March is a season all its own according to the Kulin calendar. Iuk, the eel season.
On top of this hill, I don’t see many eels, no doubt the Bunurong, the Gunnai/ Kurnai and the Wurundjeri, the people who traditionally own the lands on which I live and work, would have made their way to wetlands and rivers at this time of year to find them and feast on them. Perhaps they still do. Out West at Budj Bim, on the lands of the Gunditjmara people, the eel harvesting network of channels and traps has been recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Eels are in the DNA of southern Victoria. I have memories as a kid hanging out with mates at a dam in a back paddock with our fishing gear, not having a clue what we would catch and landing some fat slippery eels, that we each took home to mothers bemused and unimpressed. What were they supposed to do with them? There had been no transmission of food culture from indigenous to non-indigenous cooks in the Bass Valley. Not even the dogs seemed interested when I threw them to the kennels. What a waste! Now I buy smoked eel at the farmers market and wonder why I haven’t always eaten them.
This precious little month long season is like a cushion between the end of summer’s hot winds and the long damp season of the wombat, Waring. The month of the autumnal equinox is a brilliant time in the garden. Especially this year when the summer has been so generous with rainfall in this small part of the world.
Deciduous shrubs and trees look well this year. The early harbingers of Autumn are daily changing colour and now at the end of eel season some are already beginning to let their burgundy and crimson leaves fall to the ground: the claret ash and the Virginia creeper. But some are holding on to summer for as long as they can. A silver vein creeper in one garden we designed comes to mind. The trellis we put up is now perfectly covered, with dense and diffuse sections, not yet a complete takeover. The white, blue-green and burgundy are yet to give way to imminent rust.
Also of note this year are the herbaceous perennials. Sometimes plants like Japanese windflower, Persicaria affine and P. ‘Red Dragon’, can be looking drab and wilted after a long hot summer, even in the middle of their floral display. This year, they are powering on. I have never seen so many flowers on my pink Anemone hybrida and it is a rare treat to have them rising up from a healthy substructure of dense green leaves. rather than a mess of weather beaten rags.
The vegetable garden has not been a great success this summer. After a good start in early summer, the plants never really became as rambunctious as one would expect due no doubt to a lack of care on my part. The cool end of summer has meant slow ripening and fruit in lower number than usual. My annual three sister planting of corn, climbing beans and pumpkin was uneven to say the least. Although the corn grew to great heights producing many cobs, they completely extinguished the climbing beans and out competed the pumpkins to a large extent as well. No doubt, I will need to go back to the drawing board on that one to get the spacing right for next year.
But as ever the most productive veggie garden performer is the zucchini, producing innumerable healthy fruit of all sizes. They have been as plump and welcome as a southern eel at the end of a line.