A Year at Killara Farm, written by Christine Allen, is the kind of book you want to put on your bookshelf simply because it looks pretty. Shallow as it may sound, that was how it caught my eye in the first place. Pictures of flowers Allen has pressed adorn each of the 12 chapters, and the book is full of illustrations of the farm and its plant inhabitants painted by Michael Kluckner, the author’s husband.
In the book, Allen describes one typical year at her and Kluckner’s farm in Langley, B.C., which they named Killara (an Aboriginal name that, according to Allen, means “never leave” and is also a suburb of Sydney, Australia, where Allen grew up). She gives each month on Killara Farm its own chapter, describing everything that goes on in her garden and on the farm during that time. The first flowers in January, the shearing of the sheep in February, the spring awakening in March and April, the busy times during summer, the harvesting of fruits and vegetables until late fall and the calmer times in December — all are described by Allen as if she were writing it in her personal journal, which makes the book a very personal read.
“I also have a rather vulgar purple primrose with an egg-yolk yellow eye. Every year I mean to take it out, but it tries so hard to please that I haven’t the heart,” writes Allen in the January chapter about one of the first flowers pushing its head out of the cold soil.
Instead of giving instructions, A Year at Killara Farm is full of suggestions for gardeners. The book focuses on flower gardening, which might not be apparent given the title. She is a big fan of roses and collects rare species, but all sorts of flowers can be found in her garden. Because each chapter covers one month of the year, readers could use the book as a guide, especially those living in the southern B.C. climate.
Allen and Kluckner seem very fond of nature. However, during springtime when gardeners’ natural enemies (such as vermin and weeds) make their lives harder, Allen describes some harsh methods to get rid of them, such as snipping slugs in half or hanging up a dead crow as a warning for others. Dandelions, clover and buttercups become victims of the lawn mower after other methods to keep them out of the garden fail.
At the end of every chapter, Allen offers seasonal recipes, some of which she picked up while travelling. “I first encountered Lady’s Fingers as an appetizer in a Turkish restaurant in Australia, where I enjoyed it so much my sister begged the recipe for me to take home,” writes Allen in her June chapter as an introduction to the Lady’s Fingers recipe. She mainly uses her own grown fruits, vegetables and herbs, and she gives advice on how to store or use them properly to keep reserves for winter. The recipes are very detailed and offer suggestions as to how they can be altered in case not all the ingredients are available. These recipes were my personal highlight of the book. They are neither too complicated nor too simple, and it’s great to have a cookbook that provides you with recipes for every month of the year.
A Year at Killara Farm is a lovely book — the war on weeds and vermin notwithstanding — that provides detailed information about flower gardening while offering many tips on how to live with animals on a farm and how to make the best use of self-grown fruits and vegetables.
A Year at Killara Farm
Christine Allen; illus. Michael Kluckner