Our garden at La Trobe’s Cottage has lots of plants with a fascinating history. They have come from a wide range of people and some have good provenance and others don’t.
Our olive came from Ballam Park which is a historic property in Frankston on the Mornington Peninsular of the Liardet family. Georgiana McCrae (another early settler of the Mornington Peninsular and friend of La Trobe) gave a cutting from her orchard to her friend at Ballam Park. It struck and is still there today. About 5 to 6 years ago, the National Trust took some cuttings and we planted ours in 2009 to celebrate La Trobe’s 170th anniversary of his arrival in Melbourne.
Another fantastic connection is Jenny Happell (a descendant of Georgiana) who volunteers as a guide at the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne and she collected and germinated the seed of golden fields wattle Acacia acinacea syn. Acacia latrobei from the plants in the garden. She gave us a couple and we now have the ‘exceedingly pretty little dwarf acacia flowering abundantly in its native soil at Jolimont’ which La Trobe mentions in a letter to his Tasmanian friend Ronald Gunn in the 1840s.
In 2011 I heard along the grape vine – excuse the pun, that there may be some escapee succulents that could have quite possibly come from his rockery which grow today along the East Melbourne/Jolimont train line. I decided to go and check it. It was rather an adventure as I haven’t climb over a high wire fence into a place where I should not have been for about 20 years. I decided that being over 45 I was starting to get too old to scrounge plants in this way.
I got some Aeonium arboretum, Agave americana, and Aloe arborescens. They are species that would have been available to La Trobe and could easily be self-seeded from his original stock. I bought them home to propagate and then plant into the garden at the cottage.
Another plant with very early connections to the early settlers of Melbourne is the creeper Maurandya barclaiana (Mexican viper – this is an ominous common name) which La Trobe spelt Mirandia? Barcliana. His came from Mrs. Perry who was Melbourne’s first Anglican Bishop’s wife and lived in La Trobe’s second cottage Upper Jolimont. Ours also originated from Jenny Happell. Running out of room in the garden, and not wanting to put a vigorous climber on our new fence, I floundered around as where to put it. I decided to plant it at the front steps of the cottage. I probably have created a huge problem for myself, but will worry about that another gardening day.
The last plant is the geranium Pelargonium tomentosum. It has a lovely peppermint-scented leaf and is also another vigorous grower. Its story is – Doug Gunn worked at Bedggood’s Factory*. He used to eat his lunch in the garden near what was left of the Cottage – La Trobe’s Dining Room and the adjoining ‘Butler’s Pantry’. At that time, there was a geranium growing near the Cottage, from which cuttings were taken. Doug’s friend, Stewart Bradley, grew these cuttings. Stewart gave Helen Botham some cuttings from which were grown the plants around the Cottage. It is a great story but unfortunately there is no proof that this is true.
*After La Trobe returned to England, he sold Jolimont and eventually the Bedggood shoe factory was built right up next to the original cottage.