Tag Archive: australia


Here’s  a second offering in my new series of posts featuring some parks, gardens and open spaces I visited recently in Australia. Shortly after arriving in Melbourne we took a trip along the coast to an old settlement called Williamstown. The Botanical Gardens are on the edge of Town and seem to be a relic of it’s Victorian past….the Croquet, Bowls  and Lacrosse clubs sit nearby.

The Gardens aren’t large but they do contain quite a range of planting and have a strong structure with an impressive avenue of palms, pond and statuary. Williamstown Botanic Gardens are one of Victoria’s first public gardens. In a newly developing colony, botanic gardens were established as a way of assessing how well familiar plants would grow, as a place for reliving the English landscape and as a place for social outings and walks. The gardens are listed on the Victorian Heritage Register as significant for their historical, aesthetic,scientific (horticultural) and social significance to the state of Victoria and are also listed on the National Register and classified by The National Trust of Australia (Vic.)

In March 1856, following a petition by the residents of Williamstown to the Government of the Colony, a 10 acre site was formally set aside for ‘a Public Park and Pleasure Ground’. The gardens were designed by Edward La Trobe Bateman, designer and artist, and laid out by William Bull (appointed as Municipal Surveyor to the newly established Williamstown Borough Council) in 1856. By 1859 works carried out were described with pleasure in a report submitted by Council:

“Great progress has been made in laying out and planting of the Garden. Paths are all formed and the shell metalling nearly completed…shrubs and flowers are already showing their heads and tout ensemble is assuming a cheerful and enlivening aspect. Liberal contributions of plants, cuttings, seeds have been received from Dr Mueller(sic) of the Botanic Gardens (and) Mr Bunce of the Geelong Public Gardens…”

Plan of Williamstown Botanic Gardens laid out (c 1856) by Bateman. Earliest known plan of the Gardens. Courtesy University of Melbourne Library.

The gardens are divided into two sections:

  • Northern section – Formal garden beds, lawns and an ornamental pond;

  • Southern section – Parker Reserve Pinetum, a collection of Pines trees. A popular shady place for picnics.

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Historically Samuel Thake’s period of curatorship from 1899 to 1912 is considered the high point in the development of the site. His initiatives included installation of the cast iron gates in 1907 and construction of the ornamental lake, all which contribute to the strong Edwardian flavour of the gardens today. Since its inception the gardens have been blessed with the careful stewardship of dedicated curators and gardeners who have passed along Victorian and Edwardian gardening methods to the present day. The authenticity of the gardens you see today are the result of an unbroken line of horticultural knowledge and tradition.

The Williamstown Botanic Gardens have always played an important role in the social and cultural lives of the people of Hobsons Bay and visitors from much further afield. In the past grand fetes, garden parties, charity functions and children’s picnics hosted by the Mayor and other dignitaries were some of the municipality’s most popular social occasions. Day trippers took trains from all over Melbourne to spend the day at nearby Williamstown beach before retreating to the shade of the Pinetum and Gardens to enjoy the lawns and floral displays.

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Williamstown Botanic Gardens 1922 Mayoral garden party

13 December 1922 Mayoral Garden Party – Williamstown Botanic Gardens – Mayor JJ Liston. Photo courtesy SLV

In recent years the gardens have become the scene for much loved events and activities such as Shakespeare in the Gardens, garden parties, Storytime under the Elm, Reading Corner, school activities, the Paint the Gardens art event, tree and heritage walks, as well as providing a peaceful setting in which to enjoy a picnic, take a stroll along the intricate pathways or just relax and daydream on the cool, green lawns. The gardens are also a very popular location for wedding ceremonies and photographs.

The gardens are home to bats, possums, a wide range of birds and more than 150 species of insects. Visitors can enjoy the restored ornamental lake as well seasonal flowering delights provided by the botanical collection all in a charming seaside location.

As well as its Botanic Garden, Williamstown has plenty of other interest; a busy old suburb of the City, with a very attractive waterfront and many wonderful old style houses, for instance…

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Old School Gardener

Sources and further information:

Hobsons Bay Council website

Friends of Williamstown Botanic Garden

 

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So here we go…a first, experimental post to share some of my experiences of gardens, parks and other open spaces on our recent trip to Australia. Please let me know what you think!

Our trip was primarily about visiting our eldest daughter and her partner as they were expecting our first grand child. They live in the south west suburbs of Melbourne, Victoria, so much of the six weeks we were there were spent in Victoria, though we also managed tow short breaks to Sydney and Canberra.

