Tasmania and its gardens must be one of Australia’s best kept horticultural secrets. A coolish climate is often coupled with soils that are more often than not based on volcanic minerals that give them much better structure and fertility than many mainland soils. The result is a place where plants developed for northern hemisphere gardens can thrive to create spectacular displays that, in my opinion, rival some of their more famous European counterparts. Having led garden tours through some of the major gardens of Europe as well as a recent tour of Tasmania has given me the opportunity to make such comparisons.
One of the finest Tasmanian gardens I have visited is that at Entally Estate at Hadspen, a short drive from Tasmania’s second largest city Launceston. Entally Estate was founded in 1819 by Thomas Haycock Reibey with a 300 acre land grant to grow cereal crops and Devon cattle. Throughout the 19th Century it grew and prospered, which allowed extensive gardens to be created and maintained such that there are now many magnificent specimen trees that provide a backdrop for some stunning perennial borders and rose gardens amongst other horticultural treasures.
My favourite part of the garden is a beautifully restored conservatory that is stocked with plants that are raised by students from a local TAFE college. All manner of colourful annuals and bulbs are grown in pots for what is perhaps a reminder of how important gardening used to be in Australian society. Rarely do we see riotous displays of colourful annuals these days as government bodies follow a pathway of horticultural austerity.
Indeed, the magnificent gardens at Entally are only possible due to the efforts of an intrepid band of volunteers who offer their services to the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service who currently manage the Estate. More power to these extraordinary folks whose efforts rival those of any professional horticulturist. Apart from the conservatory there is a walled garden featuring stunning roses and cottage gardens as well as perennial borders in the areas surrounding the well preserved homestead, complete with period furnishings.
Entally House is but one of a number of historic houses and gardens throughout Tasmania. The ready access by sea in the early days of the European settlement of Australia ensured that some of the best areas for horticulture were developed early in the 19th Century and many of these now provide us with a glimpse of a time when horticulture was in its prime in Australia.