Dr Anne ValeBurnley’s Secret Garden Part 5: A garden for the 21st century

I have no doubt that Bogue Luffman would be fascinated with how garden making has evolved in the 21st century. He would not recognise the suburb of Burnley with its high rise apartments and clogged roads, roaring freeway, whining sirens and screeching tram brakes. However if he strolled around the Burnley garden he would no doubt enjoy the century of landscape styles and planting fashions on display. What would he think of his house replaced by a sunken garden?

View across the pond at Burnley. Photo Anne Vale

View across the pond at Burnley. Photo Anne Vale

He certainly would take pleasure in the large selection of Australian plants in the native garden and be awed by the majesty of European and Australian trees, some dating from his tenure as principal. If he visited on one of Burnley’s open days he would also see the latest innovations in green roofs and green walls and examples of how to grow ‘unusual’ food in an urban environment.

Burnley Green Roof in spring . Photo John Raynor

Burnley Green Roof in spring . Photo John Raynor

The ‘Burnley Green Roofs’ Project, coordinated by Senior Lecturer John Rayner, opened at the beginning of 2013. Research, by post graduates and staff, on water issues, substrates and plants underpin their design. Literally thousands of people continue to visit the garden specifically to view these projects. Professionals are keen to learn how they can adopt the technology to their developments and there is enormous interest from the general public who want to know ‘how can we do this at home?’

The college has developed the Growing Green Guide with support from the State Government and the City of Melbourne. The academics have fostered strong engagement with industry in particular landscape architects, designers, engineers, horticulturalists, planners, and urban designers. Their collective input has informed and changed practice in projects around Melbourne and has also led to a renewal of engagement and outreach from the college.

Burnley Green Roof Team. Photo Peter Casamento

Burnley Green Roof Team. Photo Peter Casamento

There are three Green Roof sites at Burnley, the main one; the Demonstration Green Roof adjoins the staff room and sits above the Burnley Hall about 6.5 meters above the ground. This is essentially an outdoor classroom; it is regarded as part of the landscape providing lecturers with an additional space to teach students about plants and soil properties.

Burnley's green roof

Burnley’s green roof

Open days such as the Melbourne Open House Day present an opportunity for interpretation to a broader audience. The focus is on different green roof types, substrates (growing media), uses and plants. The garden is accessible across the whole roof through a rising, circular pathway. There are 14 separate planting zones with approximately 203 different plant taxa and more than 3000 individual plants in total. The focus of the plantings is to demonstrate the array and variability of plants that can be used successfully on a green roof. These range from prostrate, arid-loving succulents, to low-water use perennials, and even vegetables and herbs. Many of the plants were evaluated in drought conditions. The Burnley Demonstration Green Roof, a collaboration between the design practice Hassell and University’s Green Infrastructure Research Group, won a major design prize in the 2014; The Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA), Victorian State Awards for Landscape Architecture and Urban Design.

The second installation the Research Green Roof is not accessible to the public. This is where PhD students and graduates can assess what happens when you combine particular types of plants in terms of water runoff and plant success from diversity. They also measure R values around green roofs to work out how much benefit there is to a green roof.

The third project the Biodiversity Green Roof is essentially a recreated grassland, which can be viewed through a window inside the building. This is designed to create habitat for rare native bees or bugs, or birds. Specific features include logs and sand for insect burrowing, hollow twigs for native bee nesting, and rocks, pavers, tiles and pots for reptile and insect basking. This green roof is for demonstration and interpretation rather than research.

Field Station facade experiment - Billardiera ringens, March 2014 . Photo John Rayner

Field Station facade experiment – Billardiera ringens, March 2014 . Photo John Rayner

There are also two examples of green walls one in the nursery and the other in the field station. These are facades (specialized support structures), designed for climbing plants. In the nursery the students work on calculating energy values of light, radiation and differences in temperature through a facade to a wall surface. In the field station students are experimenting with a replicated trial of facades using a number of different species. Both of these projects are available when the gardens are open for a public event.

Burnley’s Urban Horticulture teaching team led by lecturer Chris Williams have built quite a strength and interest around growing food in cities particularly unusual food. There have been a number of projects which involved growing food in apple crates; yams, sweet potatoes, taro even sugar cane, putting them out in public display type settings. These projects engage the local community, schools and new migrants. The projects are about cultural connections to these plants and growing unusual edibles rather than just how to grow beans, tomatoes and potatoes.

The Rain Garden is a more recent project. This garden demonstrates the work Burnley is doing in conjunction Melbourne Water’s 10,000 rain garden project. Because it is right at the entrance to the building it has been designed with particularly aesthetically appealing plants. It has a constructed profile that treats storm water runoff and demonstrates the effectiveness of water sensitive urban design through rain gardens, swales or bio retention. The objective is to treat and improve water quality and to stop elevated pollutants going out of drains into natural waterways. Eventually it will be minimally irrigated so it had to have plants that would tolerate seasonal inundation (water logging) when there are rain events but also be drought tolerant. The rain garden will be one of the innovative projects that the public will be able to see any time when they come to the garden.

Burnley's Swan Street planting plan

Burnley’s Swan Street planting plan

The latest project is a new landscape and planting design along the Swan Street boundary. In 2014 the 1930s rock work was restored and the site cleared in preparation. Burnley graduate and Garden Designer Sandra McMahon has created a colour themed planting plan. Sandra describes her planting plan and design philosophy in this way;

The Swan Street frontage, for so long screened by rampant bamboo, will offer an inviting sculptural landscape to the street frontage, drawing the eye into the Burnley campus and allowing glimpses of the Yarra River landscape beyond. The plantings along the frontage are a mix of clippable native shrubs, architectural exotic plantings, and drifts of softer perennials weaving between these forms. An important aspect of the brief was that maintenance and irrigation requirements should be minimised. These plantings are colour-schemed in blue (the dominant colour in all of the University’s signage), and its complementary colour orange. Gravel path serpentines through this landscape, offering an alternative route to the footpath.

Salvia 'Mystic Spires', one of the colourful flowering plants in the Swan St planting

Salvia ‘Mystic Spires’, part of the blue colour scheme in the new Burnley Swan St planting

The brief for the rock tier plantings was for the creation of a ‘colour spectrum’ garden, which can be viewed from below in the Cow Paddock. These plantings should form a useful teaching tool, for the better understanding of how colours perform in the landscape. In this area of the planting design, analogous colours are explored – colours which are adjacent to each other on the colour wheel. These plantings explore colour not only in flower but in leaf, seed head and foliage.

Aloe 'Outback Orange' adds a splash of colour to the Swan St planting design

Aloe ‘Outback Orange’ adds complemetary colour to the Swan St planting design

As Sandra says about this latest evolution at Burnley:

‘time is the fourth dimension – so keep watching these spaces’

The same can be said about the entirety of Burnley’s Secret Garden. This magical landscape is superbly managed by garden manager Andrew Smith and his team. Whilst treasuring and respecting the heritage landscape, continuous experimentation and innovation ensure this is also a garden for the 21st century.

Acacia boormanii 'Gold Tips' for the Swan St planting

Acacia boormanii ‘Gold Tips’ for the Swan St planting

The garden at the University Of Melbourne’s Burnley Campus is open to the public year round and a visit in any season will not disappoint. Watch out for a series of events and open days planned to celebrate the College anniversary in 2016.

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

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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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