Charles Bogue Luffman was director at Burnley for ten years from 1897 to 1907; his garden design continues to be the heart of the garden well more than a century later. But the garden at Burnley is comprised of many layers both horticulturally and historically. The succession of directors, academics and garden designers has each added another story, another layer.
This is a garden full of interest no matter the season. There are perennial borders, a native garden, rose garden, herb garden, lawns, ponds and of late green walls and green roofs. This is no ‘monocot monotony’ as Mount Macedon nurseryman Stephen Ryan likes to put it. The progression of principals that followed Luffman each had their own particular interests so roses, camellias and dahlias all had their moment in the limelight.
John Cronin was director for two years; he was very keen on roses and a staunch supporter of the Rose Society. He left to become director of the Royal Botanic Garden Melbourne (RBGM). He had a daunting task as he was filling the shoes of the renowned William Guilfoyle. From 1909-1916 Edward Edgar Pescott took over the reins as principal at Burnley. He was there for seven years and was dedicated to the English landscape style, he thought Gertrude Jekyll ‘a little too modern’ for his taste. Importantly he was the director who facilitated the return of full time classes for women. Professional garden making pioneers Olive Mellor, Millie Gibson and Edna Walling all received their training under his leadership. Subsequent principals included Frederick James Rae (1922-1925) and Alexander William Jessep (1926-194). Jessep was very keen on rose and camellia breeding. Both these principals went on to become directors of RBGM. There’s a trend here – maybe Burnley was viewed by some as a finishing school for ladies but it seems it was also a career progression for the directors!
Burnley was a hub of activity in the early years; poultry farming; bee keeping and dairying were included in the curriculum in addition to horticultural studies in orchards and the growing of vegetables and ornamentals. The agricultural and livestock studies had little impact on Luffman’s design as these were largely located around the fringes of the ornamental gardens. The cows in the dairy herd were grazed in the area now occupied by the Library Quadrangle and the lawns behind it. The Bull Paddock was in the area now on the opposite side of the driveway from the Library, and the Dairy still stands adjacent to it – now a somewhat elegant heritage building.
After Bogue Luffmann departed there was little change to the garden design for the next three decades. Maintenance and some replanting occurred, both out of need and as a consequence of using the gardens as an outdoor classroom. Student labour was crucial to much of the maintenance. During the Depression of the 1930s a new road was constructed along parts of the Yarra River which meant that the grounds no longer had a river boundary. In late November 1934, while the Boulevard was under construction, Melbourne experienced extraordinary rain that resulted in the last great Yarra flood. A large area of the College grounds was flooded and devastated. The lower orchards and its buildings were left in ruins and it took many donations of stock, a great deal of hard work and several years before they were restored.
Burnley has a tradition of graduates and lecturers contributing to the development of the gardens often long after they had moved on to advance their own careers. Others utilised their role as lecturer to engage the students in a new design project. This was the case with Hilda Kirkhope who with student labour created a rockery garden.
Hilda commenced her studies at Burnley in 1926, graduating with a Certificate of Competency in Horticulture in 1928 and she became a noted landscape designer of the mid-twentieth century; like Millie Gibson she went on to study garden architecture. She lectured at Burnley in the early 1930s. After a leave of absence to study overseas she returned later in the decade to replace Miss Allender who had been responsible for the Long Border with herbaceous plants, and the Australian Border with native plants.
Hilda used her experience to influence a number of garden areas but she is particularly renowned for creating the Rockery Garden on the western side of what was known as the Bull Paddock.
Past College Principal James (Les) Provan (Principal from 1942-1946) described the view of the Rockery and the gates as you entered the College from Swan Street:
“On the left hand side of the track were the pair of stone-coloured gates and a beautiful gravelled path leading into the gardens and school building. One passed by an attractive rockery at the end of which was a fine Acacia saligna and a shelter shed for the public.”
