Behind the Scenes with Head Gardener Elliott Neil
For many, a day digging around in the veggie patch is a fulfilling hobby, squeezed in around a busy 9–5 office lifestyle. Not the case for our Head Gardner, Elliott Neil. The vegetable garden, orchard and olive grove at Millbrook Winery are legendary. Elliott jumped at the chance to switch out his chef whites for gumboots and a trowel and shares the ins and outs of producing some of WA’s finest produce.
Elliott, tell us a bit more about your role as Head Gardener?
I’m responsible for all aspects of the garden, orchard and olive grove. This includes planting and saving seeds, picking of the produce, soil preparation and management, reticulation and infrastructure maintenance, plus a whole lot more! I take a lot of pride in my work and keep the garden in top condition by mowing and weeding weekly. Prior to working in the garden, I worked as a chef for 13 years, two of those in the Millbrook kitchen, which has given me great insight into how the chefs use the produce grown.
A day outside tending a garden is fascinating to many. What does a typical day look like?
I arrive at the crack of dawn and the first job I do is let our flock of chickens and ducks out for the day. I collect the eggs straight away so the crows don’t come in to have a cheeky breakfast (they’re usually lucky enough to score one I missed). Next, with Banksy (my one-year-old Border Collie) I walk through the garden to inspect the produce for anything that may need urgent attention, for example, any holes rabbits have dug to try and get in, damage to the garden fence from pigs, or manage any pests that try to eat our vegetables; like caterpillars and green stink bugs. Once this is complete, I begin my tasks for the day.
In the cool of the morning, I pick garnishes for the chefs, such as flowers, soft herbs and leafy greens. I take this straight to the kitchen where I wash it and hand it over to the chefs. A quick coffee and I’m off to the garden again, where I may be turning the soil in preparation for a new crop, mowing, weeding, sowing seeds or transplanting seedlings. By that time, my stomach is grumbling and it’s time for lunch and the daily quiz with the vineyard supervisor Al and the winemakers Adair and Tom. By this time of day, it’s time to make a list for the next day, if I haven’t done so already, and tie up any loose ends. I finish the day by rounding up the flock (with a little help from Banksy) and feeding them all the kitchen scraps.
What makes Millbrook a special place to work at?
Millbrook is a special place not only because of the stunning surrounds but also the team. We are one big family here.
Can you recall a special memory or milestone during your time at Millbrook?
My favourite memory is when we achieved our first year of not buying any fruit or vegetables back in 2017. Nowadays, our chefs are becoming ever so creative with the abundance of produce coming from the garden and developing brilliantly executed dishes.
We see that your workday is filled from dusk to dawn. Is there any part of your day that stands out?
I always enjoy sitting down at the end of the day, usually with Guy, to have a yarn and crack a coldy while we watch our dogs play together and swim in the dam.
Being surrounded by fine produce, vines and nature all day must be very inspiring. Do you have a favourite wine and food pairing?
Guy introduced this to me and I absolutely love it – soft boiled duck eggs and asparagus ‘soldiers’. Once a year we indulge in this pairing with the first new spears of asparagus in spring, duck eggs from our girls and a chilled bottle of Chardonnay.
Millbrook Winery celebrated 20 years since its doors first opened. Where do you see Millbrook in another 20 years?
Still producing great wine, cooking beautiful food and delivering great service. Personally, I’d love to see Millbrook ‘get off the grid’ and be 100% energy self-sufficient.