Thursday, 8 December 2011

Padua Botanic Garden

I'm sometimes asked for a list of my favourite gardens to visit in Europe. One that quickly comes to mind is the Padua Botanic Garden in northern Italy, near Venice. Although I have only visited the Orto Botanico di Padova twice - once in high summer and once in deep winter - this institution ticks all my garden history boxes.

An aerial view of the Orto Botanico 
While the botanic garden at Padua was not the first to be established (Pisa is one year older), it is recognised as the oldest in the world set in its original location. A fine example of the High Renaissance interest in science the garden was set up by Padua University to teach medical students about therapeutic plants used in healing. At the time the study of botany was an essential part of medical training, a coexistence that continued up to the middle years of the 20th century.

I found this early photographic view
of the gardens in a Padua antique shop

Another early view of the gardens this time showing 
the glasshouse surrounding the 'Goethe palm' 
The oldest plant in the garden is a Chamaerops humilis var. arborescens, planted in 1585, commonly known as the 'Goethe Palm', because the German poet and philosopher mentioned it in his essay The Metamorphoses of Plants (1790). This semi-hardy palm is situated in a purpose built glasshouse (see above). Many other trees in the Arboretum date from the 18th,19th and 20th centuries.

During the warmer months of the year
many of the frost tender plants - such
as these succulents - are moved outside

In 1997 the institution was listed as a UNESCO World heritage Site on the following grounds: 'The Botanical Garden of Padua is the original of all botanical gardens in the world, and represents the birth of science, of scientific exchanges, and understanding of the relationship between nature and culture. It has made a profound contribution to the development of many modern scientific, notably botany, medicine, chemistry, ecology and pharmacy.'

Within easy reach of Venice Padua is well worth a visit. Although badly damaged by bombing in World War II the city is filled with many wonderful historic buildings. Personal favourites are the Scrovegni Chapel (also known as the Apollo Chapel) decorated by Giotto, and the 13th century Baptistery decorated with frescoes by Giusto de Menabuoi.

I would love to hear from readers who share my enthusiasm for this garden and city.

Further reading in English: The Botanical Garden of Padua 1545-1995, edited by Alessandro Minelli, Marsilio, Venice, 1995

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Gnome lover

The first garden I truly admired was a gnomery I saw in the early 1960s. As a little boy I was awestruck by the hundreds, literately hundreds, of brightly coloured little figures looking at me behind one Welsh gnome-garden fence.  Perhaps this early memory left me with a lasting affection for these fun-loving ornaments as I have since acquired several examples which populace parts of my house and garden. My interest led me to writing a brief history of the gnome for the Oxford Companion to Australian Gardens in 2002. There have been many, so called, jocular studies of these ornaments so I was pleased to discover a serious work by the respected English garden historian Twigs Way, titled Garden Gnomes: a History. 

A Sydney gnome garden

As well as looking at the mythic origins of the gnome the author discusses the different manufacturers in Britain and around the world. One of the leading makers in the UK was Major Garden Ornaments, a firm founded by the parents of former 1980s British Prime Minister John Major, which was in operation from 1930 until 1962. These were the boom years of gnome sales, which reached its peak after the release of the 1937 Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

The author of this blog with
 one of his larger garden companions
By the late 1960s the gnome was perceived as vulgar and 'low-rent' and became a symbol of derision. In recent years cement constructed figures have been partially replaced by cheaper plastic constructed versions, and there has been a nostalgic revival of appreciation for these fun, somewhat kitsch, ornaments. Despite this, the Royal Horticultural Society in Britain maintains a long-standing ban on the gnome being exhibited at the Chelsea Flower Show.

One of my more refined gnomes
 which dates from the late 19th century

Appropriately for the subject of Twig Way's book this work is diminutively sized. It is also well-illustrated and gives an excellent overview of the history of gnomes from their mythic origins in Germanic folklore through their early high-quality production years up to the time of mass-sales in the twentieth century. This book is a must have for all garden historians and for all those with a true interest in garden ornamentation. 

