Stuart Read5 things to love about Callan Park Estate, Sydney

Psychiatric hospital therapeutic treatment isn’t what it used to be – perhaps we could learn lots from best-practice of 1880 or the 1910s? Publicly-funded, Government-Architect-designed (working with the medical clinicians), Government Botanist-supplied and influenced grounds that learnt from what the rest of the world were then doing meant that such hospital surrounds were deliberately spacious, green and verdantly planted. Screening the (mad) world outside, its inside productive, beautiful and deliberately therapeutic: part of a cure. Not just for patients, but staff, family and visitors.

Sculptural buttress roots on Ficus macrophylla in Callan Park

Sculptural buttress roots on Ficus macrophylla in Callan Park

Even in post-hospital phase, such poignant places as the former Rozelle Hospital, once called Callan Park, are marvellous repositories of landscape design, planting palettes, tastes, fashions and enthusiasms of earlier ages. To the observant they are rich in lessons: what’s tough, what survives neglect, what triumphs in time – good and poor choices. What wildlife loves and will nest in, feeds off, and gravitates towards. How people use and enjoy open space: shade, contrast, variety – simple principles often ejected in todays computer-screen and magazine-driven myopia. Designers and managers of parks, gardens, and even today’s reduced urban courtyards might well take note. Or a stroll.

Giant spreading lemon scented gum in Callan park

Giant spreading lemon scented gum in Callan park

I recently enjoyed a Botanical Tour with Roslyn Burge and the Friends of Callan Park on a perfect still warm autumn afternoon – a couple of hours to drink in this idyll in the midst of Sydney. Of course its grounds have seen better days with more staff, care, budget and tending. Yet they retain a charm, a generosity of space, quiet calm, undoubted beauty and inspiration, for those looking or needing this. Dog walkers, joggers and strollers pass by family picnicker groups, their blankets on the grass, rollicking football players are out on its open fields, and cars park to enjoy the Parramatta River views, not to mention views further afield to the North Shore or Blue Mountains, from its higher ridge lines.

Callan Park eastern parkland

Callan Park eastern parkland

 

Five things to love about Callan Park’s trees (apart from the above?):

1) Dragon’s blood trees (Dracaena draco):

The Canary Islands has a lot to answer for in terms of sheer exotic flora: these weird, Dr. Seuss book-type trees with their wide spreading, flattish crowns, fat swollen succulent trunks and martini-glass structure of fat branches, snake-skin feel grey leathery leaves and bunches of orange fleshy fruit can’t help catch the eye, and intrigue. Callan Park has eight such trees: a couple quite old – perhaps early 20th century; others younger. A seedling (eighth) is struggling within the folded buttressed roots of a Moreton Bay fig, showing their golden fruit is fertile – good luck to it!

Callan Park's dragon trees, Dracaena draco

Callan Park’s dragon trees, Dracaena draco

 

2) Rainforest Gully and collection:

The former Broughton House/Hall estate, later joined with Callan Park, has a richly planted rainforest gully, teeming with New South Wales and Queensland rainforest species of trees and shrubs.

Majestic Agathis robusta in Callan Park

Majestic Agathis robusta in Callan Park

Towering Queensland kauri (Agathis robusta) with its luscious, ginger, flaky bark and massive trunk (several of these); hoop or Moreton Bay pines (Araucaria cunninghamii) like some giant poodle on sticks; black bean /native chestnut (Castanospermum australe) with its lustrous leaves and sculptural ‘bean pods’; firewheel trees (Stenocarpus sinuatus) with their Margaret Preston scarlet rings nestled amid intriguing leaves; Bangalow, Lord Howe Island, cabbage tree and Cocos Island / Queen palms (Archontophoenix cunninghamiana, Kentia belmoreana, Livistona australis and Syragus romanzoffianum respectively); Queensland lacebark (Brachychiton discolor) and Illawarra flame tree (Brachychiton acerifolius) with their water-storing chubby trunks, for starters.

Firewheel tree, Stenocarpus sinuatus at Callan Park

Firewheel tree, Stenocarpus sinuatus at Callan Park

Rainforest canopy of hoop pine and Bunya pines at Callan Park

Rainforest canopy of hoop pine and Bunya pines at Callan Park

Rose apple, durobby or watermelon tree, Syzygium moorei at Callan Park

Rose apple, durobby or watermelon tree, Syzygium moorei at Callan Park

3) Rose apple/durobby / watermelon tree (Syzygium moorei)

Nearby is a rainforest rarity and particular favourite of mine, a large, glossy-leaved, ‘mega lilly pilly’, with hot pink velvety ‘fuzz’ of blossoms directly along branches and trunk, in true tropical tree style. These are followed by golf-ball sized white fruit – quite a show stopper. I know of a few in Double Bay’s Overthorpe garden (formerly Sir John Hay’s experimental garden) and in the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney – but no others in New South Wales gardens.

