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Burnley’s Secret Botanic Garden Part 3

Dr Anne Vale

Dr Anne Vale

July 11, 2015

In the post WWII years the tradition of past students and lecturers supporting the development of the gardens at Burnley continued. Ellis Stones, Kath Deery, Robert Boyle and James Hitchmough all created unique landscapes with Australian plants around the outskirts of the heritage core.

Burnley Yarra boulevard Campus entrance  (Andrew Smith)

Burnley Yarra boulevard Campus entrance (Andrew Smith)

The Ellis Stones Garden is often referred to as the Ellis Stones Rockery – which the great man himself would be rather appalled at. He made a point of distinguishing the difference between a Rockery and a rock outcrop in this way,

Many people are unaware of the difference between an outcrop and a rockery. An outcrop is constructed by carefully placing rocks so that the effect is a natural one, planting is to assist the natural appearance of the outcrop…..the planting of a rockery is approached from a slightly different angle, assuming the garden has been constructed to show off as many plants as possible in their right setting in relation to the rocks.

Ellis Stones in 1971 (Bev Hanson)

Ellis Stones in 1971 (Bev Hanson)

Ellis (Rocky) Stones is one of the most noted landscape designers of the post-war period in Victoria. He is remembered as a pioneer of the natural style landscape movement and as an activist in landscape conservation. He was an inspiration and role model for many up and coming garden designers, architects and artists in the post war years including, Gordon Ford and Glen Wilson, Alistair Knox and his artist wife Margot. Unlike many of the people who influenced the design of the Burnley Gardens, Ellis Stones was neither a Burnley graduate nor a staff member, at most he would visit on occasion and talk to the students. He donated the rock outcrop to acknowledge Burnley’s contribution to horticulture and garden design.

Calothamnus quadrifidus in the Ellis Stones Garden (Anne Vale)

Calothamnus quadrifidus in the Ellis Stones Garden (Anne Vale)

Stones came to landscape design after surviving the First World War and becoming a tradesman in the building industry. Stones’ career in landscape construction was inspired by a chance meeting with Burnley graduate Edna Walling in the 1930s. He worked for Walling for some years; his two guiding principles, ‘nature is the greatest teacher,’ and, ‘gardens are for people,’ are evident throughout his work. Many of the paths and walls Stones built, including those at Edna Walling’s ‘Bickleigh Vale Village,’ still stand today, time and weather serving only to enhance their natural beauty. Stones subsequently established his own practice and by the 1960s had made a name for himself as one of Australia’s leading garden designers, especially famous for his dry stone walls and natural style rock outcrops.

Acacia in bloom in the Ellis Stones Garden (Anne Vale)

Acacia in bloom in the Ellis Stones Garden (Anne Vale)

The Ellis Stones Garden at Burnley is situated on the eastern side of the Nursery complex, adjacent to the return driveway. A row of Monterey Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa), planted along the western boundary of this bed was removed in the mid-twentieth century. The garden was planted immediately west of a mature Sugar Gum (Eucalyptus cladocalyx) believed to have been planted c1869. The massive stump of this venerable 19th century gum is still extant in the lawn (where Stones originally created a gravel forecourt). An English Elm (Ulmus procera) continues to survive at the northern end. This elm is heritage listed. It is a remnant of the elms that lined the original roadway to the punt used to cross the river before the Swan Street bridge was constructed. Stones’ 1962 outcrop at Burnley consists of granite boulders set amongst native plants. For several decades the garden was densely planted with masses of indigenous shrubs and herbaceous species, such as Lomandra longifolia and Micromyrtus ciliata and a Coast Banksia (Banksia integrifolia).

Ellis Stones rock outcrop (Anne Vale)

Ellis Stones rock outcrop at Burnley (Anne Vale)

The garden is frequently blocked from view by parked vehicles on the adjacent driveway and over time the garden has often become overgrown and weedy. A series of renovations commencing in 1999 have seen the garden restored and regain some prominence. Stones was not noted for using plans but the discovery of an original sketch plan, drawn by garden designer Bev Hanson, was utilised to guide the extensive 1999 restoration. This was the first project of the newly formed Friends of Burney Gardens group. The project was driven by the group’s initiator, Sandra Pullman, who successfully applied for funds from the Australian Plants Society and the Australian Open Gardens Scheme. Sandra and her team recently won a Victorian Community History Award for the creation of a garden around historic La Trobe Cottage in Melbourne.