Garden gnomes:  a history, by Twigs Way, Shire Books, Oxford, 2009, UK, RRP £5.99, ISBN 978-0-7478-0710-0

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Elizabeth Farm

Regarded by many as Australia's oldest surviving house, Elizabeth Farm, near Parramatta, was built by Elizabeth Macarthur in 1793 and is surrounded by a distinctive garden which will appeal to many.

Front of the house

After nearly two centuries of private ownership the property was acquired by the New South Wales State Government in the 1970s and was later put into the care of the Historic Houses Trust (HHT). The HHT restored the house and deliberately decorated it with reproduction period furnishings so visitors could sit on the 'colonial' furniture as well as touch objects, something unheard of in most historic properties

Informal hedge of plumbago on the drive

While the original  estate had originally been 250 acres, when the Government acquired the property it was little more an an acre. Little has survived of the original garden plantings apart from several mature hoop pines, a Chinese elm and an ancient olive (believed to be the oldest surviving specimen in Australia). The HHT expertly restored the garden using evidence from many historical sources, including watercolours, photographs and diaries. All the added plants used in the garden were available in the area in the 19th century. The result today is a largely restored colonial period garden.

The vegetable garden is used as a teaching tool

Like the house, the garden is incorporated into teaching programmes organised by the HHT. During term time school groups learn about Australian history and how people lived in the past. Dressed as servants the children learn, through role-play, about the life of the Macarthurs and the day-to-day  toil of colonial life. For many children the recreated vegetable plot is an incite into where are food comes from.

There are many cacti and succulents in the garden

For many years the garden has been under the care of Ann who in the company of her giant poodle keeps the property in fine fettle. One of my favourite parts of the garden is the cactus garden at the end of the driveway, and here we find a mature collections of Aloes and Opuntia all of which date from the time of restoration.

Elizabeth Farm. 70 Alice Street, Rosehill, Sydney, NSW. Tel (02) 9635 9488

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

An arresting image

Several months ago I came across an unusual etching of a street scene in an antique market.  Divorced of any cars or people the main subject in the print was the power lines and the mature hoop pines growing at the edge of a park. The work was untitled but was signed Christine A. Pecket and dated [19]35. I didn't buy the work at the time, but regreted not doing so as soon as I left the building.

Etching by Christine A. Pecket

Luckly two months later the etching was still for sale on my next visit to the market. The image was too striking to ignore, so, this time, I purchased the work. Captivated by the unusual composition I immediately wanted to learn about its creator. I soon discovered that Ms Pecket was not mentioned in the New McCulloch's Encyclopedia of Australian Art (the standard general reference on Australian artists) or Heritage: The National Women's Art Book (the main reference for Australian female artists).

The signature had a clumsy youthful feel as if written by a hand not used to writing her name. Perhaps Christine Pecket was a school girl when she made the etching, this might explain the absence of a title and edition numbers. Despite the crude signature the image was most arresting and deserved further enquiry.

Despite the lack of knowledge in the standard art history references, I soon discovered that there were a few interesting paintings by her as well as some pieces of pottery illustrated on the internet. I also discovered that she had written an autobiography in the 1970s. Further research on some on-line sites revealed that she had lived for many years in Sydney, close to where I live.

While the previously mentioned reference books were unforthcoming I next turned to the Design & Art Australia Online (DAAO), an excellent free-access website managed by the University of New South Wales. This site has the ambitious goal of documenting every artist who is working or has worked in Australia. So far about 8,000 artists have been documented and I am pleased to have been involved with the project since its launch in 2007.

Christine Pecket's autobiography, Some Facets of My Life, tells of her battles recovering from polio when she was a girl and how she battled with her severe disabilities during her lifetime. Despite being forced to labour in many unglamorous jobs she worked as an artist for over forty years. At the end of her book there are a number of her images reproduced including the street image illustrated above.

For the record, in her book, the illustrated etching is titled 'Ormond Street, Ashfield' and shows the street where she lived during the 1930s when she was studying art in Sydney. The park in Pecket's etching is Ashfield Park, and this fine Victorian-era reserve still has many fine examples of hoop pines (Araucaria cunninghamii) as well as circular beds of canna lilies.

