Fervor Fever | Pop Up Truffle Degustation in a secret garden

Fervor Fever | Pop Up Truffle Degustation in a secret garden

Truffle season in Manjimup has begun as the last colours of autumn fall to the ground. There’s a kindness in sporadic winter sunlight, relief in the rain. A fire in the corner crackles and pops. Our wheelbarrow is full of promised wood, and us? We’re sweeping the hearth in preparation for an 8-course Truffle Degustation with a special guest chef at the end of this month: Paul Iskov, and Fervor.

There’s a lot of talk about “WA’s hottest chef” at the moment, and I’m glad. Paul’s a lovely, down to earth guy, who happens to be doing extraordinary things with foods most people haven’t heard of. Paul forages for ingredients that our very land has been offering up for thousands of years. We met last year at a Fervor pop-up dinner in Busselton, where I had a chance to speak, and also, bring some apples to the menu. The smell of saltbush recalled summer time running through dunes to the beach. With Fervor and fire, saltbush scented memories became dainty crisps, paired with a native lime spliced gin aperitif. Nothing less than of my whole childhood in a moment (minus the gin!).

The Fervor experience is unlike any other long table. Why? Paul Iskov’s an artist, attuned to his craft, going after what moves him. That’s why Fervor is so special, and inimitable. For our first pop-up dining event at Stellar Violets, this will be an intimate event. A gathering for a few, in a special setting we’re yet to share with the world. It’s hard to think of better people to work with than Paul, Steph and team.

Our story began in 2012 here in hometown Manjimup, when I brought together a few friends to found Stellar Violets. Our vision is to create an arts & cultural hub, a place where people to connect to food provenance and the land. Working alongside my Dad in his apple orchard business, I saw how little was commonly understood about apples. Few people who called really knew what time of year we picked fruit.

Journalists would ask to photograph apples on trees in the Spring – blossom time!

I saw this as a symptom of a larger problem. People are too far from their food. It’s not enough to buy food in a local store, or even to follow the catch-cry “know your farmer”. If we’re going to sort out our imbalanced environment, we need to walk again where the trees grow, sit by the vegetables, harvest by hand, and taste it all fresh-picked. The way we used to…

As we grow closer to understanding the impact of what we’re choosing to eat, so we begin to explore our modern relationship to the land. The more I learn, the more I care. I want to look after the land for future generations. I want people to taste what we taste, the real deal. Listen to the land, please.

And when the land says, dig truffles… we heartily heed the call, of course!

Last Spring, Paul called in to Stellar Violets with Jess Shaver to forage in our garden. We found garlic scapes a-plenty. “Scapes” are the emergent flower bud, traditionally cut off to direct energy back toward the maturing bulb. Scapes to harvest, young broad beans, warrigal greens (native spinach), and some lovely edible blooms. We chatted about the ins and outs of growing food; he has a number of edible native crops on his Busselton property. I seeded the idea for a pop up that day, and here we are.

Paul’s returning to Stellar Violets as part of 2016’s Truffle Kerfuffle Festival, to serve an 8-course truffle degustation lunch, fused with native flavours, locals foods and fresh bits from our garden. Wine is sponsored by Ferngrove with cool climate whites and reds sourced from their nearby Frankland vineyard.

how to move a heritage electric trolleybus you can’t drive within 48 hours

how to move a heritage electric trolleybus you can’t drive within 48 hours

It started with a 5pm text from Drakey, who runs Middlesex Mill just down the road.
“Hi. Just noticed this old tram bus on Grays. Thought you might be interested. Problem is the auction ends in 2 hours!”
I couldn’t help myself, of course. It was a beautiful old thing, looked rusty and a bit worse for wear, but it had potential. Doesn’t almost everything?

It was a 1950s WAG Tramways Trolley Bus that used to run on the Claremont Line, an historic, electric mode of transport somewhere between a tram and a bus. We probably had enough projects on the go.

There was no way we’d be able to inspect; the bus was 300kms away, the auction clock ticking, the yard closed. The fine print said if we bought it, it had to be out of the holding yard by Tuesday of the following week, otherwise Grays would seize ownership. Monday was a public holiday. So I made a few calls. The promise of adding to our quirky Museum of Transport collection was an opportunity we decided not to pass up. Electric Ute in 2014, Vintage Train Carriages last year, and now… a trolleybus? Why not.

Forty-eight hours later the sun was setting, the truck was approaching, and we were madly shovelling mulch for the bus to go onto. No time for forming a pad in advance for this project! We were barely ready when the glaring white truck lights turned into our curving, tree-lined driveway.

