My favourite rose garden isn’t in the green countryside of England or on the outskirts of Paris or even in an area of Australia known for rose growing. No, it’s in a country town in the Great Southern Region of Western Australia about 260 km south east of Perth.
The town is called Kojonup and it is the centre of a canola, wheat and sheep farming district. The garden is the Australian Rose Maze which is part of The Kodja Place, a cultural centre housing a museum, galleries and the Visitor Centre. The reason I like the Rose Maze so much is that it combines not only a stunning floral display but also the history and community spirit of the district into a unique and delightful garden.
The idea of a rose garden was floated when the Kojonup Council and the community were looking at ways to commemorate the Centenary of Federation in 2001. Cathy Wright promoted the development of the rose garden as co-ordinator and manager and she invited local rose grower Penny Young to be involved. Penny came up with the idea of a maze and designed it brilliantly, incorporating a lot of symbolism and various themes into one integrated design. She also selected the Australian bred roses which are able to cope with the hot and dry conditions that prevail for 4 months of the year. These hardy roses contribute to the uniqueness of the garden but it is the combination of the roses with the use of lovely weathered timber and the stories of the community that can be traced by walking through the maze that make it truly unique.
The various strands of the collective community history are expressed in the stories of three fictional women, Yoondi – a Noongar woman representing the original inhabitants of the district, Elizabeth representing English settlers and Maria representing the Italian migrants. Their stories are told on plaques placed throughout the maze and they give a very moving personal insight of what life was like in Kojonup during the last century.
The timber for the structures was donated and then volunteers used it to construct interesting arbours, seats, fences, gazeboes and various structures throughout the maze. Some, like the hollowed out log, are used to make interesting little short cuts for kids walking the maze.
Most of the structures are made of gorgeous weathered silver grey timber but unfortunately not all of them are. As the stories of the women unfold through the decades the structures reflect the style of that decade. Remaining true to history has introduced a few jarring structures – the 1970s pergola for instance, painted in Mission Brown looks so out of place in an otherwise harmonious scene. The angles, the thickness of the timber and the colour clash badly with the older style structures. While I respect the reasoning for it I wish that the newer pergolas were less dominant – perhaps planting a few vigorous climbing roses would soften the impact.
Like the structures, the roses selected are appropriate to each decade with over 100 varieties represented, including 32 bred by renowned Australian rose breeder Alister Clarke. There are a few Western Australian varieties including the stunning China Doll Climbing (syn Weeping), a sport of China Doll discovered by rosarian Bob Melville in his nursery in the Perth hills in 1974. It is grown here as a weeping standard. When the roses are at their peak the display is really magnificent, as is the perfume. Many repeat flowerers were chosen so there is colour over a long period from spring to autumn.
If you are driving between Perth and the south coast via the Albany Highway the Kojonup Rose Maze is definitely worth stopping for. Even if the roses aren’t in full bloom you can meander through the maze admiring the beautiful timber and reading about life in Kojonup last century.