The new Administration Building was not completed until 1949 so we can assume the School building is a reference to the ‘Pavilion’. These days we call the ‘shelter shed’ the Summer House’. The Rockery Garden was backed by the fence on the western end of the Bull Paddock and was bounded by the entry driveway from Swan Street that led to the Principal’s Residence and the Pavilion as described by Provan.
This was a challenging site in which to establish a garden bed. The area is dominated by the towering forms of three Hoop Pines (Araucaria cunninghamii), Queensland Kauri (Agathis robusta) and the particularly large Cork Oak (Quercus suber) registered by the National Trust of Australia (Victoria), as well as on the Victorian Heritage Register. These trees are believed to date from 1870 to 1890. Other plantings of note include a Variegated Elm (Ulmus minor ‘Variegata’) dating from the early twentieth century, and a loose collection of small trees in a grassed border along the northern roadway boundary. They include a mature White Cedar Pine (Callitris columellaris) and a Golden Ash (Fraxinus excelsior ‘Aurea’). Mature plantings along the southern boundary shrubbery are believed to be contemporary with the Summer House (constructed c.1911-14).
Rejuvenation work has been undertaken on the Rockery in recent years and sources were found for the types of plants that had been used before WWII. All the replacement plants were available from nursery catalogues in 1939 when Hilda Kirkhope designed the original Rockery. The Rockery and adjacent garden beds are significant as a substantially intact garden area which illustrates the continuous development of Burnley Gardens as a designed landscape and as a relatively intact example of the work of Hilda Kirkhope.
The biggest impact on the gardens since Luffman’s time however, was the construction of the new Administration Building in 1945-49. It was built directly behind the Pavilion which was fondly referred to as ‘The Elephant House’. The Pavilion was partly demolished to enable construction to go ahead and the rest soon disappeared after completion. The loss of the Pavilion removed a major focal point from the Luffmann design – and in exchange there was now a large cream brick edifice that dominated the eastern end of the Garden.
The general response to the Percy Everett designed Art Deco building was that it was ‘ugly’ and plans to soften the hard lines and flat roof with vegetation were soon underway. Much of the garden associated with the old Pavilion had been removed during construction leaving a virtual blank canvas for the development of a new garden lay out. Burnley graduates Hilda Dance and Grace Fraser contributed to the discussions but Emily (Millie) Gibson was subsequently awarded the project. (However the Dance plan is the only one still in existence).
An Irish immigrant from a horticultural family, Millie (nee Grassick) enrolled at Burnley and excelled as a student before graduating in 1917. She became friends with fellow graduate Olive Mellor and she acted as a mentor to the young Edna Walling.
With her certificate in hand, Millie successfully applied for an apprenticeship in the office of Americans Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony. She quickly became immersed in projects at the forefront of landscape design and subsequently became the first Australian qualified landscape architect. She returned to Burnley as a lecturer on two occasions over the following three decades.
Millie’s design included typical mid-twentieth century plantings such as varieties of camellia (Camellia japonica cv), Luculia (Luculia gratissima) and a number of different Magnolias (Magnolia spp.). There were two fine Western Red Cedars (Thuja plicata ‘Zebrina’), a Sequoia (Sequoia sempervirens), and a Juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘Pfitzeriana Aurea’. A Magnolia grandiflora originally intended to be an espalier planted at the front of the building to break up the long brick facade completely outgrew this original concept and is now a magnificent, much loved feature.
Two kidney-shaped beds were constructed in a turfed area between the building and the Luffmann Garden, with a narrow gap affording a glimpse to the now heritage listed English Oak. This planting continues to form an effective transition zone to the old garden. The ‘ugly duckling’ is now surrounded by mature shrubs and trees and sits comfortably in the landscape.
[Preview to Part Three. In the post WW11 years the tradition of past students and lecturers supporting the development of the gardens continued. Ellis Stones, Kath Deery, Robert Boyle and James Hitchmough each designed garden areas using Australian plants, rocks and water.]
Historical research for this article was conducted by Dr Anne Vale and Associate Professor Don Garden.