I recently visited an exciting and beautiful property in Canberra’s Inner South, owned by master gardener extraordinaire, Antonietta. The Griffith home was built by her parents in 1959, who emigrated from Italy with Antonietta and her siblings.
Antonietta has transformed what was originally a wholly productive garden into an exotic and productive one. There are still some remnant plantings, including a stunning grape vine arbour, a gorgeous olive tree, a persimmon and several thriving citrus trees. Antonietta is a passionate and creative gardener, who is “good with gardens but not with names” – but frankly, who wants to label such botanical wonder?
Antonietta has established the garden using mostly unwanted plants, as well as cuttings and seeds from friends and family. One lovely example is of a carnation Antonietta propagates via cuttings, which is a descendant of a plant her mother grew at least 40 years ago. She has also upcycled and salvaged much of the garden art throughout.
The garden is full of most plant groups and I would describe the style as ‘semi-formal meets cottage’. It is healthy, vibrant and thoughtfully set out. Antonietta has skilfully grown like plants together, seamlessly connecting them and creating harmony.
There is a thriving and productive vegetable patch, where Antoinetta grows only varieties favoured by herself and her family, so nothing goes to waste. She adds manure and vegetable compost to the soil each season, which she turns three times before planting, to ensure all manure is thoroughly distributed throughout the soil.
One of Antonietta’s favourite tomatoes is an Italian variety she has dubbed ‘Love Heart’. She brought the seed home from Italy with her nine years ago (via quarantine). The fruit forms in bunches and is heart shaped. The firm flesh has excellent flavour, which Antonietta uses both cooked and fresh. She also grows round, mid-sized capsicums and banana capsicums each summer – both red Italian varieties – delicious fresh and preserved. There are a wide range of culinary herbs in pots close to the kitchen and throughout the garden, including Italian varieties of oregano (pronounced ‘or-eg-anah’) and mint.
Antonietta saves all her own veggie seeds – many are generations old – as well as varieties sourced from Italy and other equally exotic and exciting locations. She keeps all her seed in glass jars in the vegetable crisper of her fridge, which I personally think should be re-named the ‘seed store’ in any garden-friendly house.
Unsurprisingly, with a chef background and Italian heritage, Antonietta is a talented cook and preserver. She kindly shared several of her favourite preserving recipes, which I will include here over the summer.
Pickled red capsicums
- Round red capsicums with stems intact (to prevent vinegar being absorbed into the fruit)
- 1 part white vinegar
- 2 parts water
- ½ cup salt
- Garlic cloves to taste
Firmly pack uncooked capsicums in large glass jar (including upside down).
Combine and add all other ingredients.
Tightly secure lid to prevent fermentation and spoiling.