Dr Anne ValeBurnley’s Secret Garden Part 4 – The Sunken Garden

If you have been following parts 1-3 of this tour of the Burnley Garden you will know that at the heart of the garden is the heritage landscape designed by Bogue Luffman. Wrapped around this central core there are numerous spaces showcasing almost every imaginable type of garden including herb, rose, perennial and cactus. There are also two courtyards, the Pear Tree Court and the Sunken Courtyard.

Original driveway with herbaceous border c1916 (courtesy Burnley Archives)

Original driveway with herbaceous border c1916 (courtesy Burnley Archives)

The Sunken Courtyard was created on the footprint of the original Principal’s Residence. The residence faced the Pavilion across the lawn providing the semi-domestic flavour that Luffman wished to demonstrate. The Pavilion was demolished during 1949-1950 as the new Administration Building was completed.

The residence was demolished in the mid-1980s, the former Luffman driveway was replaced with lawn and paths and its lovely border transplanted. The border had featured a stunning collection of shrubs and perennials including, strelitzia, plectranthus, purple leaf hazelnut, rhododendrons and camellias. Many of these still thrive at Rock Point, a curved stone wall that marks the original start of the drive.

Geoff Olive (Courtesy Geoff Olive)

Geoff Olive (Courtesy Geoff Olive)

Lecturers John Patrick and Geoff Olive are generally attributed with the idea of converting the open scar into a Sunken Garden with Geoff Olive the main designer and driving force.

Many staff and students were unhappy about the removal of the old building, Phil Tulk, who later became garden manager, was a student there at that time, and he later recollected the impact of this change,

By far the most distressing thing to happen to the gardens over the last 20 years was the removal of the Principal’s Residence. The residence was the focal point of the grounds, all paths lead to the old building and many of the plantings framed the structure. It was a fine old home. As a student I remember being part of the group engaged in the removal of plantings along the drive that ran to the Principal’s Residence and the initial digging for the Sunken Garden. At the time few of us realised that the changes that were taking place in the grounds were the beginning of the modernisation of the old Burnley Gardens. While the Sunken Garden was beginning to appear a few traditional aspects of Burnley were disappearing. The great beds of annuals, along the main path through the gardens, the island beds and outside the main building were gone.

Sunken Courtyard (Anne Vale)

Sunken Courtyard (Anne Vale)

The Sunken Garden was also designed to provide an amenity for handicapped people. Ramps provided wheelchair access, and walls were built to a height that would facilitate close interaction with the plants. Original planting included many sensory plants, such as Lavandula species, with bulbs and annuals added for seasonal colour. Three small rectangular ponds were incorporated into the walls at sitting height. The Sunken Garden was built with bluestone blocks, it stands in stark contrast to the colours, soft lines and curves of the surrounding heritage landscape but it also provides a retreat from the rest of the garden and the outside world.

The Pear Tree Courtyard (Anne Vale)

The Pear Tree Courtyard (Anne Vale)

The Pear Tree Courtyard
Another courtyard space was created late in the 1980s by an American academic on secondment to Burnley. The designer Steve Mullany described its condition when he was given the design task as,

… a neglected and tree-less weedy patch with some paved paths closely parallel to the classrooms and no other defined use or functional features. I thought the entire area could be improved as a perfectly usable and comfortable space for students and staff and for easier access to all the lecture rooms.

The new Quadrangle was formed between a rectangular group of portable buildings that had been installed to provide a new Library and some badly-needed classrooms. Plane trees with understory of groundcovers formed the initial planting but these died due to water logging and poor soil.

Autumn leaves Manchurian pear (Anne Vale)

Autumn leaves Manchurian pear (Anne Vale)

Steve Mullany was responsible for the final design and he determined all the shapes, dimensions, spacing and final details, and produced the plan drawing. Steve described his concept as,

A College Courtyard with plenty of paved surface for active circulation to and from the many lecture room doors, plus passive seating zones for studying, conversation and general lingering…limited maintenance resources guided my choice of repeated masses of resilient plants rather than a variety of more showy perennials with seasonal care requirements. I noted the junipers performing very well at the main Melbourne University campus and specified them around the seating areas. The rectilinear theme for the ground plane shapes was an orderly, unified fit within the strictly enclosed larger rectangular space.

Manchurian pear, Pyrus ussuriensis was used to create a grid of trees. Thirteen 2.5 metre trees were donated in 1989 by a Melbourne nurseryman.

Steve also undertook a landscape design project at the Swan Street entrance. He suggested a double row of Corymbia citriodora (Lemon-scented Gums) along the Entrance Driveway. The trees were grown as seedlings from an original tree in the Citriodora Court and were planted in about 1990. They now provide a mature and elegant avenue into the Campus from Swan Street.

The design for the brick, concrete-bagged gateway, walls and gates at the Yarra Boulevard entrance was undertaken in Steve’s last days before returning to California. This was part of a process in which the main College entrance and address was transferred from Swan Street to the Yarra Boulevard.

