Toodyay's Hidden Treasures

Published on Tuesday, 15 September 2020 at 12:00:00 PM

Life is naturally sweet at the Julimar Date Garden, a one-off fruit farm turned tourist attraction right on Toodyay’s doorstep.  It  has been sitting pretty on the southern edge of the Julimar State Forest, just 15 minutes from town, since owner/operator Stephen Kelly planted the first palm back in 2007 – yet it’s something locals are often surprised to discover in their own backyard.

Fronting a 54-acre property surrounded by rolling hills and home to a wealth of wildflowers and wildlife, it’s an idyllic slice of agriculture on the surface. But underneath it’s a booming business venture paving the path for date growing Down Under, as both the birthplace of commercial date harvesting in Western Australia and a pioneer of the Toodyay Food and Picnic Trail (a self-drive tour suggesting additional stops at the butcher, the baker and the Coorinja wine maker). At this point, you must be wondering why you hadn’t heard of it before.

Well, it’s word of mouth over marketing that has made sure Stephen’s produce – five different date varieties, including several previously unavailable in Australia – sells itself. And that word has spread way beyond the Wheatbelt. People travel to Toodyay from as far as Perth’s southern suburbs just for a kilo of Julimar Medjools, bypassing countless supermarkets stocked with the imported kind. And they can all, Stephen is confident, taste the difference.

You  can  trust  a man who worked as an aircraft engineer,  police sergeant  and  prison  officer prior to  adding  ‘date grower’  to  his resumé. It was actually Stephen’s police stint in the Northern Territory, and the fateful find of a date plantation in Alice Springs, that saw the garden’s seeds sprout in his mind. He and his wife moved to WA and became Toodyay landowners in 2005, but two years of property-prepping and decision-making followed before he finally swapped laying down the law for pollinating palms. It was a shock when date farming turned out to be as difficult and dangerous – in its own way – as  working  with  planes  and  prisoners  (the multiple palm spike incidents that landed him in hospital are the proof in the sticky date pudding. Luckily, passion is an effective painkiller).

Patience is a must-have for any date farmer, since it can take the trees  up  to  a  decade  to  produce  the  harvestable – and  most importantly, edible – sweet  treats.  Stephen may have planted the garden’s first palms thirteen years ago, but it wasn’t until 2016 that he saw  the fruits of his labour in the flesh. Nowadays, after years of careful  cultivation,  his plantation’s 115 palms produce a tonne of Medjool, Khadrawy, Khalas, Nagal and Barhee dates each year throughout summer and autumn. Stephen’s pick of the bunch is the Khadrawy, but he finds the fruit-salad flavour of the Khalas very hard to resist. In the near future, it will be easier to see why for yourself.

Garden visits and tasting sessions are currently by appointment only, season and supply permitting (the dates are so in demand, you’ll need your name on a list to have a hope of taking some home). But wait a little while and you’ll be able to stop by a Bedouin-style “cellar door” featuring a tasting space, shop front and sorting room; and meet and greet camels direct from Morangup’s Dromedairy, who might just be dressed up for the occasion. Both additions are bound to maximise the farm’s Middle Eastern mystique and make every visit even more enjoyable.  

But why wait? The Julimar Date Garden is already well worth a visit, should you prefer sweet dates to sour grapes (over buying supermarket Medjools when you had a fresh, organic supply within a stone’s throw). If you can picture yourself wandering through the plantation with  a passionate and knowledgeable grower as your guide, give Stephen a call and he’ll happily make a “date” with you.

The garden is located at 1790 Julimar Road. To book your visit or to find out more, contact Stephen on 0438 118 433 or head


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