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Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes: An International Quarterly

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Growing Australian landscapes: the use and meanings of native plants in gardens in twentieth-century Australia
Katie Holmes Version of record first published: 09 Jun 2011.

To cite this article: Katie Holmes (2011): Growing Australian landscapes: the use and meanings of native plants in gardens in twentieth-century Australia, Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes: An International Quarterly, 31:2, 121-130 To link to this article:

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Growing Australian landscapes: the use and meanings of native plants in gardens in twentieth-century Australia
katie holmes
In 1903 Charles Bogue-Luffman, the Principal of Australias first Horticultural College, Burnley, opined about the Australian flora and its lack of suitability for the garden: we suffer here from a lack of fine natural shapes, and graceful combinations in nature. There is, indeed, little of a soul-stirring and invigorating kind.1 One hundred years later Australians were being encouraged to go native in their gardens, to use this cultivated place to express something uniquely Australian.2 In the century that separated such diverse attitudes, much was said and written about the use of native Australian plants in the garden. This article examines the kinds of meanings attached to native plants, and considers what they can tell us about attitudes to both the Australian landscape and ideas about national character and identity. The Federation of Australia in 1901 left white Australians with a dual status. Gone were their numerous colonial identities; they were now both subjects of the British crown, and citizens of Australia. Aboriginal Australians, believed at the time to be a dying race, were not eligible for citizenship. How was this dual status of British subject and Australian citizen cultivated in, and through, the garden? I suggest here that the distinction made by many Australians between the garden and the bush provided a way for white Australians to negotiate their understanding of national identities. Although garden writers and horticulturalists enthused about the garden as a reflection of national pride, horticultural practice, did not match that rhetoric. This conflict between aspiration and practice as it developed over the twentieth century is central to the problem this article addresses. And central to that conflict, I suggest, is a very clear
issn 1460-1176 # 2011 taylor & francis vol. 31, no. 2

demarcation between bush and garden, and the negotiation of a dominant garden aesthetic, which viewed native plants as wild and, like the Aborigines who were also called natives, as unknown, untamed and unpredictable. The trajectory towards the growing use of native plants in Australian urban gardens was complex. There was no linear process that saw the eventual establishment of all-native gardens; rather, we see an accommodation of native plants and designs alongside exotic species, and a changing attitude toward the Australian bush whereby it became more familiar and tame, even a place to be replicated in the garden.

Interwar attitudes towards Australian native plants

In many parts of Australia during the nineteenth century, native plants were frequently used in the garden because they were accessible, even if not a great deal was known about their cultivation. As exotics became more readily available, the use of native plants diminished. And while some garden writers and native plant enthusiasts continued to advocate their value in the garden, by the early twentieth century certain commentators such as Bogue-Luffman with whom I opened this article, were struggling to find anything in the surrounding landscape worth salvaging for the garden. In contrast, two years earlier John Watson began planting an all-native garden in the Melbourne suburb of Balwyn. Maranoa Gardens was not Watsons home garden but more of an experimental site. It was opened to the public in 1919 and handed over to the