Many other areas of the gardens were redeveloped throughout the 1980s. Using the garden as a practical teaching tool was a prime objective. Gardens that were created or rejuvenated included the Rose Garden, the Grey Garden the Cacti Garden and the Herb Garden.

Entrance to the Rose Garden (Anne Vale)

Entrance to the Rose Garden (Anne Vale)

The Rose Garden
Many of the principals at Burnley have been keen on roses. Alex Jessep, Principal from 1926 – 1941, had some 500 specimens which were spread about the gardens wherever the planting conditions suited. Tom Kneen, Principal from 1946 – 1967, with design assistance from Emily Gibson had a new rose garden created as part of the landscaping around the new administration building. Tom’s wife Dorothy remembered the creation of the Rose Garden,

Arnold Teese, son of Greg Teese, who worked at the Pasture branch, designed and with the help of students, built the Rock Garden at the Swan Street entrance and the Rose Garden near the Victorian Plant Research Institute.

In the Rose Garden at Burnley you can follow the development of the rose from the early European and Middle Eastern roses, the introduction of repeat-flowering Chinese roses, through to the Hybrid Teas, Floribundas, David Austen and other Modern roses (Anne Vale)

In the Rose Garden at Burnley you can follow the development of the rose from the early European and Middle Eastern roses, the introduction of repeat-flowering Chinese roses, through to the Hybrid Teas, Floribundas, David Austen and other Modern roses (Anne Vale)

This site was eventually abandoned and returned to mown grass, but the roses remained in various locations before another dedicated bed was created where the Perennial Border is today. They remained in this location, on the southern side of the Oak Lawn, until late 1980 but they did not flourish. Many of the roses became diseased and died due to inadequate drainage. As a student in the 1980s, Phil Tulk recalled how unpleasant it was to prune the roses in the winter time:

The herbaceous border site was not ideal for the roses, as a student I remember sinking in mud as we tried to prune the prickly beasts.

In 1981 a new site, originally known as Lover’s Lawn, was chosen near the south-eastern corner of the old ornamental garden. The Rose Garden was designed and constructed along traditional lines by Geoff Olive. The garden beds for new roses were cut out of the lawn, leaving turf paths in between, and a collection of modern hybrids planted. Later, brick manufacturers Nubrick donated both the paving and the installation to replace the turf paths. Warm-coloured, Victorian Blue bricks were laid in a semi-formal circular pattern with paths radiating from the centre.

The modern roses were replaced with a collection of old fashioned and species roses (Anne Vale)

The modern roses were replaced with a collection of old fashioned and species roses (Anne Vale)

Spring bulbs, perennials and forget-me-nots provided colour and interest when the roses were not in bloom. In the early 1990s, the modern roses were replaced with a collection of old fashioned and species roses. The radial beds are currently planted with a variety of rose cultivars, low growing herbaceous perennials and sub-shrubs. Two timber gazebo structures are located at the western and north-western entry points, with treated pine frames located on the north and western periphery for climbing specimens. The southern boundary fence is festooned with Potato Vine (Solanum laxum ‘Album’). If you enter the Rose Garden through the arbour from the Oak Lawn and circle clockwise, you can follow the development of the rose from the early European and Middle Eastern roses, the introduction of repeat-flowering Chinese roses, through to the Hybrid Teas, Floribundas, David Austen and other Modern roses.

Melianthus major (Anne Vale)

Melianthus major (Anne Vale)

The Grey Garden
The Grey Garden is set in an area between the Engineering Buildings to the north and the Luffman Garden to the south. In 1979, a raised bluestone retaining wall was installed and the site topped up with cheap fill, the only garden bed at Burnley to be created using imported material. Geoff Olive engaged students in a project to develop a Spring Perennial Border to contrast with the Summer/Autumn Perennial border across the lawn. The bed was not a success due to poor quality sandy loam, together with competition from the roots of a large Araucaria sp. and an equally large Ficus macrophylla, When lecturer James Hitchmough arrived from the UK in 1983, he proposed the planting be replaced to create a drought-tolerant grey foliage garden. This type of plant selection was gaining popularity in England with celebrity horticulturists such as Penelope Hobhouse and Beth Chatto.

Echium fastuosum (Anne Vale)

Echium fastuosum (Anne Vale)

Geoff created the Grey Garden by building on a large clump of Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii and a scattering of cactus and succulents already near the site. Planting primarily consisted of grey foliage plants which exhibited protective devices and fleshy leaves, plus a few garden stalwarts such as Acanthus mollis (Bear’s breaches) and Limonium perezii (Statice). Today, the selection of plants, with contrasting foliage and form, includes the Canary Island Sage (Salvia canariensis), a clump of Giant honey flower (Melianthus major) with its lovely jagged silver and blue-green toned leaves and Pride of Madeira (Echium fastuosum). Ground covers include Canary Island Daisy (Ondontospernum sericeum), Cat Thyme (Teucrium marcum) and Bachelors Buttons (Cenia turbinata). The Cushion Bush (Leucophyta brownii) provides a smoky gray haze in contrast to the striking silver leaves of the Eucalyptus macrocarpa. The impetus for this plant selection was poor soil and compacted, dry conditions, but the Grey Garden has evolved into a garden with a very long season of interest where there is always something in leaf, flower, seed or bud.

