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It is a little confusing returning from a late Sicilian summer to a late Melbourne spring. One day I'm in a sun-baked landscape of olives, almonds, vines and prickly pears, and the next I find myself surrounded by exquisite crab-apple blossom and new foliage in my own garden. Sigh.

The memories of eggplant cooked and served many ways; of sweet tomatoes of every size and shape; of fennel crushed with sardines and fresh anchovies in pasta; and of zucchini and squash of many different shapes, sizes and colours (including one new to me called tanarumi, or something like that) are still fresh.

But now that I am back at home, it's time to assess the state of play in my garden following a three-week absence.

The tomatoes are about to go in, along with the basil plants. And here's a salutary lesson. I had the different varieties of tomatoes arranged in rows in the hot-house and had saved plant labels (why? I wonder) by labelling only the front pot. The kind person who kept them watered failed to grasp the significance of the rows and the pots have all been mixed up. The leaves all look identical at this stage so I can't tell them apart, other than the black Krim and oxheart tomatoes that were on another shelf. The conundrum now is to know whether I am planting a climbing tomato alongside a medium-growing variety, or three of the same. Hmmm.

I read in Organic Gardener magazine that if one has trouble with crop rotation (as I mentioned in my last column), a solution might be to scrub out containers at the end of the life cycle of one crop, and refill them with fresh potting mix before replanting.

I have three large pots of cornflowers that are about to finish flowering, so those pots can be emptied, scrubbed and refilled and will become home to three capsicum plants that will revel in the heat from the paving on which they sit. One of them will be the fabulous pimientos de Padrón (my seeds are from The Italian Gardener). I adore these little green beauties, which are starting to become quite prevalent in restaurant land, quickly fried in olive oil till the skins blister a bit and dusted with a very little sea salt.

My gardener moved the large pepino plant, and it now resides underneath the Little Gem magnolia and seems perfectly happy in its new semi-shaded spot. This is significant because it has freed up precious sunny space in the front garden for a zucchini plant, of which there will only be one this year. I am happy to let it romp over what is left of the lawn, but its feet will be firmly planted in good soil.

One side of the front path will be for tomatoes, basil and lettuces, and the other side will be for climbing beans and several eggplant bushes. Wherever there is space I will be popping in lettuce seeds and maybe one or two chilli plants.

The celery and broad bean tub will now become home to cucumbers. And I am going to pull out some of the rioting nasturtiums that have done such a marvellous job of filling a corner behind the globe artichokes. With the addition of more compost, this space will be for a pumpkin vine that I will try to train onto the carport trellis.

Isn't it difficult to believe that another year has just about ended? Happy Christmas and a wonderful New Year to everyone.

Until next time.


This article is from the December 2010 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.


For information on Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden Foundation and schools program, visit


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