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council in 1926.3 By that stage interest in native plants had grown considerably and many horticulturalists had begun advocating their use in the garden. In what would become a concerted campaign to change the ways Australians saw their landscape and in particular its native flora, the garden began to be advocated as a place where Australians could display their national pride. Initially those who enthused about the native flora concentrated on the wattle and the gum tree and these became symbolic of attachment to the land. Such sentiment increased significantly during World War I when both plants, along with the waratah, were sent to troops far away as a reminder of the sights and smells of home.4 The wattle and the eucalypt were distinctive, but through the adoption of them as national symbols they also became appropriated, domesticated and tamed. The cultivation of national sentiment through the use of native plants took on different imperatives in the aftermath of World War I. Wattle Day became the occasion to extol ever more fervently the virtues of not just the wattle, but the bright land and the bright white people who now inhabited it. The language became more jingoistic with each passing year. In 1927, the Garden and Home Maker of Australia declared Wattle Day as one when the heart of every Australian should beat faster because of the power of the bright blue skies under which our national flowering shrub and trees, as well as our manhood and womanhood, are able to work out their own great destiny . . . Golden wattle, golden fleeces, golden grains, golden deeds, and a land of blue and glory to live in.5 This tendency to effusiveness, which the wattle seems to have inspired, was not restricted to the horticultural press. Jean Galbraith, who wrote under the pseudonym Correa in the journal the Garden Lover, was a young woman living in Victorias Gippsland region, when she wrote to her elderly friend John Inglis Lothian about a trip to view the local Golden wattles in bloom: A whole hillside is just overflowing with exquisite gold, and when one stands beneath the trees and sees their loveliness against the sky a blue, blue sky it was the beauty of it is enough to leave one breathless. Three days later when Jean encountered more wattle blossom: she
just had to stop and look, over and over again at the cascades of Silver Wattle blossom, which was deliciously wet and delicate where it kissed the water, and all about, in fluffy golden surges was just I cant possible tell you what just wattle blossom. You know.6

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citizens in general: a reaction of pride, wonder and awe in the face of such natural beauty. But it is worth observing that Galbraiths effusive reaction was to the sight of wattles blooming in their natural environment the bush and not in the garden. Given the newness of the Australian nation, it is not surprising that a great deal of attention in gardening literature was given to thinking about the ways the garden could help instil in the population the kind of qualities needed for its future citizenry. Just as Wattle Day symbolized the golden anticipation of a happy future, so the garden would contribute materially to a better home life which is the very foundation of a nations wealth, strength and happiness.7 In inter-war garden literature we find a desire to marry the British gardening heritage with a new and emerging Australian identity. Millie Gibson was a landscape architect and writer for the Melbourne newspaper the Argus. Her weekly column, The Garden. Amateurs and Their Work. Hints and Comments, established her as a highly popular garden writer. Writing under the name Culturist, she displayed an intimate knowledge of the gardens of suburban Melbourne, providing gardeners with information and advice, as well as regular musings about the moral benefits of gardening. In November 1924, she addressed the relationship between gardens and national character:
The gardens of England bring us nearer home. Here we feel our feet tread on familiar ground. . . . The English have the same feeling for grouping flowers, but always with a lot of restraint, as befitting the soberness of the climate and the people. Now we are of that race, but with a different environment, and it is surely an interesting question to ask how our national gardening will develop. . . . The outstanding characteristic to-day seems to be a vivid sense of colour. Likely this is being unconsciously absorbed from the blue of our skies and the vivid hues of the Australian native flora . . . Can it be that the national gardening here will unite the sterling qualities of the British with the colour of Italy?8

It was precisely this kind of sentiment that the advocates of wattles in particular, but native plants more generally, hoped could be instilled amongst Australian

Millie Gibson herself promoted the use of native plants, believing they had practical qualities to offer the gardener: They had early flowering habits,9 and a predominance of vivid bloom in the spring. We do not realize all the possibilities of our native plants, which, including the acacias alone, give a wide range.10 Gibsons attention was to the look, the show of the plants, the way they fitted within the inherited visual idea of what a garden should look like. Wattles conformed particularly well in this regard. They had good shape and vivid


the use and meanings of native plants in gardens in twentieth-century australia

colour. Occasionally Gibson was more precise: Eugenias, or Acmenas (Lilly Pilly), as they are frequently called, may be included among our most valuable plants.11 These were the native equivalents of the garden worthies. Significantly, the Lilly Pilly could be used as a hedging plant, and both varieties responded well to pruning and shaping. But Gibson also revealed her own bias:
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We often hear the complaint that with a few exceptions Australian shrubs have not got much beauty of form. In the main this may be admitted; but while such plants as Eugenias are well known, two good shrubs, Baloghia lucida and Macadamia ternifolia, are not often seen in gardens. Both are catalogued by most of the nurserymen and are easily obtainable.

