The small township of Penola lies on the edge of South Australia’s famous Coonawarra wine-grape district in the (wetter) south-east corner of the state. A 30-year old Irish boot-maker built the first cottage in the town in 1850 for his 15-year old bride, the daughter of a local shepherd. They went on to have 15 children in two slab-and-shingle cottages that are still standing today, preserved by the Penola historical society.
‘Granny’ Sharam died in that cottage in Petticoat Lane in 1910, and the whole township turned out for her funeral. Apart from all the kids, she’d been famous for her quince and pear jams, and the produce of her fruit, vegetable and herb garden.
That garden – down the back of the cottages – had also been preserved up until a few years ago, went it ran to wrack and ruin. Then along came Kate Spencer (photo, with Claudia) who was the chef at the very fine Cobb and Co restaurant for many years. Kate, now retired from the kitchen, took over the garden and runs it as a rather interesting sort of community garden. The chefs of this iconic wine growing area got together and donated $1000 to the local historical trust specifically for the cottage garden, with the proviso that they could come in and pick fresh herbs for their kitchens whenever they like. And they do!
So do other townsfolk, making a donation for any surplus fruit or vegetables that are in season and available. Kate also saves seeds from year-to-year from her garden. Penola also has its own veggie garden group, who met recently in the garden and shared food and produce.
Some unusual features of the garden have a definite country flavour; sheep’s wool mulch, sheep manure on the chives and tobacco plants grown to be dried and crumbled around plants as a snail killer (nicotine is bad for snails as well as humans, it seems). The quince, loquat, walnut and fig trees are reminiscent of a bye-gone era when backyard fruit trees were valued for their taste and produce, and the fruit needed to travel no further than up to the kitchen.