Tour of the old suburbs

Declan King and Anne Latham in their vegetable garden in Braddon. Photo: Jeffrey Chan Declan King and Anne Latham work in their vegetable garden at their Braddon home. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

Declan King and Anne Latham have lived in Braddon since 1979, after coming to Canberra to study at the Australian National University in the early 1970s.

They lived on an adjoining block in Elimatta Street for 30 years, then bought the 1930s cottage in the next-door block, so they could build from scratch. They built a new environmentally sustainable house in place of the cottage, saving two 60-year-old camellias for the new garden.

The garden is open on September 22 as part of the Down the Garden Path Ainslie Primary School annual fund-raiser.

They brought in tens of cubic metres of forest mulch from Canberra Sand and Gravel and Corkhill Bros to replace topsoil lost where the soil had been scraped back to clay. Home-made compost and the family’s chooks have been indispensable in enriching the new beds.

King and Latham like the quote, ”try organic food – or as your grandparents called it, food”. Both their families were gardeners and it seemed natural to them to grow food and keep chooks, to recycle from kitchen to garden to table. When their children were small, they bought day-old chicks and raised them, sometimes keeping six or eight layers, but now they have just three hens, all hylines. They use crushed eggshells around seedlings to discourage slugs and snails.

On a recent two-month cycling holiday in France, the couple passed vegetable plots on the fringe of most towns. They observed the way gardeners there used branches pruned from fruit trees to support vegetables, rather than using tomato stakes or frames.

They have three espaliered fruit trees which are crosses between apricots and plums, sold by Fleming’s Nurseries. Cot N Candy is an ”interspecific” apricot, that looks like an apricot but it said to have a slight plumy aftertaste. Flavor Rouge is a red-skinned plum, and Marcia’s Flavor is a medium to large hybrid plum, all three of them crossbred by hand pollination between apricots and plums.

King and Latham also grow apples, persimmons and pomegranates and had a small harvest from an olive tree they bought from a gardener in Gowrie, who opened her garden for the Open Gardens scheme, and planted five years ago. They have gooseberry trees, from friends, and raspberries and blueberries.

King tends to graze as he walks the garden, eating an instant garden salad by pinching tops of broad beans and field peas (grown as a green manure crop), outer young leaves from self-sown curly lettuces and the tops of garlic plants. The many rows of broad beans add nitrogen to the soil and Latham uses the crop in a broad bean and haloumi quiche.

They grow most of their vegetables from seed, including non-hybrid beetroot, carrots, and peas from Eden Seeds, and rocket, lettuce, tomatoes from seeds collected at home or from friends. Rhubarb, red onions, garlic and many herbs are staples, and they have not long harvested kipfler and Dutch cream potatoes. They also grow silverbeet with red, orange and white stems.

They grow bee-attracting flowers such as poppies, cosmos and marigolds, which they germinate inside in seed-raising trays.

>> Declan King and Anne Latham’s garden is open for Down the Garden Path on September 22, 11am-3pm. The event, raising money for an Ainslie school food garden, is a walking tour of old, established gardens and modern water-wise gardens in Braddon and Ainslie. Tickets (adults $5), with map, from the school in Donaldson Street, Braddon. The Baker Gardens Preschool sells soup and cakes, and private homes will hold cake stalls along the route. Talks on keeping bees, backyard chooks, and heritage homes (from ACT Heritage).

>> Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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