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In the last few weeks there’s been a lot of action in the garden; a combination of rain and a touch of sun has sent the dormant fruit trees into bud and the vegies have put in a huge burst of growth. But it hasn’t been the easiest of winters – weirdly mild for the most and then, lo and behold, a frost or two, or even three, just when I’d said we’d never see a frost in Melbourne again … Soldier boys

But everything has survived, more or less, and my daily travels around the garden are full of pleasant surprises. I don’t know the official name of these flowering bulbs, but I call them ‘Soldier Boys’. Given to me about 15 years ago, they’ve never failed to provide a late winter splash of colour. I’m moving them next year, into a pot of their own, so they get the attention they deserve. Broccoli head

Oh joy, oh joy! The first crop of broccoli is ready to eat. Literally buckets of it. In fact the floret to the right, along with another, forms the basis of tonight’s dinner. Yes, you guessed it – Stefan’s Broccoli Pasta. I can’t even type those words without feeling hungry but I have to wait for the teenager to do the dishes, which is never what you’d call a speedy process. Pea Novella

The other crop I’ve been watching with great interest and hope is the peas. Not having had much luck in the past few years – either too much rain or not enough – this year I took a variety called Novella for a test drive, from seeds from The Diggers Club. It’s not only proven a relatively smooth ride but the Novella is an amazing looking plant. A dwarf, or bush, variety that doesn’t require staking, the plants have fern-like tendrils that grasp onto each other, and onto whatever prop you provide for them (I’ve re-employed the wire baskets that the cucumbers used over summer). The flowers appear in quaint little bunches, and appear they have – lots of them. Maybe this year, just maybe, I’ll get the kind of pea crop I’ve long been dreaming about. Scarlet Broad Bean

Speaking of legumes, which I was, my crimson broad beans have been flowering for weeks without getting very tall. But that’s okay because the flowers are remarkable. For awhile we debated what colour they actually were until I checked the packet – they’re crimson, no two ways about it. And the lack of height means they won’t get blown over, as were last year’s broad beans. But the slow growth and early flowering says a lot about this winter; if it’s going to be so muddled from here on in, the position of your vegies, feeding them religiously, and close observation of the weather will hold the key to a good crop. Kale

Apparently the intense popularity of the latest ‘superfood’ – kale – has led to a worldwide seed shortage, with demand outstripping growers’ supplies. As a long time kale propagator and grower, this makes me laugh a bit (actually, quite a bit), as the stuff is so easy to grow (and I happen to have lots of spare seeds in the shed, if anyone wants them). It’s such a tough customer, you could grow it in a pot on a balcony (or on a roof); let some of it go to seed and propagate it again the following year. I sprouted so much Russian red kale this autumn I was spruiking seedlings on Facebook. In the end, I composted a heap of them, after doling out as many as I could. Kale shortage, hmph – not around here. Artichokes

If you recall The War On Grass (Part 2), I’d made a path to provide access to my artichokes. I also mentioned that I’d moved them a few times, in an effort to find the perfect spot. If their growth over the past five weeks is anything to go by, they are pretty happy, having nearly tripled in size. But I’m not going to speak too soon as, like any gardener, I am a mess of superstition. It would be nice ‘though, to get some artichokes this year. I’d be satisfied with one or two, which I’ll boil in water with lemon juice and salt, peel back the petals to the heart, and eat with crusty sourdough bread.

Not long ago, as some would know, we took a trip to the Garden of St Erth and came home with a ‘few’ plants, one of which was an Echium bred by Diggers, called ‘Heronswood Pink’ after the garden of its origin. Knowing that this was a plant that could grow fairly large, and was drought tolerant and hardy, I planted it out as part of a barrier for less stoic plants, to protect them from the western sun in summer. So that was April, when I planted the Echium in the bed around the fruit trees (see photo on left). And look at it now, beautiful thing. I’m thinking forward to spring, it’s true, but I’m also pacing myself, taking note of the incremental shifts in the garden, from season to season.

Echium pre-flowering Echium Heronswood Pink

Postscript: Today, in most senses, was much like any other day – sunrise, sunset, war and destruction, lies and deception. But today (or yesterday, US time – August 11th 2014) we also lost a special human – it is the day that Mork returned to Ork.

Robin Williams never failed to make me laugh (or cry); his genius was in being completely human, with the ability to translate that underlying universality into the ridiculous and the sublime. It speaks volumes to me, about the contradictory state we find ourselves in, that someone so human could no longer bear to inhabit this planet. I was reminded of Robin’s interview with Jana Wendt during a trawl of social media; a hysterical technical botch up that I remember seeing at the time. Bless him, for all the laughs.

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