The distinctive shape of the hoop pine

Intriged by Christine Pecket my research into her creative life continues. Hopefully my biography will appear on the DAAO website in the next couple of months. In the meantime if anyone has any information about her or has examples of her work I would love to here from them.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Blue Mountains Botanic Gardens, Mt Tomah

The name ‘Blue Mountains’ conjures up exotic images of a mysterious, ancient landscape untouched by the modern world. Such an evocative name for a mountain range seems obvious when you stare out over the blue landscape from the summit of Mount Tomah, 105 kms west of Sydney. Apparently the blue colour is caused by the optical distortion of light through droplets of air-born eucalyptus oil released from the forest below. 

The Blue Mountains

At 987 metres above sea level, Mount Tomah is one of the higher peaks of these mountains. An extinct volcanic vent, the summit’s only reminder of its violent past is the dark basalt rock and the nutrient-rich soil. The depth and quality of the earth is evident in the tall trees growing on the peak when compared with the stunted forest covering the impoverished sandstone soils found lower down the mountain.

Its soil and dramatic position make Mt Tomah a perfect site for a garden. Opened in 1987, the ‘Blue Mountains Botanic Garden, Mount Tomah’ is the cool-climate annex of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney. This must be one of the most beautifully sighted parks in the world - from the wisteria-covered observation deck you get a panoramic view of the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains National Park.

Young cone on a Wollemi pine

In August 1994, ranger David Noble accidentally discovered a colony of ancient conifers growing in a sheltered rainforest gully in the nearby Wollemi wilderness. The tall Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis, named in honour of its discoverer) had somehow survived continental drift, climate change and bushfires. Fossil records suggest that this species dates back over 150 million years and may have once grown in Antarctica, India, New Zealand and South America when they were joined to Australia in the super continent Gondwana.

Both exotic and native trees flourish on the rich soil

The Wollomi pine is arguably the greatest botanical discovery of the second half of the 20th century. At Mount Tomah, you can see this close cousin of the Norfolk Island pine and monkey puzzle tree growing near the visitors’ centre. It will be interesting to see how it develops in the rich volcanic soil. Offering refuge for rare and endangered plants is a big part of the work carried out here. Education is also important.

Exhibit on fungi in the visitors centre

At Mount Tomah there are some wonderful walks which will open your eyes to the wonders of plants and the discoveries made by earlier plant explorers. From one of these walks you even get a distant easterly vista of the city of Sydney.

The first European to discover Mount Tomah was the botanical collector, George Caley (1770-1829), who accompanied by his dog and three convict servants, reached the summit of Fern Tree Hill (as it was first described) on 10th November 1804. In a letter to his patron, Sir Joseph Banks, Caley wrote: “My journey to the Carmarthen Mountains (an early colonial name for the hills of the northern Blue Mountains region) was a rough one. I was out three weeks which was as long as I was able to abide for the want of provisions. The roughness of the country I found beyond description.”

Caley was by no means the first to discover Mount Tomah. For thousands of years the area was the home of the Dharug Aboriginal people until they were wiped out by diseases introduced by the early colonialists. Although little remains of their language, the word tomah survives – it means “tree fern”. These elegant ferns grow in profusion in the garden and on surrounding mountain tops. Many have been incorporated into the main rock garden, which is also home to high-altitude plants - mainly from the Southern Hemisphere - including the architecturally dramatic protea and giant lobellia from Africa, the Australian banksia and the spring-flowering waratah.

Lobelia giberroa from the highlands of east Africa

Brightly coloured parrots and honeyeaters feed on the nectar-rich flowers. Keep a lookout for the ground-dwelling lyrebird. This shy songbird is one of the greatest mimics on earth. With such prolific birdlife and its magnificent landscape, this 28ha botanic ark is a must-see – as witnessed by nearly 100,000 visitors a year. And now thanks to a recent election promise admission charges have been removed.

