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It’s all about trial and error: What Lina Jebeile learned growing her own fruit and veg

Lina Jebeile

There’s a good chance you’ve seen the spoils of Lina Jebeile’s garden without even knowing it.

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On her website, The Lebanese Plate, her homemade kibbeh nayeh is adorned with giant mint leaves. And her Instagram is bustling with bright Middle Eastern dishes featuring fresh lemons, tomatoes and grapevine leaves.

Lina is well-established as a talented cook, food writer and photographer (her chicken shawarma wraps will really get you through the summer). But she’s also a decent gardener, growing a fair amount of the fruit and veg she cooks with in the back garden of her home in Sydney.

Thinking of starting up your own veggie patch in the coming year? We caught up with Lina to get some inspiration.

How did you get into gardening?
I’ve always loved gardening, but haven’t always had the space or time to do a lot of it.

Thankfully, since moving into a bigger place in the last three years, I’ve got a lot more room outdoors. I know it’s a huge privilege, but I really realised how important it can be — especially through lockdown.

It’s so lovely to be able to go outside and have a look at greenery rather than a brick wall.

Potted herbs and plants in Lina’s garden.
Lina says she doesn’t see gardening as a chore anymore. She’s found it’s actually a great way to de-stress. (Supplied: Lina Jebeile)
I had a garden in my previous home, but my job back then was so full on. Gardening was the least of my priorities.

I think that changed when I had a bit of success with it. I realised it’s not actually as complicated as I thought — and it’s really rewarding!

These days, I don’t look at it as hard work. I actually find it so relaxing. Whenever I feel stressed, I go out into the garden and pull weeds out.

I have a fig tree, which I was gifted by my sister. It’s actually fruiting properly for the first time so I’m really excited! I have some pomegranates coming through too, and I’ve just picked a couple of bowls of blueberries off our bush.

I’ve also got a lot of beautiful varieties of tomatoes. And I’m waiting for my capsicum to fruit. My little boy loves it. He eats them right away.

I also have a whole bunch of herbs that I use on the regular. I’ve got rosemary, sage, basil, thyme and fresh za’atar.

The previous owner of my house planted mint everywhere. I tried to contain it, but it’s like a weed. I’ve given up. At this time of year, it literally takes over the garden. The beautiful big mint leaves are nothing like what you get at the supermarket. I actually love it now.

But one of my favourite things would have to be my grapevine. I planted it from a cutting from my mum’s plant. I had it in soil for about three years until it really started rooting.

Stuffed grapevine leaves are one of my favourite dishes, so to be able to have my own fresh leaves in the yard, I absolutely love it.

What are the biggest mistakes you’ve made?
I’ve tried so many things and seen them flop. Sometimes I’ll plant things in a certain area and it won’t work out at all. Then the next season, I try growing it somewhere else and it goes off!

Gardening is all about trial and error.

And sometimes things just don’t work. I’ve been really successful with beetroot in the past, but last winter I think something must have eaten all the seedlings.

It can be really disappointing. But all you can do is make sure things are planted in the right spot with fresh soil and fertiliser — and given enough space to grow.

What’s your advice for someone who doesn’t have much space?
Tomatoes! You can plant them in a pot and have a little trellis for it to climb on in a sunny spot.

Herbs are also amazing to have around. When you buy herbs from the supermarket you always use a little bit of it and end up wasting half the packet. But if you keep a few small pots on a balcony you can pick as much as you need, whenever you need.

Hearty herbs like rosemary and thyme are so easy to grow. And they’re handy to pop into a soup or a stew or pasta sauce.

A wooden bowl full of tomatoes and herbs, grown in Lina’s garden.
Make sure to grow your mint in a separate pot! Otherwise, Lina says, it will totally take over. (Supplied: Lina Jebeile)
You could probably even plant cucumbers in a pot. And you can get small lemon trees too! You just have to be patient. Some trees will take like a good three years before they actually start fruiting.

How does your garden influence your cooking?
I like to adjust my menu plan based around what I have in the garden, so I don’t waste it.

I always make pesto with my basil — even if I’m not using it straightaway. You can pop in the freezer for another time and use it for easy meals like pesto pasta. There’s nothing like homemade pesto.

Seasonality wasn’t something that I regularly thought about before getting into gardening.

You go to the supermarket and you don’t realise that a lot of the fruit and veg is actually imported. It’s not really in season at the moment. Then you see the difference when you start growing your own stuff. It’s 100 per cent fresh.

I think it’s really important that we all learn about where our food comes from. We’ve lost that over time.

My goal is to plant a lot more so I’m always able to use what’s in season.

ABC Everyday / By Meg Watson

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