Canberra’s spring festival, the Japanese Embassy…sushi and gardens…

As part of the spring celebrations in Canberra, many of the Embassies open their doors and gardens to the public. The Japanese Embassy is a favourite for Canberrans, and their sushi making and open gardens tours were booked out within 10 minutes of being on offer!

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cherry blossoms surrounding the Japanese Embassy

Unfortunately it was not a sunny day for photos, but nonetheless, it is easy to see how lovely these Cherry trees are!

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As we were lining up for the tour, we noticed a very cute family of ducks crossing a busy road between the Embassies. The parents were shepherding the ducklings very carefully and soon disappeared under a little gap in the fence of the Japanese Embassy….they knew they were safely home!

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The tour began with sushi making. The husband and wife team, Mr Sadanori Noda and Mrs Tamami Noda are the chefs working at the Japanese Embassy in Canberra. They were owners of a well known restaurant in Japan, and have travelled all over the world, teaching and cooking.

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Mr Sadanori Noda..demonstrating authentic making authentic sushi

Mr Sadanori said that when he was a child sushi was a special treat and he was pleased that it has now become so widely available. However, this was a chance to show authentic Japanese-style sushi. He gave a clear demonstration using seaweed wrapping, sticky rice (special non-stick gloves…new to me) and filling of avocado and smoked salmon.

 

 

Mrs Tamami Noda showed us how to make a simple egg sushi, using a lightly pan-fried egg which was then used to wrap some tasty sushi fillings. It looked very simple and easy, especially in the hands of professionals!

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We had a chance to practise with our chopsticks, and to perfect the art of holding them properly. Before starting to eat our own sushi, we had to move the small white beans from one container to another…..no pressure though! My excuse for coming (almost) last was…I had to take a photo of it !!

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the challenge…..picking up the small white beans and putting them into the larger dish with chopsticks

 

 

 

 

 

 

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two types of sushi, some pickled ginger and kuzu mocha (a sweet summer dessert) and an individual container of soy sauce.

Once we had finished our delicious sushi, we were taken on a tour of the garden. Our guide asked everyone to be very careful of the duck family who have chosen to bring up their ducklings in the Japanese Embassy pond… a lovely addition to the tranquil surrounds.

The gardens were created by the famed Japanese landscape designer, Juki lida, (he also created the Seattle Japanese Gardens) and they took nine years to complete. Fifty tonnes of rocks and boulders were brought from Japan and distributed around the garden. A pond and teahouse were built amongst the boulders, shrubs and rocks. The teahouse is used for traditional tea ceremonies and special Embassy events during the year.

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The duck family in hiding in the bushes around the pond.

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A stream runs through the gardens with rocks on either side….Irises and Mondo grass framing the borders of the stream.

 

 

 

 

 

Juki lida’s design was to create a 3-D effect, hedges and shrubs are cut at different levels to give balance to the garden.

 

 

 

The colours and different types of shrubs are spread throughout the garden so that, even in winter there is a never a bare or stark area within sight.

Below is a Photinia bush, grown frequently in Canberra  because it is extremely hardy, drought and frost resistant.  For many years we have grown them in our garden as screening or shade bushes/hedges, and I have always regarded them as ”the pack horses” of the garden…they do all the hard work, but with very little attention. I was interested to see this one clipped so skilfully, and under planted with azaleas. Perhaps it is time to take the secateurs to our Photinias…

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A wonderful hour was spent learning new cooking skills and being inspired by the garden, thanks to our gracious hosts from the Japanese Embassy.

…..and I’m coming back on a sunny day to get some more photos of those beautiful Cherry trees!

 

 

 

 

 

Canberra’s spring feast of garden festivals…

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Lake Burley Griffin is at the heart centre of Canberra, and it comes alive in spring……the warmth, the flowering trees, shimmering lake and most of all….on behalf of all Canberrans….good morning sunshine!

I hope you will follow me through the next few months of gardens and festivals in Canberrra, including  Floriade, some Embassy gardens, Parliament House courtyard gardens and some productive suburban gardens.

Every year, Commonwealth Park, on the northern bank of Lake Burley Griffin, hosts the biggest horticultural event of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere…a spring festival, Floriade.

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An amazing one million bulbs and annual seedlings are ordered before Christmas. There are, typically more than 70 varieties of tulips, and a range of daffodils, hyacinths, ranunculus, Dutch Iris, interspersed with pansies, violas, poppies, and a variety of daisies.

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There is an almost year round preparation for this event. The Floriade theme for the year is decided about 18 months beforehand. This year the theme is Reflections, a tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Anzac landing at Gallipoli.

Andrew Forster, the head gardener says this theme is very close to his heart, as his grandfather’s two brothers were at Gallipoli.

 

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Preparation begins in earnest in February, the areas are marked out and the paths made around the beds. Agricultural pipe is used for drainage under the beds, and a base of organic soil is spread about 15 cm deep over the growing areas. This is levelled, then patterns are marked out with pegs.

In March the planting of one million bulbs begins! They are placed on the soil and covered with an additional 12cm of soil mix. This mix has a fertilizer added to enhance growth. The annuals are then planted on top…..in total about 2700 cubic metres of soil mix is used to create the beds.

