There must have been something in the water in 1927. It was a year that bred long-lived gardeners no matter where they were born. April 1 was garden icon Peter Cundall’s 90th birthday. Later in the year will see other leading Australian gardeners turn 90: my own mother, Shirley Stackhouse; mycologist, author and botanical expert Dr Peter Valder; and Ben Swane, nurseryman, rose grower and gardening expert. And, there are probably many others.
These gardeners served up excellent advice and inspiration to the nation’s gardeners for decades by writing, broadcasting and appearing on our television screens, all working well into their ‘80s.
What puts Peter in a league of his own is that he is still hard at work keeping gardeners gardening. Peter presents ‘Gardening Talkback’ every Saturday morning from 9am to 10am on ABC radio with Chris Wisbey. Gardeners tune in to the strains of the segment’s theme song, Percy Grainger’s ‘Country Garden’.
Peter’s been on air for around 50 years; 20 of those with Chris Wisbey. He also writes newspaper garden columns and is a regular contributor to the ABC’s Organic Gardener magazine. His advice, always cheerfully given, combines a lifetime of experience with well-informed knowledge delivered with enthusiasm for the joy of working the soil and putting your back into digging, hoeing or getting out the mattock.
Peter has also given us two gardening terms:
“That’s your bloomin’ lot”
which was his sign off at the end of each episode of Gardening Australia, and ‘cundallising’ – the act of severely pruning a plant especially a lemon.
To catch Peter, you can tune in to his broadcast on ABC Hobart on line on Saturday mornings (Peter usually joins Chris Wisbey from about 8.45 or follow the program links to listen to past episodes HERE.)
As befits a gardener, Peter’s 90th birthday was celebrated in a garden – the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Garden – with a picnic and cake on the lawn and legions of fans. The event was broadcast live by ABC radio.
For the birthday broadcast, the Huon Valley Concert Band played ‘Happy Birthday’. There was also a winter vegetable plant sale, a tomato relish competition and appearances by Peter’s replacement on Gardening Australia, Tino Carnevale.
Peter has a long association with the RTBG making ‘Pete’s Patch’ famous through the nation by featuring the vegetable garden on ABC TV’s Gardening Australia. A visit to the Gardens to see ‘Pete’s Patch’ (now the Tasmanian Community Food Garden) was on every touring gardener’s itinerary. Peter used to film in ‘Pete’s Patch’ every fortnight for the television show until he stepped down from his role in 2008 at the age of 81.
[This story first appeared in TasWeekend, The Mercury, April 1-2, 2017]