Standing in Government House’s gleaming steel kitchen, volunteer Penny Tennenhouse holds up a handful of purple Japanese beets, grinning.
“The beets are the showgirls today,” she says.
Tennenhouse laughs with chef Christophe Letard and volunteer Bill McKechnie as they admire the day’s pickings from the property’s new vegetable garden.
“We make enough to supply a lot of produce. If we were market gardening, we would make a few thousand a year,” says McKechnie, who came up with the idea to grow food three years ago.
While planting began last year, this is the first season the garden has been in full production.
This is as local as it gets for Letard, who takes the best of the harvest for the dishes he makes for Lt.-Gov. Steven Point, his wife, Gwendolyn, and their guests.
He says since the Points have such hectic schedules, they want fresh, healthy food when they come home.
“I keep it simple. I’m going to give them nutritious meals to help them cope with whatever they’re about to do,” Letard says.
The garden can support small receptions of up to 25 people.
Letard still has to get many ingredients from other local growers, but McKechnie says they’re developing a planting schedule to supply him with more produce at peak times like September, when Government House is bustling with visitors.
The remainder of the veggies go to the seven volunteers, who keep up the garden through donations.
Friends of Government House has been looking after the grounds since 1992, after Prince Charles visited the gardens and said they needed upkeep.
When McKechnie first started the garden, he was planting alone in a small concrete box. Last year, the Friends of Government House gave him a $500 startup grant and he has since been joined by seven volunteers.
In the main part of the garden grow winter vegetables and lettuce. Old brick structures house berries, artichokes, tomatoes and herbs.
McKechnie says Rideau Hall in Ottawa is the only other similar institution that has a garden.
“We’re the envy of government houses across the country.”