This article was written by Susan Parsons for her Kitchen Garden column in The Canberra Times in November 2013. Permission was provided by Susan and the publication to replicate the text for the Dutch Australian Cultural Centre.
Adrian van Leest was born in the Netherlands, where his father had a community garden plot. When the family moved to Australia in 1955, they lived in Creswick, Victoria, on a large block cultivated by Adrian from one end to the other. He was given a small allotment of nine square metres. An incredible crop of potatoes had him hooked.
Van Leest and his wife moved to Canberra in 1978 and Campbell in 1999. He grows three varieties of potatoes, including the ”innovator”, which has russet skin, and which he says McCains uses for its chips, and two experimental varieties that he has developed from ”true seed”, as opposed to seed potatoes. A purple-skinned variety he has called blutwurst and eureka gold, a small egg-shaped potato that microwaves to be rich and creamy.
For 11 years (note 2013), Adrian van Leest has grown tomato seedlings for his colleagues, inviting them to donate to a charity (this year Movember) in return. This year, he offered 328 plants. He also runs a competition for the biggest and best tomatoes, which helps with his breeding program. His largest so far weighed 685 grams and was the size of a dinner plate.
He calls them ”Opa’s brandywine”. They’re derived from a heirloom cultivar, and named for his father, Kees (Kevin) van Leest, who got the tomato from his neighbour, Pat Murphy, in Ballarat in 1999. Murphy in turn had sourced the tomato from a doctor in Ballarat who had grown them for 30 years.
In 2001, Murphy’s stock was destroyed by a severe frost. Van Leest was able to give him packets of seed from his ”recovery program” and Murphy, now in his 80s, grows them again every year. The variety has characteristics of a brandywine beefsteak tomato except van Leest’s does not have the same full potato leaf.
This year, he sowed the seeds in polystyrene boxes outside on August 23 – the earliest yet – and covered them with glass on cold nights.
The asparagus patch, with eight plants, is three years old and, in its first year of cropping, has 70 spears so far. They have a walnut tree raised by van Leest from a walnut from his father’s tree. Van Leest also treasures the Dutch clogs his father wore in the garden.
Van Leest also grows crown daisies, also called chop suey greens (Chrysanthemum coronarium). He took a stalk of the vegetable and placed it in moist soil to stimulate root growth and six weeks later it flowered and gave enough seed for a full crop. Crown daisies grow year-round and are prolific in winter. They can be eaten like spinach and the flowers are also edible, and are good in miso soup.