Blue Mountains Botanic Garden, Mount Tomah, Bells Line of Road, Mount Tomah, NSW
Open daily (no admission charge) tel: 02 - 4567 2154

Monday, 1 August 2011

Vintage views of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney

An early 20th century view of the Botanic Gardens, Sydney

Many years ago I came across a book titled Postcards from Kew. This well illustrated work highlighted a collection of old postcards of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, London. Inspired I decided to search for similar postcards showing views of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney (RBG). Within weeks I had discovered a couple of dozen images dating from the early years of the last century. As a garden historian I was intrigued by these images and went in search of more at markets and postcard fairs. Within a couple of years I had a collection of several hundred cards. Clearly the botanic gardens in Sydney was just as popular with postcard collectors as was Kew.

In this beautifully printed German card we see a
 glimpse of Sydney Harbour from the Botanic Gardens

Several years ago I showed part of my collection to Judy Blood and Miguel Garcia of the RBG research library. Fascinated by these images they asked permission to scan the works for research purposes. Recently a series of these images have been printed by the RBG for sale at their bookshop. Many of thepostcards used come from my collection while others come from the album of RBG guide Jenny Pattison, a fellow postcard collector. The ‘Vintage Views’ cards sell for $1, and there are mounted prints which sell for a very reasonable $9.95. These images were recently used in an interactive walk in the gardens where the vintage views where set up at the same spot where the original photographs were taken.

In the back ground of this postcard
is the Chess Pavillion built in 1897

One of my cards being used in the Vintage Views
 self-guided walk at the Royal Botanic Gardens.
While the Chess Pavillion is still on site the ornamental
 fountain in the postcard image is long gone

Why we think of the brief text based message as correspondence from our time - think of  Twitter, SMS and e-mail - but the succinct message dates from the mid 19th century when the telegram was invented. Later in the century the postcard was introduced. The collecting of postcards became a craze around the world from the 1890s to the time of World War One and many photographers and publishers produced cards with tempting images of people and places, including public parks and gardens.

Classically inspired statuary near the Levy Fountain

Swiss printed view of the Botanical Gardens
looking east towards the palm grove

While most of my postcard images are Sydney based I also have some fine views of other towns and cities in Australia and around the world. Every few weeks I will post some more postcard images from my collection.  Any requests?

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Three cheers for the old mole

I was sad to hear that the guru of garden tools Richard Bird has decided to shut up shop. Richard is known to many as The Old Mole and was a regular stall holder at garden themed festivals and conferences in south-east Australia over the last decade or so.

Richard Bird (centre) talking tools with a customer 
I first met Richard at a garden fair in the late 1990s where he was selling his antique and reproduction tools and garden equipment as well as displaying his wonderful collection of garden paraphernalia. Over the years we became friends and we often discussed and traded old tools. Inspired by his passion for the subject I organised a couple of antique tool shows in Sydney which helped gain further interest in the subject. At both these events Richard and his trademark green Morris Minor van were present and he gave several talks on the history of tools and his collection.

The Old Mole display at an Australian plant fair
After many years Richard (never Dicky) has decided to retire from active trading. Rather than flogging his collection to the highest bidder he has decided to donate a significant part of it to a soon to be established garden history museum at Carrick Hill in South Australia. Hopefully this bequest will inspire others to do the same.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Nurseries: Honeysuckle Cottage Nursery

In recent years the nursery trade has been in dire straights. Less and less people are gardening which means more and more nurseries are closing or are being swallowed-up by the large retail chains. Despite this there are some nurseries that valiantly trade on year-after-year despite the vicissitudes of taste, climate and economics. One such nursery is Honeysuckle Cottage located in the foothills of the Blue Mountains at Bowen Mountain, near Richmond.

This half-hidden sign on the road declares that
the nursery is 'the home of Old Fashioned Plants.'

Honeysuckle Cottage was established by Keith and Judyth Mcleod in 1977. At the time this nursery was one of many dedicated to selling perennials and roses as the cottage garden revival style was then popular, but since the late 1990s there has been a move away from this kind of gardening. Sadly, today Honeysuckle Cottage is the only nursery near Sydney that specialises in rare and unusual perennials and herbaceous plants.

