Sandi PullmanLa Trobe’s romantic garden – an update

I thought readers would like an update of what the Friends of La Trobe’s Cottage have been up since last time I blogged. Our two major garden projects have finally been completed. The cottage is interpreted to the early 1840s using the George Alexander Gilbert’s painting of View of Jolimont, Melbourne, Port Philip 1843-44 and using that picture we have reinstated the lattice on the front veranda steps and the little veranda outside the dining room window.

George Alexander Gilbert, 1815-1877, artist  View of Jolimont, Melbourne, Port Phillip 1843-44  Pastel on paper, 1844 La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H28142

George Alexander Gilbert, 1815-1877, artist
View of Jolimont, Melbourne, Port Phillip 1843-44
Pastel on paper, 1844
La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H28142. Reproduced with permission.

The garden on the other hand is interpreted to 1850s using the sketches of Edward La Trobe Bateman, who was La Trobe’s cousin. We were very luck in finding one picture where a garden bench was sketched in the lower rockery. We found a very talent fine furniture craftsman, Alastair Boell who very generously donated his time and copied the bench for us. It is now installed under the big oak and is extremely comfortable.

Edward La Trobe Bateman, 1816-1897, artist Front view of Jolimont Pencil and Chinese white on brown paper, c. 1852-1854 La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H98.135/22

Edward La Trobe Bateman, 1816-1897, artist
Front view of Jolimont
Pencil and Chinese white on brown paper, c. 1852-1854
La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H98.135/22. Reproduced with permission.

The garden in the Gilbert picture is gardenesque and the later sketches by La Trobe Bateman are a style known as Romantic. While La Trobe didn’t deliberately change style, the Romantic style is very fitting for La Trobe. It is not a dreamy-eyed view of life or landscape but rather believing in the rights of others, expressing deep, intense and often up lifting emotions. It is about having a deep relationship with nature and creating a world where you can escape the realities of the day, where you can be immersed in nature. It is where the industrial worker could forget his/her dreary life and there was nothing that would remind one of everyday life. Paths were slightly overgrown, walks were gravel or dirt and there were many different types of plants. It was a place where emotions over took reason and they were designed to appeal directly to the soul. This style is poignant to La Trobe as we know he often escaped the stresses of government by working in his garden.

The new timber bench crafted by Alastair Boell

The new timber bench at La Trobe’s Cottage, crafted by Alastair Boell

I discovered this when researching information for our new garden brochure that Citywide (who also look after the garden) donated to us. I contacted John Hawker at Heritage Victoria and asked what style did he think the later garden was and his replied Romantic.

The restored lattice on La Trobe's Cottage

The restored lattice on La Trobe’s Cottage

And lastly one of our very special plants is the Glycine latrobeana, Purple Clover (related to the soya bean) is listed as ‘Vulnerable’ under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. We have two plants and as I understand it dies down over winter. However, one plant didn’t die down over winter but kept growing. It has now died down, while the dormant plant is now growing. Unfortunately there are not enough scientists studying threatened species and nobody knows if this is normal or not. Our second plant has popped up but in a different place. Apparently some peas (glycine is in the legume family) have a clonal component to their reproduction which allows them to extend their roots laterally underground and shoot up in another spot. Maybe the glycine has this ability but again nobody is studying it due to state government budget cuts in the Department of Environment and Primary Industries.
If you would like more information please visit the Friends Of La Trobe’s Cottage website.

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Sandi Pullman

About Sandi Pullman

Sandi was a horticultural advisor to ABC TV’s Gardening Australia and has 21 years experience. She is a regular contributor to Vasili’s Good Gardening and Your Vegie Patch. She has also contributed to the Gardening section of The Age and to the Australian Garden History Society journal over the years. She is a founding member of the Friends of Burnley Gardens and now is volunteer garden co-ordinator for the Friends of La Trobe’s Cottage and is researching what plants were available from 1800 to 1854 to recreate an authentic garden of early Melbourne.

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