Article and Photos: Margaret Stapper (Canberra Organic – Autumn 2019)

Holder gardener and 'Mr Fix-it', Conrad van Hest. Photo: Margaret Stapper
Holder gardener and ‘Mr Fix-it’, Conrad van Hest. Photo: Margaret Stapper

Conrad, you have gardened at Holder Garden for a long time. Can you give us a potted history of Holder Garden?

I joined COGS in the late 1990’s and gardened at Theodore. In 2000 I was on the COGS Committee when Aranda, Kambah and Holder Gardens all started. I moved to Holder because I live close by. There are still five gardeners at Holder that have been at the garden for most of the eighteen years.

There have been some changes to the boundary. Holder had to give up land on the north for a bike path and a road. Our orchard was previously at the southern end of the garden but more plots were created further south to maintain plot area.

One of the biggest things I remember was the impact of the 2003 Canberra Fires. We had pine trees completely surrounding the garden and all the pine trees were burnt. The casuarina trees were all planted as mature treesafter the fires. Some of the gardens on the perimeter of the garden were damaged.

Conrad, what got you interested in gardening?

My father always had a veggie garden. He is 80 years old now and he still has his veggie garden. It is a bit smaller but he still enjoys his garden. We had fruit trees and my mum always had her roses. When I was young there were always dead-end areas at the back of their garden because it was a big block. I commandeered some places and made my own gardens.

You are our ‘Mr Fix-it’ for Holder Garden. How did that happen?

At the beginning there were a lot of empty plots and there were things that needed doing, so I just got in and did it. My dad always fixed things, he was a handy-man himself at home, and he taught us to do the same.

Do you like to preserve your produce?

I have always preserved. My father always made pickles and chutneys and I like to make tomato sauce. I freeze some produce as well and I give some of my produce away to friends and family. I also save my own seeds too.

Conrad, tell me about your garden,

I use crop rotation and have six beds but I have a lot of permanent plantings. I have a lot of herbs such as rosemary, three different kinds of sage, including a Russian one, which has a blue flower that the bees love. I also have a lot of horseradish now and I intend to use it this year. I have asparagus but I moved it last year so I will have to wait until next year before I can start to harvest again. I have a globe artichoke but I don’t bother to eat it, I just find the leaves are great in the compost as they break down really quickly. I also have a red currant and a black currant but I prefer the red currant.

I have potatoes and one sweet potato too. I really like hollyhocks and I leave them go to seed so they just come up here and there. It is the same with borage. My tomatoes are struggling with the heat and so are my beans and potatoes. As you can see there are parts of the garden not cultivated. That will be where I plant my garlic, onions and brassicas.

Do you have some favourite recipes to share with us? (See Below)

Thank you Conrad for all that you contribute to our community!

Plum sauce (great for a quick stir-fry)

8 cups plums pitted and halved
1 cup onion chopped
1 cup water
1 teaspoon ginger (fresh or dry)
1 clove garlic minced
3/4 cup castor sugar
1/2 cup cider vinegar (or rice vinegar)
1 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon clove

  • In a large saucepan bring plums, onions, water, ginger and garlic to boil over medium heat, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer, stir occasionally, until plums and onions are soft about 30 minutes.
  • Pass mixture through food mill or sieve into clean saucepan.
  • Stir in sugar, vinegar, coriander, salt, cinnamon, pepper and cloves.
  • Bring to boil stirring occasionally.
  • Reduce heat to low and simmer until mixture reaches consistency of apple sauce, about 45 minutes.

Green tomato pickles

3 kg green tomatoes quartered
1/4 cup salt
3 onions quartered
3 tablespoon dry mustard
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons turmeric
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons curry powder
4 tablespoons corn flour
1/2 bottle Ezy sauce (187.5 ml)

  • Put tomato and onion in a large bowl, pour salt over and stand overnight.
  • Drain in a large pot, bring tomato and onion to boil, reduce to low simmer until soft.
  • Pass through food mill into clean pot.
  • Add rest of ingredients, bring to boil, reduce to low simmer stirring occasionally.
  • Cook for about one hour.
  • Bottle using your preferred method.