First view of the nursery from the road

I remember visiting the nursery on one of my early visits with a climbing rose I couldn't identify. Without hesitation Keith - the resident rosearian - ID'd the flower as 'White Maman Cochet', a popular Tea Rose during the Edwardian period. Since then I have visited Honeysuckle Cottage several times a year looking for unusual plants and sage advice.

'White Maman Cochet' tea rose
Honeysuckle Cottage is a 'proper nursery' as they propagate and grow their own plants, unlike most modern nurseries who buy in stock from large wholesalers. While many nurseries have adopted the sales techniques of modern retailing (colour-themed display stands, piped music and pink uniforms) this nursery display their plants in the traditional way on the ground and in romantic disorder.

Many of the plants for sale are growing near their parent stock plants, such as the 3 metre tall Mexican Fuchsia Sage (Salvia iodantha) which on my last visit was in full bloom near the sales shed. Of course after seeing this plant I bought one after seeing its mother in her full glory. As well as Salvia the nursery has a wonderful selection of herbs, most notably lavender and thyme.

Salvia iodantha 

Co-owner Dr Judyth McLeod is a prolific author of garden and history books and many of her publications have a world wide market. I can certainly recomend her book Heritage Gardening (1994), and her more recent study of medieval gardening In a Unicorn's Garden (2008).

One of many books by Dr Judyth McLeod
All the staff working at the nursery are friendly and certainly know their plants well, and a keen gardener can easily spend an hour walking through the nursery in the company of the resident bell birds. Although not to every gardeners taste, Honeysuckle Nursery is one of the most idiosyncratic nurseries in Australia, and for those with an interest in perenials, herbs and roses it makes a must-see horticultural pilgrimage site. 

Honeysuckle Nursery is located at 30 Bowen Mountain Road, Grose Vale, NSW 2753 (tel 02-4572 1345). The nursery is open six days a week (closed Wednesday), but it's best to ring first during the week. 

Thursday, 30 June 2011

The last rose of summer

Its now mid-winter and there are hardly any decent roses in flower. Well that was what I thought until today I saw my 'Autumn Delight' in full bloom.

Autumn Delight

This beautiful rose has been in my front garden for about ten years and was purchased from Mary Davies Colonial Gardens nursery in Dural near Sydney. At the time I was looking for a low growing white rose which dated from the interwar period for my period-themed front garden. Without any hesitation Mary recomended this 1933 British raised Hybrid Musk. This rose only grows to 1 metre and has few thorns, and seems to tolerate Sydney's humid climate. I used to prune it like a Hybrid Tea in late winter but I have recently tried to resist attacking it with the secateaurs apart from regular dead heading. This shrub has an open habit and has flushes of semi-single white/cream flowers throughout the year, especially in late autumn and early winter, and makes a great alternative to the overused Iceberg rose.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011


I’m often asked for suggestions for gardens worth visiting for horticultural and design inspiration. One of my favourites is ‘Eryldene’ in the northern Sydney suburb of Gordon and it is often open at weekends at this time of the year.

The front garden at Eryldene
Eryldene is the former home of linguist and garden designer Professor E G Waterhouse (1881-1977). The house dates from 1913-14 and was designed by the eccentric architect William Hardy Wilson. The semi-formal front garden is a fine example of an interwar garden, and was meant to be seen from the street.  The mixed plantings of perennials, shrubs, lawn and trees sympathise well with the symmetrical design and colouring of the main house. The front garden is dominated by a large jacaranda, a tree often planted in gardens designed by Waterhouse, such as the still extant specimen he planted in the Main Quadrangle at the University of Sydney in the 1920s.

While the front garden at Eryldene contains a diverse palette of plants most of the garden is dominated by camellias. This genus was one of Waterhouse’s great loves and he propagated most of the plants in the garden. Waterhouse’s fascination with camellias saw him establish the Camellia Grove Nursery at St Ives in 1939 which helped the shrub regain popularity. The professor later became the first president of the International Camellia Society and was awarded the prestigious Veitch Gold Medal by the Royal Horticultural Society in 1966.

The Hardy Wilson designed Tea House

Both Waterhouse and Hardy Wilson were fascinated with China and one of the delights of the back garden is the Chinese influenced Tea House built in 1927. The garden is often open to the public during the weekends, especially when the Camellias are in flower as they are during winter time.

