“I can’t grow Queen Anne’s lace here but fennel in flower can give that romantic vision of flowers wafting softly in the breeze,” she says.
So fennel is allowed to flower and go to seed in the wild kitchen garden, looking dreamily loose and airy, while attracting bees and other beneficial insects throughout its life cycle.
Fennel would stake a place in the sun for its good looks and companion benefits alone, even if it didn’t provide delicious flavours almost all year, she says.
After the ripe seeds drop, a shower of rain will bring up millions of fennel seedlings, an event Robertson first thought of as a weed problem, but now delights in as an opportunity to forage for dinner. Fennel also flavours a pistou made from the tasty fronds, and fennel pollen is a gourmet touch, if you don’t mind depriving the insects and birds who also treasure it.
For Robertson, the most delicious part of the fennel life cycle is when the seed is still fresh, green and plump. “It’s the most tasty little morsel of aniseed. I scatter it over leaf salads and potatoes, fish, chicken and all sort of things.”
Of course if you let your fennel go to seed, you can’t have your cake by eating the bulb. In fact, Robertson has never had any luck growing bulb fennel from her collected seed, or self-sprung seedlings. Instead she buys bulb fennel seedlings from Patio Plants, (which sells at various markets around Sydney) and replants every autumn and winter for harvests through winter and spring.
Robertson’s kitchen garden soil preparation is simple and incredibly successful. The soil is aerated, but not turned after the harvest, (“I just stick a fork in and rock the tines gently,” she says) then homemade compost is dumped on top, and the new plantings mulched. She doesn’t fertilise apart from the compost, and waters the bulb-producing fennel only. The flowering fennel fends for itself, its clouds of tiny yellow flowers filling Robertson’s kitchen garden with a gauzy softness.
Needless to say fennel risotto will be on the lunch menu at the Open Garden.
Glenmore House Open garden is open today and tomorrow, 10am – 4.30pm, $10 (cash only).