Syzygium moorei flowers

Syzygium moorei flowers

 

4) A massive spreading old Southern/evergreen magnolia or bull bay (Magnolia grandiflora)

Directly outside Garryowen, a c.1832 Mortimer Lewis-designed villa built on that estate prior to the establishment of Callan Park is a tree that could date to the 1830s – its trunk is over a meter in girth. With elevated position, good aspect, fairly rich clay/shale soil over sandstone, it has matured well. White fragrant saucers of flowers speck and drop year-round. Perhaps only NSW Writers’ Centre users notice?

Massive spreading Magnolia grandflora, bull bay, in Callan Park

Massive spreading Magnolia grandflora, bull bay, in Callan Park

 

5) Native cypress pine grove (Callitris glaucophylla), in Broughton Hall Clinic gardens west of the rainforest gully.

Arrayed around an artificial stream making the most of impressive slabs of folded sandstone on site, Dr. Frederick Norton Manning and patients in the 1920s-30s created sandstone walls, a Japanese-style red-lacquer-painted arched bridge, and a garden featuring a spectacular old lemon-scented gum (Corymbia citriodora) on a crest, flanked by cypress pines. These are wonderful, little-appreciated native conifers that grow in tight, tall columns, like a Mediterranean cypress (pencil pine) but paler, more olive-mid-green, finer in texture and feel. Callan Park has quite a few scattered about, probably reflecting their popularising by Botanic Garden Director Joseph Maiden and adoption by the Government Architect͛s Office for jobs – they turn up at Gladesville Hospital, court houses and the odd school grounds around New South Wales, of the time.

Grove of Australian native cypress pine, Callitris glaucophylla, at Callan Park

Grove of Australian native cypress pine, Callitris glaucophylla, at Callan Park

There is plenty more to enjoy around Callan Park – the odd pre-1788 gum and suckering casuarinas or river oaks, huge, airy paperbarks swaying in the breeze, groves of jacarandas (try November), brush boxes, and lemon-scented gums. And this is just trees! Callan Park is listed on the NSW State Heritage Register – more info at Environment NSW.

Jacaranda grove at Callan Park

Jacaranda grove at Callan Park

The Friends of Callan Park also run regular walks and events and recently published a great book Callan Park: Compassion and Conflict in The Asylum, after-life of an exhibition from 2015. This uses oral histories to quote many people with a connection to this place teasing out its stories, hidden inner life and ongoing meanings and reverberations. Worth a look – see more at callanpark.com

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Stuart Read

About Stuart Read

Stuart Read is a horticulturist, heritage bureaucrat, tour-leader and talk-giver who loves landscapes and gardens. Trained in science, horticulture and landscape architecture, he has gardened and studied gardens in Australasia, Cuba, the Middle East, England and Spain, leading a tour of Spanish gardens in 2010. His writings include Demi-sec: Spanish lessons for Australian Gardens... (2005). He co-authored Interwar Gardens – a guide to the history, conservation and management 1915-1940 (2003), The Oxford Companion to Australian Gardens (2002), and magazines like Australian Garden History and Heritage NSW.

6 thoughts on “5 things to love about Callan Park Estate, Sydney

  1. Janet O'Hehir on said:

    Wonderful article, thanks Stuart, and gorgeous photos. The mental health system has thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Stephen Wells is probably weeping in his courtyard.

  2. Thanks Janet – looking forward to IDS visiting Mayday Hills/Beechworth in November. The right ratio of trees/green to buildings/ indoors! Cheers.

  3. Helen Page on said:

    Thanks Stuart, on the list for my next Sydney visit. Feel sorry that Steven Wells is weeping in his courtyard. I think he’s having a wonderful time looking at therapeutic gardens in the US right now, no time for weeping.

    • Thanks Helen it is worth a visit. Siobhan is visiting u.s. graveyards just now too – a feast of amazing places! Bests. S

  4. Mary J on said:

    Now I have to ask – are they Dragon Trees or Dragons Blood Trees? We are particular fans of Dragons Blood Trees from Socotra as my father-in-law spent some time in Socotra in the ’50s as a young man! Either way – they are gorgeous!

    • Mary they are both. A vexing thing with common names! Socotra, Canary Islands, Azores, Morocco… there are other species in Somalia and other African countries, to say nothing of tropical rainforest species. Socotra seems an amazing place and flora -extreme and ‘exotic’. What a lucky chap your father was! Cheers, Stuart.

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