Greta Gillies and Stevie Chy visit the garden of Jonathan Warren, from Heidelberg Heights.
Jonathan works as Head Chef in a cafe in Hurstbridge and has lived in the northern suburb of Heidelberg Heights for around 8 years. He is an active member of the local community, Rough Trade 3081 and Transition 3081.
When did this space become a food garden?
My house was like many in the area: a simple, stock-standard suburban block with lots of grassed space. This blank canvas has been steadily transformed into a mostly edible garden filled with trees, veggie patches and a wide selection of herbs. The front of the block is bordered with hazelnut, plum and peach trees, with the rear yard host to favourites, such as apples, mandarin and figs; stonefruit like nectarine and cherry. Plus more exotic ones like avocado, kaffir lime, elder, ume, quince, feijoa and banana.
While some of the trees are yet to produce, others have made up for it – including a harvest of 4kg of olives this last year! I have utilised raised sleeper beds to house a range of herbs and seasonal fruit and vegetables. There’s an extensive raspberry patch, strawberries and lots of chillies. I am also host to 5 rescue egg-laying chickens, and some goldfish to keep the mozzies at bay.
What’s your vision for this garden?
My vision is to have as many edible plants as possible! Growing and harvesting my own edible plants is really satisfying because you know where your food comes from. You also know where your food waste goes. In an ideal world, I’d like to maximise what I can grow, and give as much space as possible to food plants and herbs. The major thing slowing me down is having the time available to do this. There is a lot going on in my garden and keeping up with it can be challenging.
What prompted you to start food gardening?
As a chef, I like to try to grow things that perhaps wouldn’t be normally found in your standard veggie patch. I like to know how the food I cook grows. As much as possible, I try to plant edibles, or medicinal herbs and plants, and have tried growing chickpeas, sesame seeds, ginger and galangal because they add a point of difference and curiosity to my own cooking. It would be good to grow a curry – including all the herbs and spices!
Not only that, what’s on offer in the shops doesn’t really compare with homegrown when we talk flavour-wise – it doesn’t taste anywhere near the same. These days, I don’t really buy fruit and instead eat what my trees offer. There is always the anticipation of what the new season will bring and eating with the season’s harvest will maximise on flavour, so it’s always good to grow food.
Did you have any interactions with gardens growing up?
I have always been interested in growing food. As a child, we always lived in flats but I managed to convince a family friend to loan me a patch of their garden. In their garden, I managed to grow a few radishes and lettuces. Looking back now, I probably should have gone into horticulture rather than cooking!
How has gardening and your garden benefited you and your community?
My garden was featured in one of our local edible garden tours a few years back. More than a year later, I was in Mitre10 in Heidelberg when a lady behind me in the queue said “I know you! I was at your garden last year. It was the best day I had all year!” Being part of a community that brings a kind of joy to someone is amazing to hear, and we are really lucky.
What’s your most unusual food plant?
|The front garden has garden beds of vegetables,
fruits and the hazelnut hedge
|Jonathan with a hazelnut from his hazelnut hedge|
What’s your favourite food plant and why?
Raspberries. I have had up to 3Kg a season and they are so much better (and cheaper) than shop bought. The fact they have two growing periods is great as well!
Do you have a gardening tip to share with readers?
I have found the most important thing in a garden is the soil. It needs to be improved all the time (especially here in Heidelberg Heights which is clay and historically not fertile). Keep improving the soil with organic matter to improve what grows in it. If your soil is not great, start with a smaller area and focus on improving it as much as possible and then expand from there.