Perhaps the reason they were not often seen in gardens was that their relatively large size makes them unsuitable for many suburban gardens, and neither do they grow particularly well in Melbourne. Gibsons horticultural expertise did not lie in native plants. In this she was not alone. But what is revealing is that not only was she unfamiliar in a practical way with the plants she advocated but she adopted the view that most native Australian shrubs lacked beauty of form. One of the key problems for many gardeners and horticulturalists alike was (and in many ways still remains) the dominance of the European aesthetic in the garden, the reiteration of pictorial or picturesque structuring. Inheritors of what John Dixon Hunt describes as an uneasy legacy of pictorial taste, Australian gardeners, especially those living in the southern states of Australia, found it difficult to integrate native plants into their visions of what a garden should look like.12 The plants that did fit with that legacy of pictorial taste, and which also drew on memory and association, were primarily exotics: The dahlia is so gorgeous in colour and so valuable for garden display and cut flowers during the autumn that no garden should be without some,13 enthused Gibson. Lilies were another favourite: the Madonna lily is one of the easiest grown, and is to be found in almost every cottage garden in England.14 It was the ultimate endorsement. The influences on Gibsons own taste are readily apparent. She bemoaned the absence of much gardening literature dealing with Australian conditions, and in its place recommended the writings of Gertrude Jekyll (18431932), that enthusiastic advocate of natural gardens, to her readers as the standard works.15 When it came to shrubs, Gibson passed on the advice of William Robinson (18381935), the well-known English landscape gardener: Forsythia Suspense [sic] is certainly one of our finest shrubs and should be found in

every garden, however small.16 The similarity of this shrub with some wattles is readily apparent and helps us understand the readiness with which the wattle itself was embraced. The use of England as the measure of good taste in gardening reflected the dominance of the idea of English gardens, as well as the emotional connection many Australians still felt toward the centre of the Empire. Jean Galbraith, the wattle enthusiast and avid promoter of the use of native plants, captured this sense: It was inevitable that we, gardeners all and lovers of the England we had never seen should long to plant such a hedge.17 The very idea of an English garden, while rarely seen in situ, was the powerful determinant in shaping how a garden should look. Of the eucalypt Galbraith noted that, One can understand their absence from the city they could have no place in trim suburban gardens, where beds and borders toss their blossom to the edges of the lawns. In the country though, they should be valued.18 The country garden could be expansive enough to include such trees, where their shape and colour could even be featured and valued. In fact, Galbraiths own integration of native plants with exotics allowed her to create a very different vision of a garden than was common. In the orchard, she planted evergreens alongside the fruit-bearing trees, intermingling natives with more familiar plants. That may be why this garden is in no way separate from the valley. It is a flower of the same soil as the bush and the grass paddocks are, and seems to recognise its kinship with them.19 Few horticulturalists promoted the use of native plants in the inter-war garden as eloquently as Jean Galbraith. In this she was aided by the Field Naturalists Society, of which she was a member. Each year the Society held an annual wildflower show, in which they sought to display the variety and beauty of native plants, and to encourage the growing of them in suburban gardens. The show was usually opened by a local dignitary who made appropriate comments about the beauty of the exhibits and endorsed the activities of the Society. In 1925, the Minister for Railways, Mr Eggleston, called on the Field Naturalists to help in the stimulation of an Australian sentiment by educating Australians about their native flora.20 While he did not specify just what an Australian sentiment entailed, we can be confident it involved taking patriotic pride in Australias natural environment and that knowledge about native plants would assist in its development. Many horticultural writers did extol the uniqueness and beauty of Australian wildflowers, and the variety and colour to be found in the native flora, and encouraged their planting in home gardens. But a different prevailing practice is


