It doesn’t get any prettier than Spring in the Dandenongs, and after a hard couple of days puzzling my way around constitutional conventions, I spent a weekend with some friends near Olinda. David McClymont and Janet Austin live at Brambledene on the western side of the Dandenongs, about an hour from Melbourne. The property includes the main house, and an historic cottage which has connections back to the Heidleberg painters. The houses sit in a couple of acres of Edna Walling inspired garden. Edna Walling was influenced by the arts and craft movement and her style included dense planting, the use of stone walls and lots of pathways to connect different garden spaces or rooms. Though English, she was one of the first gardeners to incorporate Australian natives into her planting.
Before David and Janet moved there about eight years ago, Brambledene was an old flower farm and in spring all of the bulbs and flowers come back to life. Now, the big dogwood trees are flowering, as are the irises, hydrangeas and roses. Tiny sea-side daisies pop up everywhere among the stonework and overrun the edges of the paths.
As well as the flowers, there is quite a bit of food which can be foraged from the grounds. At the moment the walnuts are coming on as are the nashi pear and crab apple. David has planted out a large herb garden with mint, fennel, thyme, oregano and rosemary. I also saw some lively looking artichokes which seemed ready for the pot.
The Saturday I was there was book club night, so after a mega shop in Melbourne we got into the kitchen. The book was a Salman Rushdie and the theme Indian, and as both David and Janet are vegetarians, a couple of vegetable curry dishes were the go. David is quite, ahem, particular in the kitchen so my duties including chopping pumpkin to two centimeter squares and separating the cauliflower into tiny florets.
The pumpkin went into the pumpkin and ckick pea curry and the cauliflower for pakoras. Neither of us had made pakoras before, but if you get the batter the right coating consistency and the oil at the right temperature, they are not that hard.
The final dish was a fried potato curry, all served with naan bread, rice and raita. To keep it simple, we cut up some mangoes and had them with ice-cream for dessert.
Apparently being part of a book club and not reading the book isn’t a problem. Only one swot wanted to discuss the book over dinner and the rest of the time was spent chatting about the news of the ‘nongs.
Though it is lovely in the mountains it is a lot of hard work. The garden needs constant maintenance and there is the ever-present danger of fire season. David and Janet both work from home and have put a lot of time, effort and money into restoring the gardens and the historic cottage. Walling style gardens are designed to look ‘natural’ and their beauty hides the work that goes into crafting their wild appeal. But for escapees from the Brisbane humidity who wander around taking photos and sit down for delicious meals, spring in the Dandenongs looks pretty good.