need a billy can. These can be bought at most camping and outdoor shops and resemble a small paint tin.
Alternately you can recycle an old tin and add a wire handle, like the one pictured here!
A billy does not have a lid!
Next, boil your water, by placing the billy straight onto your coals. Add a handful of black tea and a eucalyptus leaf, if available. Stir (traditionally with a gum tip stick) and allow to stand and draw. Pour with caution into mugs and add sugar and or milk to taste.
Always use something as an oven cloth to protect from being burnt by the hot metal billy!
Traditionally, billy tea would be drunk black and very sweet.
Billy tea would be the drink to start the long day of the stockmen and women, droving cattle, or the mainstay of Australia's legendary swagmen, or swaggies, as they are more commonly known, as depicted in our national song, with lyrics written by A B (Banjo) Patterson, 'Waltzing Matilda'.
Traditionally, those working and camping outdoors, where water was scarce, would drink a full litre of billy tea to hydrate themselves before starting their day.
Your billy will blacken in the coals and should only be rinsed out after use. Traditionally, billies are blackened by the coals, left that way and stored by hanging them, either on your person, pack, or in a shed.
It is the drink my dad used to make us regualrly at Beaufort Pony Club meets, as well as for lunch with a barbecue at our farm, or at places like the White Swan or Gong Gong reservoirs, and Daylesford's Jubilee Lake.
If you are brave, you can swing the billy three times over arm, but it is a bush myth, that this is necessary in the process of making billy tea. I would suggest you have very good first aid available if you intend trying to swing your billy tea, as scalds are the most painful of burns!
For absolute authenticity, it is the inclusion of the eucalyptus leaf, rather than the swinging of the billy, that makes billy tea so distinctive!
Fiona Ludbrook is the Client Services Director of Pets and Plants Ballarat. Now, entrepreneur and blogger, she was born and bred in Ballarat, but spent many years as a teacher in Melbourne’s