The truck driver came over, looking thoughtful.

“It’s going to be pretty tight getting in here,” he said. “Where are you going to put the bus?”

“Backed in here alongside the shed”? I said hopefully, to which he shook his head.

“No way I’m getting in there. If I drive the truck onto that grass I’ll never get out.”

“Ok then… how about just here, straight back?”

“We’ll give it a go.”

The guys from Swan Towing in Bunbury had a fair bit of hero about them from the start. I pointed out all the plants in the driveway the driver was fine to squash as he came through. He was to avoid squashing our Golden Ash tree.

It was something else seeing this enormous truck coming up the driveway in the moonlight, with a huge bus on the back. What was perhaps the tightest three-point turn in trucking history was extremely impressive. Once the drop off point was lined up, he came over again.

“You gonna steer her into place, then?”

“You mean, the steering actually works?” “Oh yeah, and the handbrake!” “Uh…. ok!” I climbed up and took the wheel of the big ol’ trolleybus and steered, well, tried to. I used all my might to shift the old handbrake, but didn’t. I’m not sure I actually did anything.  But the bus came off the truck, didn’t smash  any orchard fences, or harm any apple trees.

After a 48 hour mad scramble to pull it all off, I felt like… I’d been hit by a trolleybus. So what on earth are we going to do with all these trains, and the trolleybus?

Just yesterday it was suggested we restore the trolleybus and convert the interior to a recording studio. The “Story Bus” could record stories from the land, by everyday heroes across our South West. We’ll let that one percolate over winter. What do you think we should do with this wondrous old bus?

How the first train carriages came to spark placemaking

How the first train carriages came to spark placemaking

Forget travel to exotic climes. The glorious winter sun is streaming in the carriage windows, adorned with views of Stellar Violets garden, and thousands of apple trees giving over to slumber. Bright red steel baggage racks give bold architectural lines to the interiors. It’s flush with old red carpet floors, teal blue seats, and emergent dreams for a refurbishment. 

A neat little springbok decal adorns the double entry doors, and one original window in the “east carriage” – that’s the one I’m in today. Built in South Africa, in 1961, and 1964, they weigh about 20 tonnes each and sadly came sans the bogies, which weren’t even for sale, being far too valuable. I was told our carriages have been to Manjimup and Pemberton before, on the railway last time.

I often lament the lack of passenger rail in our quiet part of the world, and I hope, perhaps foolishly, to live to see it return one day. In the meantime, we’re travelling without moving at Stellar Violets, sitting in these sunny carriages. Five days on, this is still might be the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to me. 

The great carriage moving day was months in the making, and thanks to co-ordinating a number of pretty exacting contractors, it went off without a hitch.

We knew we needed a space to hold host workshops, meetings and events. A space to work in, with room to play. I just didn’t know it was going to begin with two twenty metre long carriages built in South Africa.

A chance search on GumTree for second hand french doors earlier this year first sparked the notion to put a train carriage in the garden. The first I found was cute, with french doors. It was pretty small though, and way too expensive, we decided, for the limited purposes it could serve.

I couldn’t get the idea from my mind. Another Google search late one night unearthed two South African beauties from Hotham Valley Tourist Railway in Pinjarra. The last two for sale in a batch of fourteen they were moving on.

What are we going to do with them? Read more about Placemaking at Stellar Violets. Interested in other heritage rail vehicle acquisitions we’ve made? The next unexpected find was Trolleybus 854, that used to run on the Claremont and Wembley lines in Perth.

photo: Pete Bowdidge

Ecological gardens of France ~ Terre Vivante

Ecological gardens of France ~ Terre Vivante

To celebrate their 20th Anniversary, Terre Vivante, an educational garden farm in France held a special open day. Terre Vivante means “living earth”, and I’d wanted to visit ever since one of their lovely little preserving books fell into my hands. There was no public transport to the closest village. Simon and I thumbed a ride from a young couple, who went 15 minutes out of their way to drop us off to quiet, quaint little Mens, and our awaiting Couchsurfing host, Myriam.

It was going to be a blistering hot day. We hitched another ride from the village to Terre Vivante early on, with a lovely older couple who confessed they’d never picked up hitchhikers before.

They chatted with us on the way in, pointing out things to see, and insisting on going out of their way to show us where the restaurant was. It was very important, they stressed, to get there early. The lines would be very, very long from 12pm, they said gravely. They were right. We ate early, and oversaw the long lines smugly for hours thereafter.

