imagine yourself in the middle of a busy city. there’s a constant hum in the background – air conditioning units keeping office workers cool, jackhammers and roadworks … cars, buses, motorbikes starting and stopping at traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, roundabouts on the way to their destination … planes and helicopters buzzing overhead … people on their phones, or simply walking by with the tick-tick-tick of high heels or the soft scrape of their sneakers …
now imagine stepping into a quiet oasis in the midst of all that noise. a tranquil community garden very close to the city centre … filled with bumblebees and chickens, a welsh pony called jafa … a place that is home to a thriving food forest, a cheerful jumble of flowers bursting with colour and vegetables flourishing in the organic soil thanks to the efforts of a few full-time workers as well as part-time volunteers and school groups.
this is kelmarna gardens – a 4.5 acre organic farm and community garden in the heart of one of auckland’s most expensive inner city neighbourhoods.
as well as their regular activities, such as workshops and harvest festivals, they open up their space a few evenings a year to host farm dinners. the most recent event coincided very conveniently with nic’s birthday, and was hosted in collaboration with a local vegetarian restaurant called forest who source a lot of their produce from kelmarna. it felt like being invited to witness, and participate in, an otherwise private world being able to eat such amazing food just metres away from where it was grown. this added an extra elemental layer too, along with sitting on wobbly chairs at a flower-adorned table that the bumblebees came to visit.
we started our warm summer evening with a wander around the gardens, saying hello to these lovely ladies. cake is probably unhealthy for all of us really isn’t it?
can you tell which one of those ladies might have had a good old dust bath right about here?
each of the four tables on the gently sloping lawn in the gardens was beautifully adorned with fresh flowers, along with a little note about forest with our meal and drinks menu on the back. all the fresh produce that we ate was sourced from the gardens, aside from the passionfruit we had for our dessert. i was suitably impressed.
we started the evening with an aperitif of rhubarb & marjoram gin before the first plate of our 4-course meal arrived. when that was gone, i tried a glass of a garage project sauvignon blanc – a naturally macerated brew that is a mix of sauvignon blanc grapes and beer wort. in an evening full of gastronomic surprises, this was another one.
our first course was a shared plate of spring onion dip, oat crackers and snacks from the garden – this included beans, cucumber, new zealand spinach and kumara (sweet potato) leaves. the latter was the most surprising, i’ve never ever thought to eat kumara leaves before and they’re surprisingly good!
our second course was a pickled tomato flatbread with shallots, chilli oil and shiso (a citrusy and herbaceous japanese leaf that is often served with sashimi).
the third course was our favourite and i totally licked the bowl – what you see above is bbq’d marrow stuffed with mashed turnip and barley, topped with a mushroom crumb floating in a sea of delicious sage broth. given the choice we would both have gone back for seconds.
lastly we had a whole passionfruit tart with orange leaf sherbert. that wonky looking green foam on the top is a fig leaf whip. yes, i licked this plate clean too.
they had fresh figs and honey for sale for event attendees. i am unable to resist figs and came home with a punnet of them. a tasty flavour-packed bonus from a wonder-filled event.