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suggested by the way the same journals that periodically suggested particular plants to try, were more typically filled with detailed discussions on the growing of exotics, especially roses, sweet peas, chrysanthemums, carnations, daffodils and dahlias. Horticulturalists knew comparatively little about the cultivation of Australian natives, and this lack of knowledge is reflected in the pages of gardening magazines. Information for the gardener wanting to know which native plants to grow and how to grow them was difficult to find. Gardeners were encouraged to incorporate native plants in their gardens alongside cultivated species, in a gesture seen to at least acknowledge the land of their citizenship. But in inter-war Australia, gardens were not generally seen as needing to reflect national pride. Even the horticulturalists who encouraged gardeners to grow more native plants were reluctant to relinquish space reserved for the enduring favourites of the garden. As C. B. Frond put it in Australian Home Beautiful, I prophecy that the Australian flora will win more garden territory; that the list of cultivated species will lengthen . . . One may be a lover of the natives without lessening the devotion to the aristocrats of the garden, as roses, dahlias and rhododendrons.21 My suspicion, however, is that a Mr W. R. Warner from Camberwell expressed more accurately the sentiments of most home gardeners in his 1926 contribution to the Garden Lover: he was going to mention some trees suitable for the garden, but warned he would name very few natives, for we wish surely to break the monotony of the bush as far as possible. My head is as good as off, I know, but with the majority of good Australians I love the Gums and Wattles, but then we can have too much of a good thing.22 In this articulation, the bush is the place where ones sense of identification with the Australian nation could be expressed, but the garden should be left for a different kind of aesthetic, and perhaps a different kind of association. Rendering the bush monotonous is a profoundly visual condemnation and carries strong echoes of earlier nineteenth century responses to the landscape, such as that of Katie Hume, a recently arrived immigrant from Buckinghamshire, England, who when she first travelled across Queenslands Darling Downs in 1866 bemoaned the look of the gum trees: the foliage is most disappointing. It hardly deserves the name. The leaves are narrow & greylooking & hang down so as to afford no shade they are called Evergreens but never green wd be more appropriate.23 As we have seen, amongst Australian-born residents such sentiment had changed significantly by the inter-war years, at least towards eucalypts, but there were still important qualifications. In 1929, the Garden and Home Maker of Australia put it this way: while we love the flowers of our garden for their well-ordered stateliness, their regularity of shape, their size, and diversity of colour, we yet feel a different love for those plants that grow in our bushland, be they ever so ragged in growth and disorderly in appearance, for to us they seem to be part of our homeland.24 There is an important distinction here between what the garden should express predominantly an English gardening heritage and what was appropriate for the bush. We can see reflected here the dual status of Australian citizen and British subject; perhaps white Australians felt no conflict between the Australian and British parts of their identity: this duality was reflected in their reported response to plants bush flora affirmed their Australianness and their British heritage bloomed in the garden. One of the key issues here seems to be aesthetics. Native plants were ragged and disorderly, they lacked beauty of form, were monotonous and did not conform to the standards set by exotics. In order to understand this more fully, we need to appreciate the sensory nature of the garden, for the experience of the garden is central to our appreciation of it: the look, but also the smell, the touch, the sound, the taste.25 Native plants were a challenge on many of these fronts: their colours were different, as were their growing habits, the way they felt and smelt, and even tasted. And while English gardeners took some pride in being able to grow Australian plants in their hot houses or their gardens, where their exoticness was a desirable feature, in Australia the difference of native plants was much more easily acknowledged, appreciated and experienced in the bush, removed from the intimate daily interactions encountered in the garden. Just as the bushman and the pastoral lifestyle became embraced as distinctly Australian and reflective of national character, and yet was not something the majority of urban dwelling Australians ever experienced, so the wonder of native plants was safest kept at a distance. They could be encountered on bush walks, or perhaps in the botanic gardens, or at the annual wildflower show, and the odd specimen might find its way into suburbia, but the garden did not need to be a place where pride of country was reflected, that was something best projected onto a place far removed from the home garden. A slight shift in this attitude began to occur in the 1930s when growing native plants increasingly became encouraged as an expression of nationalist sentiment. There were several strands to this: a perceived need to save the native wildflowers from extinction and thus use the garden as a kind of sheltered environment in which to nurture wild flowers; the idea that the garden could improve

