I was actually surprised that Cameron would have the time to take us on a tour as the restaurant was opening for lunch service within a couple of hours but Karina Barry who owns Bells told us Cameron is so enthusiastic about gardening that he will often be found in the vegetable patch on his days off. For any guest staying at Bells, they are happy to take you on a tour. Cameron had been in the kitchen the night before, he had done the breakfast service that morning, there was a full booking for lunch on that day, yet he was happy to take us on a tour. Such dedication is quite humbling.
So off we went. There are three vegetable gardens and the first is a garden that is within the resort itself and a showcase for the guests to see the range of produce that is grown so there is a little bit of everything to be seen.
There were things in the garden that I rarely see and seldom eat, if ever. He showed us some Sardinian myrtle that he said was very popular with the Greeks as when they were putting suckling pigs on a spit roast, they would put the myrtle and its berries inside the cavity. It’s a very aromatic plant and this would give great flavour to the pork. The berries are also used by the Greeks to make a liquor.
We looked at borage which is excellent to have in a garden because it attracts bees. It is often used in salads as it has a taste like cucumber and the bright-blue star-shaped flowers are edible and very pretty.
There was Korean Mustard Cress which tastes like horseradish and we were given some to try and yes, it has that heat. Cameron said it’s so good for you that it’s something we should all be eating everyday. He cooks it very quickly by sauteing it in extra virgin olive oil with eschalots, chilli and garlic.
We were also shown Cime Rapa which in Italian literally means ‘turnip tops’. Another name for it is Broccoli Rabe. It is notoriously tough and bitter but Cameron said (again) that this is a plant that is so good for you we should be eating it everyday. If you cook it slowly it loses its toughness and bitterness.
We then went to see the new land the Barry’s have just acquired right next door to the resort. This is where they plan to establish an orchard and where two months ago they created at 40mtrs x 40mtrs (44 yards) vegetable patch. The new vegetable garden is irrigated with tank water. A gardener currently works in it three hours per day. It has aero bins that decompose the food waste and unwaxed cardboard very quickly with temperatures around 60C (140F) and that’s used all around the garden.
There is currently a Hass avocado tree on the land that is prolific with fruit. Cameron deftly climbed up to the highest branches and pulled a dozen or so avocados from the tree. As they dropped to the ground we collected them to take back to the restaurant where over the next week or so they will ripen. He also gave me a few to take home! Seeing Cameron climb a tree so aptly reminded me of my little guy!
We picked fresh plums from a tree and ate them as we walked around. It reminded me of my childhood as we had plum trees in our backyard and whenever we were hungry, instead of reaching into the pantry for a packet of chips, we’d go outside and climb the plumb tree (not that there were ever any chips in my mother’s pantry!)
There were also tamarillo trees, a mango tree, finger limes and curry leaves. We dug up some scarlet potatoes that Cameron says are excellent in mash. We picked some baby broad beans where the pods were so tender you could eat them and the tiny beans inside were very sweet.
There were zucchini flowers (I’d eaten some in the degustation meal the night before), French melon, mulberry trees, olive trees, borlotti beans, lattughe lettuce and Lebanese cucumbers that Cameron harvested immediately and carried them around in his apron while continuing on with the tour.
He took us down to where the chickens live. The resort started producing free-range eggs a few years ago and in order to stop the foxes getting them, Karina and Brian bought a special type of dog. It’s quite a rare breed but whatever you put it with, it will bond with and protect. So the dog lives with the chickens and looks after them and has defended them against foxes and they haven’t lost a chicken since he joined the flock.
We toured the gardens and grounds for about an hour. Cameron’s enthusiasm and passion were infectious and it was exciting to see someone so enthusiastic about organic food production. He loves what’s already in the ground but is so excited about the resort’s future plans to extend the gardens and establish an orchard. Everything is and will continue to be produced organically where Cameron says there will be a symbiotic relationship between all plants.
It was a privilege to be taken on the tour by Cameron and I’d recommend a garden tour to anyone planning a mini-break at Bells.
Bells at Killcare: 107 The Scenic Road, Killcare Heights NSW 2257
Ph: 61 2 4349 7000