Burnley Part 4-13 Yucca faxoniana R

Yucca faxoniana. Photo Anne Vale

The Cactus Collection
Walking westward from the Grey Garden towards the Centenary Building there are two Feltbush (Kalanchoe beharensis), which look like succulents on legs. This is a garden of contrasting architectural shapes and interesting foliage textures. A stand of Yucca faxoniana, about four meters tall, features shards of dead leaves drooping down their trunks. The common name for these is Spanish Dagger which is quite confusing as this is also the common name for Yucca gloriosa, which has a completely different form. Yucca gloriosa, with its eye catching stems of creamy flowers features in a number of areas around the Burnley Garden. The Strelitzia nicolae, the Giant White Bird of Paradise or Wild Banana, lives up to its common name. It towers over the other plants with its multiple trunks and paddle shaped leaves. These are under planted with Fox Tail Agave (Agave attenuata) a dense ground cover of contrasting form and foliage.
A large Paddle Cactus (Opuntia), with its delicate creamy yellow flowers and fine prickly spines (that should be avoided at all costs), forms the end of the Cacti Garden.

Opuntia (Anne Vale)

Opuntia (Anne Vale)

South of the cactus bed there are a pair of mature Canary Island Pines (Pinus canariensis), planted in the late nineteenth century. They are of primary significance as remnant elements of the nineteenth century landscape and make a considerable contribution to the heritage character of this part of the garden.

Mrs. Jessep's Seat (Anne Vale)

Mrs. Jessep’s Seat (Anne Vale)

The Herb Garden
The Herb Garden was constructed over the area which originally formed the back garden of the Principal’s Residence. The only remaining part of the residence is the low Coldstream rock wall, raised garden bed and seat. The seat is known as Mrs. Jessep’s Seat as it was built during the time of the Principal, Alex Jessep (1926-1946). Work on the Herb Garden began in 1984 with the enthusiastic involvement of the Herb Society of Victoria. Redesigned in 1993, the beds are planted with a selection of herbs with culinary, medicinal and perfumed or infusion properties, including a Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis), Rose-scented Pelargonium, Salvia dorisiana, Rosa rugosa cultivars, and suckering species roses valued for their hips. Rosemary, thyme, oregano, bronze fennel and globe artichokes thrive alongside numerous other aromatic plants. Perennial herbs, sub-shrubs, woody shrubs and trees provide further interest and form to the planting. These consist of a Jacaranda (Jacaranda mimosifolia) and a flowering peach (Prunus ‘Pollardii’). There is also a Common Yew (Taxus baccata), some citrus trees and a Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla).

Bronze sculpture in the Herb Garden

Bronze sculpture in the Herb Garden

The focal point of the Herb Garden is a bronze water sculpture located within a circular bed edged with Box (Buxus sempervirens). The Bird Bath was constructed in 1987-88 to commemorate the life and work of Enid Carberry (1896-1983). Enid was a founding member of the Herb Society of Victoria and a skilled gardener and naturalist. She graduated from Burnley in 1914 with a Diploma of Horticulture. Enid was part of a significant group of women who took advantage of the early full-time classes for women at Burnley established by Bogue Luffman. She attended classes with Edna Walling and Millie Grassick (Gibson). Olive Holttum (Mellor) was one of her instructors.

The Herb Society Victoria members continue their long association by assisting with the maintenance of this most attractive and important selection of plants.

[Historical research for this article was conducted by Dr Anne Vale and Associate Professor Don Garden]
Burnley Secret Garden Part 5: There have been many changes made to the Burnley Gardens since Bogue Luffman’s time but in more recent years the focus has been on management and maintenance. Changes to courses offered at Burnley have resulted in a significant drop in student engagement in garden making. New projects tend to focus on environmental sustainability as exercises for post graduate research. The final exploration of Burnley’s Secret Garden will look at contemporary developments including green walls and roofs.

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Dr Anne Vale

About Dr Anne Vale

Dr Anne Vale is an author, historian, lecturer and garden photographer. Anne is the author of award winning Exceptional Australian Garden Makers (2014). The sequel, Influential Australian Garden People, which follows the influences of the next generation, is due to be published late 2016. Anne records and assesses gardens with history through her consulting practice Heriscapes. She has written garden guides and histories on significant Australian heritage gardens including Dalvui, Mawarra, Wombat Park and Burnley. She has contributed articles to the online directory on Australian Women Leaders, the Australian Garden History Society journal, Historic Gardens Review journal and the Royal Historical Society Remembering Melbourne (due late 2016).

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