Eyldene, 17 McIntosh Street, Gordon (nearest train station Gordon)

Thursday, 2 June 2011

The Education of a Gardener

For anyone infected with the gardening bug, an early symptom is the intense desire to learn more about the subject. While television and radio programmes can be informative, they are by their nature fleeting and hardly ever accessible when a problem or query arises. The obvious answer is to build up a specialist personal reference library, and have these texts close at hand. While garden books are often informative, they are expensive, so care needs to be taken in choosing titles which are well-written and their content suitable for your climatic conditions.

There are literally hundreds of garden books published each year in Australia and around the English-speaking world. They can be loosely divided into a number of sub-categories: how-to books, plant IDs, horticultural textbooks, plant monographs, garden profiles, and the eclectic basket of “miscellaneous themes”.


Like cooks, gardeners need to have a few entry-level texts as an introduction to all aspects of the craft. While most how-to books are large and well illustrated, there are some that should be avoided. Many multinational publishers produce garden books aimed for the British, North American and European markets. Their information is general in nature and often unsuitable for Australian climates.

A 1950s cover of the Yates Garden Guide

For me the best all-purpose book available locally is the Yates Garden Guide. First published in 1895, this book has been updated more than 50 times during its long history and is packed with accurate information suitable for all our climatic areas. If you must have only one garden book in your library, that book should be Yates Garden Guide. As a must-have book it makes an ideal housewarming present when a new garden awaits.


All gardeners want to learn the names of plants growing around them, be they ornamentals, vegetables, trees and even weeds and there is a plethora of books available for such a purpose. There are several weighty tomes brimming with photographs of plants, which can be very useful in identifying the name of that sickly perfumed plant growing over the neighbour’s fence or the large red-flowered bush growing in the backyard.

My personal favourites in this category our Stirling Macobys, What Flower is That? and the Reader’s Digest Garden Encyclopedia. Identification in both these books is based on plant type and variety of flower, which is illustrated in thumbnail photographs. While these guides are suitable for the non-botanist, specialist identification guides are essential for those with some intermediate or advanced technical plant knowledge, such as the five-volume Horticultural Flora of South Eastern Australia by Roger Spencer.


Of the many books used in teaching horticulture, there are two works that have lasted the test of time. Soil science, I must confess, was never my strongest subject when I was a horticultural student, so I relied heavily on Kevin Handreck and Neil Black’s Growing Media for Ornamental Plants & Turf for technical help. Despite the dry title, this book is essential for the serious gardener or horticulturist keen to lean more about the science behind plant nutrition.

While knowledge of soil science is not essential for every gardener, knowledge of plant health is, so every gardener should have a copy of Judy McMaugh’s, What Garden Pest or Disease is That?  Thanks to the detailed photographs and text the reader can clearly identify all the major pests and diseases found in Australian plants and ways to eradicate them. As pest and disease management has changed much in recent years, readers should try and locate a recent edition.


While introductory guides supply accurate information, it’s mainly general in nature. For those wanting cultural advice about different types of plants thousands of specialist guides are available often written by expert gardeners for different audiences such as home gardeners, horticulturists and botanists.

Illustrated books featuring high-profile gardens have been around for many years, having grown out of souvenir guides to private homes and National Trust gardens. While they are especially popular in Britain and the United States, there have been few local examples apart from books on the major botanic gardens and prominent private gardens. One of the best private garden books is The Garden at Bronte by the prominent food and garden writer Leo Schofield. Beautifully illustrated this book records Leo's eight-year project to restore Bronte House, a mid-19th century property in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

With the cult of celebrity taking over the western world, it was inevitable that profiles about famous gardeners would join the rows of books about famous chefs and sportsmen. Often little more than elaborate portfolios of the designers’ works, these vanity monographs offer few insights into the life and work of the designer. In my view, critical attention on any artist or designer should be left until after their death.