During the month long festival not all the bulbs come out at the same time, but annuals are planted between the bulbs to keep the  colour and design clear and vibrant.

I noticed the gardeners have planted some parsley in between the hyacinths and the pansies ….what better plant to keep a rich green colour all month long and it is totally unaffected by wind and frosts.

In fact in this photo the parsley seems to be better behaved than some of those renegade bulbs nearby…

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An automatic irrigation system with a diluted liquid fertiliser is pumped over the gardens every three weeks, and all the beds have secure netting and fencing to protect them from wildlife.

Although Commonwealth park is five minutes away from the city,  the gardeners have to look out for ever present rabbits and possums, not to mention bats and birds…….what a job!

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winter photo of the Floriade beds covered with netting

Fortunately we only found this elegant kangaroo nearby…

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Two weeks before the event begins, the barriers are removed and the team of gardeners weed and tidy the beds. I wonder if the gardeners do round the clock watching for pests during those two weeks ?   ….I hope they don’t come across the cockatoo who flies through my garden lopping new shoots from roses…just for the fun of it.

This festival is a great tribute to Andrew Forster and his team of fantastic gardeners.

 

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Australian National Botanical Gardens…one story at a time…

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Writing this blog is all about stories, and the Australian National Botanical Gardens is exploding with plants, wildlife and stories…

The gardens are tucked away in the lower slopes of Black Mountain, and it is hard to believe that this lush green space was once, in the 1950s, a cleared dairy farm.

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Now the gardens are home 70 000 plants, representing over 5 000 species from all over the country. These gardens were one of the first botanical gardens in the world to adopt the study and display of indigenous species, and many plants grown here have never been cultivated before.

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The active volunteer ANBG community provide guided tours every day…and I was lucky enough to have a guide all to myself on a cool but clear day in June. We walked, and talked, through paths that led us on a journey of plant life from all over Australia. If you want to see diverse Australian flora and fauna without travelling around Australia, you can do it in day at the Australian National Botanical gardens.

The first story of the day…

The Ghosts of Burke and Wills

In the rock gardens, we found some tiny plants growing beside the rocks…the leaf looked just like a four-leafed clover. I recognized these in our own garden, growing near our crop of garlic….an annoying weed for us, springing up all over the place.

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My guide, Harley Dadswell, commented that this tiny plant called Nardoo played quite a part in Australian history, in the story of the explorers, Burke and Wills.

Burke and Wills had run out of rations due to the deaths of their camels. The Cooper Creek Aborigines, the Yandruwandha people helped them by giving them fish, beans called padlu, and a kind of dough made from the ground nodules of the Nardoo plant. Once the Yandruwandha people had moved on, Burke and Wills, it seems, tried to prepare the dough themselves, but didn’t wash/soak the seeds prior to grinding in order to remove the enzyme thiaminase, which depletes the body of vitamin B.

As a result it is likely that the deaths of Burke and Wills, was in part due to the vitamin deficiency disease called Beriberi.

Wills’ last journal entry included the following..

 

…….starvation on nardoo is by no means very unpleasant, but for the weakness one feels, and the utter inability to move oneself, for as far as appetite is concerned, it gives me the greatest satisfaction. Certainly, fat and sugar would be more to one’s taste, in fact, those seem to me to be the great stand by for one in this extraordinary continent; not that I mean to depreciate the farinacious food, but the want of sugar and fat in all substances obtainable here is so great that they become almost valueless to us as articles of food, without the addition of anything else.”

I will look on that weed in our garden with new eyes from now on…

 

 

The Arboretum….100 trees in 100 forests

 

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In 2003, devastating bushfires swept through Canberra. I’m sure I speak for most Canberrans when I say this was the most frightening, and challenging experience of my life.  For a long time afterwards, Canberra was a place of charred black earth, withered trees and the smell of smoke and charcoal.

It is hard to believe that from such devastation could come a place of such sweeping beauty, the new National Arboretum Canberra.

Walter Burley Griffin, the designer of this city always envised an Aboretum in the planning of Canberra. However, by the time Griffin arrived in Australia in 1914 Thomas Charles Weston had been appointed as afforestation officer, and he and Griffin differed on tree species selection and planting priorities. Later, Griffin, faced with continual opposition from bureaucrats, resigned from his government position in December 1920.

However, Arboreta, as part of Griffin’s design was gradually developed, beginning with the early plantings at Westbourne Woods and Weston Park. In the mid 1950s a substantial arboretum at the western end of the lake was established, and in 2001 was named Lindsay Pryor National Arboretum. However, the 2003 bushfires stripped the neighbouring hills of pine plantations and, the ACT government, took this opportunity to develop what has become the National Arboretum Canberra. This was a centenary gift to the city by the ACT government. We now have an Arboretum from the lake to the hills, with urban forests, woodlands, open grassland and formal parks.

More than 48 000 trees have been planted in the 100 forests on the 250 hectare site, many rare and endangered. The Arboretum was offically opened in 2013…10 years after the bushfires. Now we have a mosiac of fledgling forests, a venue for outdoor performances, an education and research centre..not to mention an amazing playground. In the words of Katy Gallagher, the chief minister officially opening the Arboretum..

this site has emerged from the ashes of the catastrophic bushfires to be transformed into a place of beauty, tranquility, recreation, research and learning.”