Over the fence: the plot thickens for murder mystery actor
Known to ABC viewers as Detective Inspector Jack Robinson in Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, this actor finds calm and clarity getting his hands dirty in the vegie patch
Inner-city living has its advantages, but when actor and former elite cyclist Nathan Page and his wife decided the time was ripe to buy a house, the lure of country Victoria prevailed. The couple’s two young children were the impetus for buying their 1ha property in 2014. “Bike riding is such a big part of my life, and I want it to be a part of my boys’ lives,” explains Nathan. “This was also an opportunity to have a garden and grow our own produce. When you’re renting in Melbourne, you can’t impart your vision too much.”
Although Nathan’s mum, dad and older brother are “pretty handy in the garden”, sinking a fork in the ground was a new experience for the actor, who is known to many for his role as Detective Inspector Jack Robinson in ABC TV’s Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. “I’ve realised gardening is hard work and costs money!” he says. “The learning is fantastic, and it doesn’t ever stop, as the seasons and the environment are constantly changing.”
“The learning doesn’t ever stop, as the seasons are constantly changing”
With a mostly bare block, Nathan took inspiration from the nearby Garden of St Erth, Frogmore Gardens and Spring Hill Nursery. He and a landscaper mate designed a cottage-style permaculture garden that complements the existing weatherboard home. They incorporated a fenced kitchen garden, chook enclosure and a flower and herb garden, accessed via gravel paths, inspired by naturalistic Dutch landscape designer Piet Ouldolf.
“I wanted to attract bees, and needed somewhere to plonk the herbs,” he says. “I throw down packets of herb and flower mixes or meadow mixes, and off they go. I’m so surprised that coriander and cornflower are amazingly resilient. I’ve always associated coriander with curries and balmy climates, but they thrive even when they’re hit by frost.”
in the garden
The kitchen garden features raised beds that Nathan has filled with imported soil, combined with the garden’s own. Compost success has so far eluded the keen novice, but the family’s six ISA Brown chooks are proving useful for more than just eggs.
“They’re a much more reliable source of compost!” says Nathan. “They lay wonderfully, and are friendly creatures that my boys can pick up. The kitchen garden is the centrepiece. You look on to it from the house. It’s so easy to nip out and pick something or, if it’s freezing cold, to get someone else to!” In the warmer months, the boys enjoy picking fresh strawberries from the patch.
The fence around the kitchen garden excludes the chooks and Lola the puppy, and provides structure for berries and vines. Blueberries and stone fruit will soon join dwarf apples and pears.
One senses that growing produce is a visceral experience for Nathan. While he’s delighted with the copious bounty, including all sorts of garlic varieties, a bumper crop of capsicum and “far too many tomatoes”, he’s just as captivated by the dead coriander umbels and artichoke flowers, which he says are far too pretty for them to eat. “I simply love looking at them.” Cabbages in the garden are “attacked and pillaged by creatures that come out of everywhere at night”, but the kale, silverbeet and rocket have starring roles. “Anything that can cop a frost and doesn’t need too much affection I’m happy with. The green stuff is what I love to eat the most. I love grabbing a handful and sticking it in a bowl. Simple is best.”
Nathan delights in sharing the foodie experience with his family. “When Mum’s away, we make a dish we invented called The Awesome! You start with steamed rice in a bowl, throw in spinach from the garden that’s been wilted, some stir-fried beef, a healthy hit of mayonnaise, and an egg on top from the chooks. They eat the whole lot, and I can’t tell you how happy that makes me feel, because trying to get food into these kids isn’t easy, and I know there are no chemicals on it.” Away from the house and used mostly in summer, a ‘secret garden’ contains a mature English oak, a birch tree, large pin oaks and an ornamental pear.
Gardening satisfies Nathan on numerous levels, as it does for so many other people who love getting into nature and working in their garden. “I’m such a physical human being. I love the labouring and repetitiveness of gardening,” he says. “Rehearsing inside can become stagnant
and intellectual, but here my feet are literally on the ground, and that helps my craft. With gardening you need patience and an understanding that there are so many ways to get it wrong.
“I’ve learned that perfection is the killer, and it’s actually not even what you’re looking for. You have to slow down and accept it’s not 100 per cent controllable by you, and that takes the stress out of other areas in my life as well. The more I realise that there are so many variables, the more I’m at peace.”
“Anything that can cop a frost and doesn’t need too much affection I’m happy with”