The first trip out was to a histroic house and park/gardens called Werribee Park, a short drive away. We didn’t look round the house- a Victorian pile (in both senses) put up by a family that had ‘made it good’ in the newly prosperous Victoria of gold rush fame.

The Park is laid out in classic English landscape style with beautifully grouped trees and lawns, with more formal beds and borders of carpet bedding and other flowering plants. there is a large lake with an accompanying grotto and an old glasshouse with rather different planting than you’d see back in England!

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There is also the Victorian State Rose Garden a more recent addition to the park and which is cleverly laid out in the shape of a Tudor Rose and with accompanying areas shaped as a bud (carrying a large collection of David Austin roses) and the ‘Australian Federation Leaf’. Though it was winter time when we visited, there was still a good display of flowers, and the whole area must be really grand in mid summer.

The concept of the State Rose Garden goes back to 1976, when the National Rose Society developed the idea…it was another 20 years before the Tudor rose area was planted up and since then grants and donations have enabled the newer areas to be planted out. In 2003 the garden won the ‘Garden of Excellence’ award from the World Federation of Rose Societies. Managed by Parks Victoria, the site relies on a large group of volunteers for its care and maintenance. I look forward to visiting both areas again in the summer months!

Oh, and if you didn’t know, our grand daughter Freya Grace was born on 28th June and is doing well, along with mum and dad!

Old School Gardener

 

To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

Well, old friend, back in blighty! It’s been a month of trying to get some semblance of ‘order’ in Old School Garden, having left nature to itself for six weeks whilst we were away in Australia.

The weather this month has been rather dull for August, so much the same as we left Victoria in mid winter! I won’t say that I was ‘pleasantly surprised’ at how the garden looked on our return, for many areas had been overrun with annual weeds, and of course the grass was pretty long…. but not as long as expected.

However, after a mammoth grass cut and several sessions of ‘speed weeding’- especially trying to get out those weeds that were in flower and going to seed- everything of course looked better.

Since then its been a case of turning my attention to various construction projects; initially repairing windows on the house (at the time of writing I’m just about to fit three new openings that replace those that had rotted beyond filler) and repainting, and more recently dismantling the old shed in the Kitchen Garden, laying an extended base of flagstones and soon to begin constructing a new potting shed from floorboards and other salvaged timber…quite a project. As you might remember, I purchased a number of cedar shingles a year or two ago in order to give the new shed a more ornamental appearance.

Extended shed base …job done (but a bit of a clean required)

I’ve also continued the restructuring of the Kitchen Garden. I’ve already moved some of the fruit bushes to new plots. More recently I replaced the rather scruffy paved path next to the courtyard sheds wall with a topping of pea shingle, in keeping with the other paths in this area. Here are a few pictures of the Kitchen Garden…a work in progress!

Once the shed is built it will be  time to replace some of the edging boards to the various raised beds and relocate the various trellises to provide a visual screen to the front edge of this area, plus a new entrance (I plan to use an old metal gate) and creation of a Rose-lined path from this into the Kitchen Garden (using posts and ropes as swags along which to train the six ‘Compassion’ Roses that I planted earlier in the year and which have established themselves very well). I think I’ll go for a grey colour scheme on all these new wooden structures. Here’s a gallery of some good floral interest in the garden at present…

You may also have seen that I’ve been going along to the Aylsham Roman Dig nearby- I got involved in this last year. This has been a fascinating and rewarding experience. We’ve (re) uncovered not only the two Roman kilns we excavated last year- these are now thought to be of national significance- but new areas have been opened up which suggest that the site has been in pretty much continuous occupation for two thousand years! There are decades of futther work to be done here and my hope is that this community project grows year on year so that the story of the site- complete with Roman villa, iron working as well as pottery making and occupation for 2,000 years- can be fully explored.

I was also pleased to hear the ‘The Grow Organisation’ in Norwich (you will recall I’ve been advising and helping them develop a hub for horticultural therapy?), have been awarded funding by the local NHS Foundation Trust to get the project going, with an emphasis on preventing male suicides. This is great news and will really keep the fantastic momentum going on this site where Forces Veterans and others are already making a difference.

Turning back to Australia, I wonder if you think it would be interesting if I did a series of posts delving into the Green Spaces I visited there a little more? As you will have seen I’ve done a few posts with some selected pictures to broadly illustrate where I went, and was conscious that I didn’t want to bombard you and others with all my ‘holiday snaps’, but at least one blog follower has suggested that I could share my reflections on what I discovered…what do you think?

Perhaps I’ll post an initial item on the first green space I visited just as a trial run- I promise it won’t be too wordy, just a sort of  ‘Cooke’s Tour’ with some of the better photographs I managed?