Orthrosanthus multiflorus in the ellis Stones Garden. Photo Anne Vale

Orthrosanthus multiflorus in the Ellis Stones Garden at Burnley. Photo Anne Vale

Situated in the southwest corner of the Burnley Gardens, the Native Garden is bounded by the Plant Science Laboratories to the north, the railway sidings to the west and F. R. Smith Drive to the south. The Rainforest Garden, with remnant plantings dating from the early 1900s merges on the north-eastern flank. The general area was known as the Native Garden for decades but there had been little design intent applied to this space. It included a raised bank of native plants and a simple selection of Melaleuca, Callistemon and Suggan Buggan Mallee. However there are specimens of Eucalyptus camaldulensis (River Red Gum), which pre-date European colonisation of the site. The oldest is thought to be over 400 years old. They are a reminder that the Yarra River originally flowed just outside the boundary fence until it was diverted in the late 1960s to allow for the construction of the South Eastern Freeway.

Informal path in the ellis Stones Garden. Photo Anne Vale

Informal path in the Ellis Stones Garden at Burnley. Photo Anne Vale

Between 1985 and 1991 three distinctly different Australian landscape design concepts were created. Kath Deery became involved with the Native Garden at Burnley through a combination of circumstances. She was part of a likeminded group that included Diana Snape, Rodger and Gwen Elliot, Bill Molyneux, Sue Forrester, Natalie Peate and Peg McAlister, all keen members of the Society for Growing Australian Plants (SGAP). Kath’s intention was to create an area that demonstrated the variety, style and growth habits of Australian plants available to the gardener. There were a number of garden designers specialising in Australian plantings at that time but Kath had forged an impressive reputation in two particular gardens; her own private garden in East Ringwood and ‘Karwarra,’ an Australian native garden on two hectares in Kalorama, in the bushy and scenic Dandenong Ranges. Landscape architect Paul Thompson described Kath as being:

“a most accomplished potter, arranger of flowers and Australian plants, she had an artist’s eye and her planting style was bold, outlandish and fantastic”

The layout for the Kath Deery section originally had an established canopy of trees and shrubs including Angophora costata, Melaleuca styphelioides, Grevillea hillii, Acacia maidenii, Tristaniopsis laurina, two large Lemon-scented Gums (Corymbia citriodora), a Spotted Gum (Corymbia maculata) and an enormous Sugar Gum (Eucalyptus cladocalyx). Kath set about creating raised beds interwoven with curving paths. The soil created from excavating the paths and gullies provided spoil for the raised beds. Kath concentrated on installing understorey planting beneath the established canopy. The objective was to emphasise each plant’s individual and unique attributes so they could be appreciated with clear labelling to assist in identification. Although greatly altered over the years this aspect of the Native Garden continues to provide an Australian response to the European heritage landscape across the Oak Lawn to the northeast. It displays the diversity and beauty of Australian plants in a landscaped setting and provides habitat for local wildlife including many different types of birds, butterflies, insects and frogs.

Robert Boyle hand-coloured landscape plan for Burnley 1988. Courtesy Robert Boyle

Robert Boyle hand-coloured landscape plan for Burnley 1988. Courtesy Robert Boyle

Further to the west there is an impressive nature-like landscaping of water and rocks created by landscape designer and Burnley graduate Robert Boyle. Construction commenced in the summer of 1989. There was little fall to the land so large machinery further excavated Kath Deery’s gullies. Many mature trees remained including a beautiful Red Flowering Gum (Corymbia ficifolia) which continues to thrive near the pond. The land was shaped to replicate natural water holes along a creek; the idea was to assist in channelling floodwater should the occasion arise. Large basalt boulders were manipulated into their positions with machinery. The design features a ‘walk over’ where the ponds can be traversed via large adjacent rocks. Further substantial rocks defined pathways and steps linking the water feature with the Kath Deery section and the rear of the university buildings. Boyle’s perspective on this project was to,

‘get the earth forms right, put the liner in the stream and the pond and to place the boulders.’

Robert Boyle water feature at Burnley (Anne Vale)

Robert Boyle water feature at Burnley (Anne Vale)

The construction completed, staff and students took charge of the planting. Extensive swards of Tussock Grass (Poa labillardieri) and Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra) were planted around the ponds and along the creek. This special place is home to frogs and fish, and tiny birds that flit across the water in search of insects. This water feature looks so authentic that visitors and students alike often assume this is a natural water hole embellished by some minor landscaping. Of equal importance is that it provides a tranquil retreat only a step away from the pressures of university life. It is a place where people can reconnect with nature in a very natural Australian context.