Much of the writing available is aimed at the entry-level gardening reader. Many gardeners have been involved with landscape design for a number of decades and demand a little more meat in their garden books. Every few years, a truly original book comes out, which is worth reading again and again. Two of my favourites are The Nature of Gardens edited by Peter Timms, and The Oxford Companion to Australian Gardens, edited by Richard Aitken and Michael Looker. In The Nature of Gardens, Timms asked 10 Australian writers what gardens mean to them, why they are important, and how we can come to better understand our urban environment. 

The Oxford Companion to Australian Gardens is one of the most original books ever written on Australian gardens and was written in association with the Australian Garden History Society. Like other 'Ox Comps', this well-illustrated reference gives the keen gardener a concise introduction to the world of Australian gardening. Reflecting the diversity of the book, entries include well-researched histories of prominent gardens and designers as well as quirky items such as the history of the gnome and the tyre swan. I have a soft-spot for this book as I wrote several entries including the one on gnomes.


While most bookshops sell garden books, many of their titles are aimed at those buying presents for relatives with an interest in gardening: “Grandad likes roses, lets get him a book on that, - this one looks nice”. While Grandad or Grandma may indeed like roses, they may prefer a more specialist book on heritage roses or plants raised by specialist growers such as David Austin.

Yates Garden Guide

What Flower is That? by Stirling Macoboy, revised ed New Holland Press

Readers Digest Garden Encyclopaedia

Horticultural Flora of South Eastern Australia [five volumes] by Roger Spencer, University of New South Wales Press

Growing Media for Ornamental Plants & Turf, by Kevin Handreck and Neil Black, University of New South Wales Press

What Garden Pest or Disease is That? by Judy McMaugh, New Holland

The Garden at Bronte, by Leo Schofield, Penguin

The Nature of Gardens, by Peter Timms, Allen and Unwin

The Oxford Companion to Australian Gardens, edited by Richard Aitken and Michael Looker, Oxford University Press

For keen gardeners, it’s well worth visiting the garden bookshops found in the larger botanic gardens. For an even better range you should try and visit Florilegium, Australia’s only specialist garden bookshop. Now in its 22nd year, Florilegium at 65 Derwent Street, Glebe in Sydney (T: 02 9571 8222) is open seven days a week and has a mail order list. Shop owner, Gil Teague, has his own favourites, such as the North American author, Michael Pollan. According to Teague, Pollan’s thoughtful and witty debut book, Second Nature, was the “best read of the last seventeen years”. He also enjoyed Pollan’s recent work on food ethics, Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Do you have any suggestions for garden books to add to my list?

This article is an edited version of a piece I wrote for Wellbeing Organic Garden magazine.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Deciduous Magnolia

The English diarist Dr Samuel Johnson once said that "when men grow old they start planting trees". This may well be true in the 18th century but why wait now? Late autumn and early winter is without doubt the best time to buy and plant most new plants and the mild temperatures allow young trees almost six months to establish a root system before the onset of summer heat.

Deciduous magnolias come mainly from cool temperate parts of China and Japan. They are slow-growing but make wonderful specimens in temperate wind protected gardens.

While I usually say you should wait to see a plant in bloom before you buy, the magnolia is an exception as you're better off trusting the picture on the plant label and planting now. If you wait until the usual flowering time in late winter and early spring before you buy the young plant often lacks early vigour because they miss out on that cool settling-in period before summer. Many a magnolia has died during its first summer because it has been planted too late in the season.

In the right spot deciduous magnolias live for many decades, so with a bit of luck you'll be enjoying your trees in your old age - not still planting them.

Now what are you favourite varieties of deciduous magnolia? Suggestions welcome.

Saturday, 28 May 2011


The aim of my new blog is to write not only about the plants and gardens I love but also to share my interest in art and history.

Finding an appropiate title for this site was hard as it had to honestly reflect my interests. After much thought I chose a name inspired by an art work created by my mother, Joan Glass in the early 1950s. The mixed-media image, titled The Reflected Gardener depicts the distorted image of a gardener seen on a glass table. The colours are very fifties and show the influence of Picasso on my mother's art at the time. I hope you like the image as much as I do.

Anyway enough of the preamble, lets get on with some postings. I wish you a warm welcome and look forward to hearing your thoughts and suggestions soon.
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