Is there any more magical setting for a dinner party than a beautiful Adelaide Hills greenhouse? Katie Steinwedel shows us how to pull off the perfect garden party.
Green & Glorious
Before the guests arrive, there’s a distinct quiet at the sprawling gardens of Wandilla Park in the Adelaide Hills.
But listen closely and the signs of life reveal themselves. The trickling of the water feature in the greenhouse, the babbling of a toddler who knows these Mount George gardens well and the distant hum of a tractor being driven by Wayne Steinwedel, who transformed this six-hectare parcel of land from a broom- and blackberry-ridden wasteland into one of the most stunning private gardens in the state.
Due to the property’s size, Wayne often uses his tractor to get around. Tonight, he uses it to efficiently transport himself from the main house – and the kitchen, where he is doing most of the cooking – to his daughter, Katie, over in the greenhouse.
He rolls in to gather some instructions from Katie about what next needs doing in the kitchen, before departing again with another job to tick off the ever-expanding list.
This evening, Katie Steinwedel is hosting dinner on her parents’ property in the beautiful greenhouse that is not only practical for their family business, nursery The Garden Depot, but also acts as an event venue – it was used as the location for a wedding just two days prior.
It’s early autumn and the change of seasons is in the air and on the trees; a wet morning has made way for a pleasantly sunny evening with splashes of orange autumnal leaves already making their way into the nearby Mount George Conservation Park and Wayne’s property.
As Katie delegates tasks, she recalls growing up in the great outdoors.
“I remember running around under the sprinkler at any opportunity with my brother because my dad was always in the garden,” she says.
“And from as early as I can remember, we were always decorating all of Dad’s conifers as Christmas trees.” Now a landscape architect, Katie may have grown up in a family deeply entrenched in South Australia’s garden industry, but a career of her own in the field wasn’t on the cards early on.
“At school, I wanted to be a doctor. I geared all my subjects towards medicine, but I loved art and that creativity was kind of lost in the science and mathematics of medicine, so I changed my degree to architecture.”
And soon enough she took another unexpected veer towards a career in the garden, just like her dad.
“As soon as I starting studying the architecture landscaping subjects at uni, I just knew. Dad was shocked, he never thought I would have anything to do with gardening or landscaping, but when you grow up in it, it becomes second nature; it’s who you are and I found plants fascinating.”
Katie says it was a surprise even to her how much she had unwittingly picked up from her dad.
“Dad’s my greatest teacher – everything I’ve learnt, I’ve learnt from him.”
Although Katie concedes she’s not great with the practicalities in the garden herself, she gravitates more towards the creative design of outdoor spaces, rather than getting her hands into the soil.
“It’s always interesting to see how everyone uses outdoor spaces, whether it’s being fully involved like my dad, or people just enjoying being out in them.”
The greatest joy Katie’s felt in the garden has been over the past couple of years, since having her son, Oliver.
A month shy of two years old, Oliver will have the same childhood recollection of being out in the garden as his mum.
“The best thing is seeing Oliver and my niece and nephew outside and witnessing the immediate change in their moods and watch their creativity and imagination.”
Katie herself has honed her creativity into the setting for tonight’s dinner. In the warm surrounds of the greenhouse, whimsical greenery hangs from the ceiling and a collection of potted plants sing against the simplicity of the dinner table, dressed in a white tablecloth and pops of sage.
The menu has been inspired, of course, by the garden. It begins with paella – a staple in Katie and husband Ben’s household and one of the first things they learnt to cook out of necessity when they moved in together.
Tomatoes plucked from Wayne’s garden feature in the panzanella salad, which sits alongside patatas bravas, turmeric spiced cauliflower and grilled peach salad.
For dessert, the fruit in the triple berry crumble was sourced from Wayne’s orchard and the pear and almond cake was the very same recipe as Katie and Ben’s wedding cake.
“My friend Bec is an incredible cook and in the lead up to the wedding, she made us a few amazing cakes to taste, but this one was the winner.
“And after I had Oliver, she brought me muffins made with the same flavours. It brings back the most incredible memories.”
As the guests arrive, it becomes clear that gardens are a strong thread that runs between them all.
Of course, there’s a strong contingent from The Garden Depot, including Patrick Gove who is the nursery manager and Katie says he’s been a godsend for the business.
“I’ve never met anybody who is so in tune with nature.”
Katie says while the gardening industry can be perceived as one that has an ageing workforce, walk into The Garden Depot and those preconceptions go out the window.
Katie herself is 32, Patrick is not yet 30 and they’ve recently hired a couple of staff members in their 20s, as well as teenager Tobi Sprigg.
Tobi went to the nursery for work experience and he successfully applied for a job there as soon as he graduated from school.
Next on the guest list is Rebecca Sieben, one of Katie’s best friends and a visual merchandiser-turned-florist-turned-horticulturalist.
Rebecca’s brought along her husband Benjamin and their little one, George. Rebecca’s dad, Ken and his wife Julie round out tonight’s guests.
Wayne has not just prepped the garden for tonight’s event, but he’s cooked most of the dishes, too – Katie says her father is almost as good in the kitchen as he is tending plants.
“Dad’s an incredible cook. He was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 40 and had to completely change his lifestyle. He’s insulin-resistant and completely diet-controlled, so he does all of the cooking because he needs to know what he’s eating.
“You can’t beat a home-cooked meal from Dad.”
Katie herself isn’t a big foodie, but architect husband Ben is Greek and also the biggest “foodie” Katie knows.
“Anything Ben’s yiayia makes in the kitchen is incredible – unfortunately Ben hasn’t picked it up,” she says with a laugh.
But she adds that while she and her husband will never be renowned for their cooking skills, it’s the act of coming together to share a meal that matters most.
“In all my friendship groups, we have kids so we don’t see each other as often as we used to, so when we do catch up, we do long lunches or long dinners with shared plates.
“It’s just about beautiful memories made over food.”
This article first appeared in the May 2023 issue of SALIFE magazine.
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