The central space in the native garden is taken up with a Victorian Western Plains indigenous grassland designed by landscape designer and Burnley lecturer James Hitchmough. Recreating natural grasslands and meadowlands became one of Hitchmough’s passions when he returned to the UK. Creating the Native Garden at Burnley was an ideal proving ground. He was involved with each stage of the Native Garden development. As a British academic and horticulturist, he brought quite different skills, experience and perspectives to working with Australian plants. The Hitchmough Grasslands form a central enclave within the Native Garden. They are enclosed by the Kath Deery raised beds and the Boyle ponds with native shrubberies forming a boundary along the back of the buildings. James proposed a mass planting of Casuarina Cunninghame (River She-oak) around the mesh boundary fence to screen the car park. They are coppiced to keep them bushy and improve their density. Considerable preparation was required before a grassland could be established. Andrew Smith, the current Garden Coordinator, was responsible for much of the clearing that occurred in 1990. Following student excursions and private visits to Victoria’s Western Plains, Hitchmough resolved to transplant the indigenous grasslands of this region into the Native Garden. Robert Boyle recalled how:

initially, James had presented a contemporary design concept of interconnected squares planted with grasses. Both the design and the experimentation on how to establish native grassland was cutting edge thinking and exciting work to be associated with.’ The final design agreed however, encompassed a soft nature like planting scheme. Phil Tulk and Jim did all the planting with help from students and staff, it was a lovely collaboration, the basalt boulders worked really well with the grasses.

Massive rocks used in the Robert Boyle water feature at Burnley. Photo Anne Vale

Massive rocks used in the Robert Boyle water feature at Burnley. Photo Anne Vale

James utilised his expertise to create a natural-style landscape design. The basis of the plant selection was their ability to survive the environmental conditions at Burnley and their association with reduced maintenance requirements. This was evolutionary in its application in Amenity Horticulture at that time.

By 1997, the garden was a mix of native grasses that had survived the initial planting, a couple of species of forbs that had naturalised and a lot of weeds. It was clear that the maintenance of a native grassland garden had been underestimated. In April, Chris Findlay joined the grounds staff. The Native Garden was part of his responsibility along with the Herbaceous Border and the Ellis Stones Garden. Chris was a keen collector of indigenous wildflower seed and he utilised the College nursery facilities to propagate as many species in the largest volumes possible. In the three and a half years Chris was involved in the Grassland Garden, the plant collection grew to over one hundred species of Victorian ground flora including six species of terrestrial orchids and two species of carnivorous plants, providing an impressive display and making it one of the most popular features of the Burnley Gardens in Spring at that time. Following weed eradication programs and further experimentation the planting in this area has changed considerably however it continues to be a delightful nature-like landscape that is in constant use for its educational properties and tranquil setting. Several paths lead from the laboratories, administration buildings, cafe and offices and provide access to the extensive gardens beyond .The rustic mud brick gazebo may not have any heritage significance but it has become a charming focal point. Restoration of the rendering occurred in November 2010 and it was re-shingled in June 2011 using authentic Canadian Western Red Cedar shingles. The Friends of Burnley Gardens funded these restoration projects.

Native Grassland when Chris Findlay was managing this area  (courtesy Chris Findlay)

Native Grassland when Chris Findlay was managing this area (courtesy Chris Findlay)

The native garden is a truly magical place with winding paths, a vast display of native plants producing an array of wonderful scents, the tinkle of running water and birdsong. Only the constant roar of traffic from the adjacent freeway spoils the illusion of being many kilometres from a big city.

[Preview to Burnley Part Four: Garden developments, through student and staff collaborations, were at a peak through the 1980s. the Principals house was demolished and in its place a sunken garden was created. New student facilities also provided the impetus for the design of a courtyard by an American academic on secondment to Burnley.]

[Historical research for this article was conducted by Dr Anne Vale and Associate Professor Don Garden]

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Alison Aplin
9 years ago

Wonderful photos of the use of rocks in the landscape. Their use by Robert Boyle in the landscape is inspirational. I look forward to hearing him speak at the next Landscape Designer’s Conference.
I do think, tho’, that the Calothamnus guadrifidus is indeed Calothamnus rupestris which has a more prickly feel about the foliage. I far prefer the latter and would like to grow it myself, but have found it hard to source.

Anne Vale
9 years ago
Reply to  Alison Aplin

Hi Alison, thanks for your comments, I love Robs work too he features in my book and I have known him for some years he used to come and give talks to my students. You could well be correct about the plant name I remember asking Andrew Smith the garden Director and he wasn’t sure which one it was.
Best wishes

Sandra Pullman
Sandra Pullman
9 years ago

Hi Anne
Love your pictures of the native pond especially the one entitle Massive Rocks. The angle you have captured looking up – makes me feel I am in the bush. Just brilliant.

Anne Vale
8 years ago
Reply to  Sandra Pullman

Thanks Sandi,