The Hungry Gardener

Hidden on a quiet leafy street in a quiet leafy suburb by the bay in Melbourne, Fabian Capomolla has carved a very productive garden for his family.

Known around town as the Hungry Gardener for his particular expertise in helping people grow food in their own homes, Fabian’s passion is food and gardens – “… in particular, where the two meet. I love plants and, more so, I love plants you can eat.”

He and Mat Pember started the Little Veggie Patch Co in Melbourne in 2009 and the business was a roaring success, selling packing crates all over Melbourne for people to grow food in. They also pioneered the ‘Pop Up Patch’ on the car park roof of Federation Square – a great idea where the local community of city workers and dwellers could become members, get their hands dirty and grow their own food.

Fab sold his share of the business in 2014 to go and live in Italy with his family and came back to write his book, Growing Food the Italian Way. The stars aligned and it was the perfect time to get stuck into his garden at home.

Their house is beautifully crafted early-century brown brick with blocks of climbing ficus completely covering sections of the façade, defining shapes and adding to the formal European style of the place. Perfectly manicured hedges surround the house with perfect paths and super-neat edging. The new garden has been cut into the lawn with lovely precision – far from taking away from the restful symmetry of the design, it enhances it.

“When the kids were little, I kind of lost enthusiasm for gardening at home a bit … things just didn’t get left where I put them! I would come outside and find all my stakes pulled out or something trampled. We have a small space here and it was pretty much ruled by the kids,” says Fab. “When we came back from Italy, the kids were older and into their own things – I reclaimed it.”

“About two years ago I started digging up the nature strip – well, actually, I didn’t dig it up straight away – I started slowly, just to get a sense of how the community would feel about it. I placed some hay bales out there and planted in some pretty usual street plantings for this neighbourhood. It was great! I got to meet all my neighbours really quickly while I was working out there. I loved it – but I rarely got much work done. Once I start talking …”

As time progressed, Fab felt confident enough to actually dig up the nature strip and create a productive garden along the side of his property. With years of experience in working with families in suburbs, Fab understands that people are generally into having working gardens in their streetscapes as long as they’re well maintained. Fab’s gardens are quite loose with their plantings, but his love and respect for all aspects of design are apparent with his neat, defined borders and symmetry.

This love of order is particularly evident in his newly-planted front yard. “We had plans to return to Italy which fell through,” explains Fab. “When I realised we were here to stay, I decided to plant out the front yard.”

The kids still have their trampoline, but Fab has surrounded it with rosemary bushes, which fill the space with their smell, especially after kids have been jumping and falling into them. His perfectly manicured front lawn has lovely beds cut into it following the shapes and lines of the original garden, fully planted with seasonal vegetables for his family.

Working from home has also given Fab time to focus on his newest passion: beekeeping. He has two hives on the roof with two separate colonies going for their lives collecting pollen. Fab’s extra special honey tastes a bit like rosemary, a bit like hedges and a bit like the beach across the road. “So if you thought I never shut up about growing food,” says Fab, “definitely don’t start me on how much I love bees.”


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