The gardens were made all the more impressive by panoramic snow-capped mountains, which did seem all too far away under the hot sun. Huge crowds of eager punters listened to various talks, taking tours, punctuating the schedule with icecreams, beers, wine, du café, and a delicious home-made buffet lunch.

Terre Vivante turned out to be a different model to what we’d been envisioning with Stellar Violets to date. There was no way to visit anymore on a daily basis: it was only open to group bookings. The main revenue seemed to be generated by the publishing arm of the organisation. It all provided food for thought.

Experiencing the beautiful gardens, educational talks and workshops, and the people enjoying it all confirmed our own vision to create a beautiful, inspiring place for people to visit and enjoy.

We’re excited to be creating a place with similar values in our part of the world. Check out Stellar Violets Placemaking to read more about our current aspirations.

Hidden gardens of France that inspired Stellar Violets ~ Jardin Bourian

Hidden gardens of France that inspired Stellar Violets ~ Jardin Bourian

In the wilds of south-west France we find ourselves in the dappled shade of giant oak and ash trees, at the beautiful Jardin Bourian – a community and demonstration organic garden near Dégagnac.

We met one of the Jardin Bourian founders, Jocelyne Bécé, at Jacky Dupéty’s farm. Hearing of our interest to create a version of Terre Vivante in Australia, she invited us not only to visit Jardin Bourian, but also to stay at her beautiful house in the countryside.

As it turned out, Terre Vivante was also the inspiration for Jardin Bourian in the beginning.

Jocelyne told me this morning as we arrived that she and her late husband had had a dream to create “une petite Terre Vivante” – a well-known organic demonstrative garden near Mens, in Isère, France.

The name “Bourian” is inspired by the word “borie”. It means farm in “Occitan” – a completely different language to french, once spoken through the southern parts of France. 

Jocelyne said it was made illegal to speak local dialects when the government sought to nationalise the french language, so people only spoke it in villages and at home. And thus arose a time when it risked being lost altogether. Now, in some schools, it is being taught again, though many of the elders who spoke it fluently have already passed on. Some of the town signs in the region have two signs, for example, “Figeac” and underneath it, “Fijac”. The first word is Occitan. The lower word indicates how to pronounce it! Not an easy language to learn to write either, we’re told.

But back to the Jardin Bourian, now we know a bit about its name…

Behind me, about twelve people sit around the tables where we ate a delicious shared lunch after touring the stunning garden with our host, Jocelyne. They’re learning how to take cuttings. Several people have brought prunings from their own garden for the workshop. It’s a convivial, friendly group who’ve obviously lunched and worked together many times before.

The air is warm, fragrant, and the only traffic I’ve heard go by in several hours was a motorbike. Flowers spill from the garden beds, resplendent with lush green plants, dozens of beds featuring a mix of herbs and many edible plants. 

One bed shows a number of plants from which we derive textile dyes, including indigo from Nimes. “From Nimes” in french is written “de Nimes (pronounced Neem)”. And so evolved the name for a global fashion phenomenon, cotton ‘denim’.

The garden demonstrates different methods and approaches to organic gardening, including various kinds of mulch, composting, mounds, Ramial Chipped Wood and dry composting toilets. The goals are social outcomes and demonstrating huge diversity, rather than production. There is also a children’s club called “Les Petits Jardinieres” (The Little Gardeners). The maximum is currently set at six children, each with their own 1×1 metre garden bed, and a shared bed beside it.

In the beginning, Jocelyne tells me, a charity was seeking ways to occupy young people in the summertime, and thought they could create a garden. Having not idea how to do that, they approached Jocelyne’s husband, who agreed to participate on one important premise: it had to be organic. 

Three years on he had created a lovely garden. At this time, the charity decided to give up the project. So, what to do? The keen gardeners created a charitable organisation of their own, and now have over 100 members, who pay 10 euros a year to be part of the group.

A highlight is the Butterfly Garden managed by Teneke Aarts. It has a combination of nectar plants and feed plants for larvae. We’re here at the best time of year for it and it is absolutely beautiful. I’d love to create something similar at home with a nod to Jardin Bourian.

And yet another lovely feature is “le plessie”, woven garden bed edging, either dead or living. Dead ones last about three years and the living, obviously need water, food, and pruning to continue in good health. Willow is ideal for creating these and we look forward to experimenting at home.

Our heartfelt thanks to the gardeners at Jardin Bourian, for their kindness, warmth, and hospitality. A special mention is due to Jocelyne, for inviting two strangers to stay in her beautiful stone house, and giving us the opportunity to discover, and become deeply inspired a very special community garden.