How Connie’s Chinese vegetable garden is helping her connect with her culture

Connie Cao grew up eating tons of delicious Chinese vegetables at home — but never really knowing their English names, let alone realizing she could grow them in her backyard in Naarm, Melbourne.

All that changed a decade ago when her parents, both immigrants from Shanghai, planted a vegetable patch and filled it with Asian vegetables from their childhood.

We spoke to Connie – who also now has her own thriving Chinese vegetable patch – about sourcing unusual seeds, learning about traditional dishes and how the simple action of plants in soil helps connect with her Chinese heritage.

How did you and your parents start food gardening?

My parents came to Australia from China in 1988 to study English and seek a better life. They weren’t gardeners, but 10 years ago we moved into a house previously owned by a lady who was really interested in permaculture.

She had landscaped the garden nicely with fruit trees, rainwater tanks and a large vegetable patch, so my dad just started growing whatever seeds he had.

I would go on YouTube and say, “Oh, that’s how you grow kale.” And then he would grow it. So we sort of learned gardening together.

Connie’s father is an important source of inspiration for her vegetable gardening. When her parents downsize, she is able to help them deliver vegetables that he no longer has room to grow.(Delivered: Koren Helbig)

When did your family start growing Chinese vegetables?

My mother is in a social club with people from Shanghai, where my parents are from.

She discovered they had a vegetarian seed swap and my dad slowly switched from cucumbers and cabbage to all these Chinese veggies.

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