I was delighted to hear that you’ve overcome your recent bout of ill health, and no doubt you and Lise are enjoying the summer….I can just picture you sitting out on the terrace, a glass of Pimms in hand, looking at the butterflies and listening to the birds…Here are a few general shots of the garden to finish with, hope you enjoy them…

Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

Here we are on our last couple of days in Australia. Six weeks on and what a trip it’s been. Grand daughter Freya is a month old and doing well. We’ve seen some wonderful places and met some lovely local people.

The weather has been very kind, even though it’s midwinter here. Bright sunny days and on occasions warm enough for shirt sleeves- though many of the locals have remained well wrapped up and think we’re crazy!

I won’t attempt to cover everything we’ve done, but suffice to say that I’ve found much of horticultural interest here along with all the other famous landmarks we’ve visited. Though there wasn’t much colour (with the notable exception of a superb, huge, vertical display of leaf and flower colour at Sydney’s Botanic Gardens), there was a lot of plant interest, often well presented by some very knowledgeable and enthusiastic guides. It was also great being able to compare botanical gardens in the local area as well as in the three cities of Melbourne (very large and beautifully presented), Sydney (smaller but with some impressive focal points including a garden featuring vegetables grown- several unsuccessfully- by the first colonial settlers) and Canberra (the National centre which is striving to present a wide range of plants from across the country and is pursuing an exciting Master plan to renew and expand its collections).

In addition, many public parks and gardens are very well looked after. I especially enjoyed the Chinese Garden in Sydney and I was pleased to see at least one Green Flag flying- at the fabulous Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne. There is also a very impressive Community Gardens in St. Kilda, on the edge of Melbourne. And, as I mentioned last month, Aussies are very proud of their domestic gardens, especially those on public display in small town and suburban streets.

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As we adjust towards our return home in the next couple of days I’m wondering what Old School Garden will look like. The grass will certainly be long and I dread to think what carnage the moles have reaped in our absence, though our neighbour did kindly offer to try to ‘get them to move elsewhere’…we shall see.

Hopefully you’ve had some good weather to enjoy your own garden. With some of the summer to go- at least in theory- I hope that we too can get out in the warm sunshine and see the colours of the flowers.

Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

Hello from Australia! We’ve been here about 10 days, staying with our eldest and her partner just outside Melbourne. Having finally got shot of the effects of jet lag, yesterday we found ourselves getting little sleep as daughter was in hospital delivering our first grandchild..a lovely little girl (name tba)! As you can imagine the build up to this has meant staying relatively close to home, but this hasn’t prevented me from finding some places of horticultural interest to share with you.

We left the UK in something of a heat wave, and despite my efforts to provide a supply of water to many containerised plants, and even with a very diligent neighbour, I was expecting some casualties on our return in a few weeks time; especially in the kitchen garden where I’ve planted carrots, runner beans and squashes alongside new potatoes and onions (and a whole lot of fruit). I heard yesterday that there’s been heavy rain in East Anglia, so maybe the position isn’t entirely hopeless.

Turning to matters horticultural ‘a la Aus’, we’ve visited a nice little botanical garden in nearby Williamstown (a quaint little place with lots of interesting old houses), as well as a  a rather  a grand old mansion with some beautifully kept gardens and parkland at Werribee. I’ll do a more extensive piece on these, and other, yet to be visited gardens, in due course, but for now here are a few pictures to whet your appetite..

Apart from these largish spaces I ‘ve found a lot of interesting examples of domestic suburban gardens round abouts, best summarised as an eclectic mix of contemporary, cottage and tropical styles, usually nicely complimenting the architecture of the associated houses. Here’s a sample…

I’ve also noticed how tidy the grass verges outside these properties are. I gather it’s considered a civic duty (and maybe there’s a legal obligation too?) for householders to take care of their immediate strip of what is usually springy turf, including not only keeping it close mown, but also the edges cropped to neat straight lines, usually using a ‘whippersnipper’ (strimmer) to achieve the desired finish. The overall effect is one of quiet orderliness, rather like the atmosphere of these suburban streets, where there are few people out walking…well it is winter I suppose.

Having said this, and being aware of movements in the USA to allow such grass strips to be used more imaginatively, creating wildlife friendlier spaces and even food production, I was heartened to find one attempt to turn over the grass to a community garden in nearby Altona..

Well, old friend, hopefully I’ll be able to share some other Aussy horticulture with you next month, as we shall still be here, and maybe have visited some of the gems in Victoria and possibly further afield…oh, and of course doting on my new grand daughter!

Old School Gardener

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