Meet: Mickey Robertson of Glenmore House
Mickey Robertson’s kitchen garden at Glenmore House is as beautiful as it is productive, experimental and instructive. Here she shares tips from her autumn garden.
In my kitchen garden
Words: Mickey Robertson
Image: Luisa Brimble
Mickey Robertson’s garden at Glenmore House in the lovely hills behind Camden, south of Sydney, is an inspirational setting to a wonderful day out. Visitors come for her Seasonal Kitchen Garden days and At Home days, and for the art and craft workshops and other events she hosts and enjoy charming hospitality and a delicious meal, picked fresh from the garden. Mickey’s lighthearted generosity and great sense of style are also apparent in her book ‘The House and Garden at Glenmore House’, and on her Instagram account @glenmorehouse, and now on a podcast, giving a new outlet for her irrepressible enthusiasm. Find the introduction and first few episodes at www.glenmorehouse.com.au.
My autumn to-do:
Pull out summer producing veg as they lose vigour. Take the spent material to the compost: as it’s time to gather materials together to begin a new compost heap.
Aerate the beds after the summer season, replenish them with compost, then mulch.
Build structures for edible climbing peas, using a combination of tunnels and wigwams for shelling, sugar snap and mangetout (or snowpeas). Set one frame aside for highly scented sweet peas!
Protect members of the brassica family with net, or plant within a wire frame or cage, so the white cabbage moth, which is rampant in autumn, can’t lay its eggs on precious new seedlings.
Collect seed – many of the summer beans will have set beautiful pods that you can store in a cool, dark, dry place ‘til it’s time to sow next spring. If you allow some of your plants to grow through their full cycle, you’ll discover there are plenty of other seeds to save in the garden at this time of year too.
Keep an eye on Jerusalem artichokes – after their yellow, daisy-like flowers atop three-metre stems die back, you can begin looking around the roots of the plant for new tubers to eat. Once you know the tubers have set, you can cut the scraggly plants back to knee-high, so you can see clearly where they are, but can clear away what can be quite a mess! The tubers are best kept in the ground ‘til you want to eat them.
Make the most of the bounty of autumn. If you’ve planned well, you should be feasting on late tomatoes and capsicums, aubergines and basil as well as gorging on figs and grapes, pomegranates and persimmons....the list could go on and on!
Aubergines are my favourite autumn veg of all. With their glossy dark globes, delightful mauve flowers and golden stamens, to me, they’re a star attraction of the autumn garden. One of the fruiting veg family, they’re planted in mid- spring, to grow through the summer months, gaining strength and structure for maximum autumn output.
As they straddle two seasons (summer growing for autumn fruiting), I’m careful where I choose to plant them, because if, like me, you pay more than a nod to the concept of ‘crop rotation’, aubergines are likely to hold up the process. It’s rare for me to pull them out before early winter as they seem to fruit well for that long.
As I like to see them growing amongst the newly planted brassica family, with their blue-grey, often purple veined leaves, I make sure when I plant aubergines in the spring, that I choose which will be the following season’s brassica bed, in order to achieve the desired effect.
I plant them into well-prepared soil, encourage them with weekly or bi-weekly tonics of worm liquid, cowpat tea or a fish emulsion, and an odd dose of comfrey tea. Watch out for the 28-spotted ladybird, which loves all members of the Solinacae or nightshade family – pick her off and squash her if you see her! She’s larger and more rounded than normal ladybirds.
Otherwise, make the most of eating your aubergine bounty! I love to eat them sliced and baked in the oven or cooked on a griddle, chopped into cubes and panfried (which is part one of the recipe for Sicilian Caponata where they are the star of the show), or, in the most fabulous creation of all – an aubergine cake, or Torta di Melanzane. Now that, with a dollop of basil pistou is the best autumn treat of all!
Growing: broad beans in a box
In early autumn I put considerable time into building structures for the season ahead – erecting new wigwams and building tunnels for climbing peas. The other winter-growing legume that requires support is the broad bean. It grows tall, with hollow stems, making it too fragile to stake. So I find that a framework to contain this unwieldy habit is required.
I push four 150cm-tall tomato stakes into the ground: one at each corner of a square measuring approximately 55cm. Then, I tie three rows of horizontal rods around the uprights, at 40cm intervals, ending up with a tall ‘box’. I use bamboo for the horizontal rods, but you can use whatever material you can get your hands on. Wonky versions can be made from anything vaguely straight!
Then I sow five bean seeds within the ‘box’, in the pattern of a five on a dice, and once the beans surface and begin to grow, you just need to make sure they grow inside the frame, and don’t escape outside the horizontal rods. This way, they remain contained throughout the growing season and can happily rock back and forth in the wind, using each other and the frame for support. No more staking and no more snapping stems.
In some areas of the garden I make a ‘single’ box, but for my main crop, I build the equivalent of five boxes joined together, so I can plant a long row. In this case, I use long bamboo rods for the side horizontals and short lengths as cross bars to divide the long structure into individual frames.
It might seem like a lot of tying at the beginning, but this method seems to produce a very satisfactory outcome – both for nurturing the plants, and for yielding a good harvest.
Meet Mickey at the Glenmore House Stand, Stall 51 at Collectors' Plant Fair, April 6-7 2019, Hawkesbury Race Club, Clarendon. Buy tickets at www.collectorsplantfair.com/tickets
Story first published in Garden Clinic Magazine Autumn Issue 53.