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the use and meanings of native plants in gardens in twentieth-century australia

on nature and thus make native plants more acceptable; and a shift in attitudes toward the landscape, whereby it might be embraced and incorporated into the garden, rather than feared and excluded. In the 1920s, concerns about the possible extinction of many species of wildflowers prompted many horticulturalists and botanists to act to save this heritage worth preserving.26 There had earlier been voices expressing concern about the disappearance of wildflowers, such as a 1904 writer in the Amateur Gardener who foresaw that Australia was replicating problems then evident in England: there is nothing more certain than a flowerless Australia . . . The Native Rose and Waratah are small items in themselves, but they are part and parcel of a native flora which every man, woman, and child should be compelled to respect.27 By the 1920s, many voices had been added to the call to save Australias wildflowers. Australians first had to recognize that the native flora was worth preserving, something in which they could take pride. It was time, the Garden Magazine opined to its readers in 1923, to commence being proud of your countrys wonderful flora, before its too late.28 When it came to the destruction of the flora itself, the greatest transgressor was the motorist (code also for modernity) who travelled into the bush, collected car-loads of wildflowers for ornamentation, and returned to the city. As in other parts of the world, numerous people began agitating for legislation to protect wildflowers, and garden journals promoted their planting as a preservation exercise. Are not we, as a people, sadly neglecting a most important feature of our work that breathes the very essence of our natural sentiment, and voices the bewitching freedom characteristic of the bush so dear to the hearts of all true Australians?29 In the Australian context, wildflowers were seen as the countrys natural heritage, something that, unlike the nation itself, was very old, a heritage that the country could be proud of unlike the convict stain, as it was then perceived, or the countrys rich Aboriginal history, which could barely be acknowledged. Australias botanical heritage was unique, distinctive, and in danger of disappearing. It was the countrys great national trust, the childrens birthright that can never be replaced.30 Extracting the beauty from the bush and planting it in the garden gave a new legitimacy and priority to the growing of native plants. The Garden and Home Maker of Australia decreed in 1930: That the public takes an interest in growing native plants is essential, particularly in view of the rapid extinction of many.31 In this context, the garden was intended to provide a safe haven for wildflowers, and gardeners were deemed to be performing a patriotic duty in planting them. By 1937, Aussie Gardener, a nom de plume unthinkable even ten years earlier, suggested that the garden could provide a more hospitable environment for native plants than the bleak winds and rough conditions into which Dame Nature has so ruthlessly thrust them.32 The garden improved nature, domesticating the wildness of the Australian landscape. A key to the successful promotion of native plants was their domestication: they had to be safe, accessible, and able to fit within the dominant visual aesthetic. They could even respond to civilizing activity. The Argus reported in 1929 that, contrary to popular understanding, fertilizers could be used on native plants. As a result, the displays of native flowers at the Melbourne Botanic gardens were noticeably superior to the same flowers sourced from the bush. The difference was the liberal application of bone dust fertilizer that the plants received in September.33 It is clear in inter-war discussions about the use of native plants, that their visual aesthetic was a difficult one for white Australian gardeners to accept, accustomed as they were still to English concepts of taste. Regular comments about their scraggly growing habits, untidiness and wildness, remind us that the experience most people would have had of native plants was limited to that which they encountered on their ventures into the bush or even the beach, where plants were wild and by definition often ragged and unstructured, and thus unsuited to the ordered backyards of suburban Australia. In the inter-war period, gardening literature was literature, with a few black and white visual reproductions that struggled to engage any senses. Garden magazines were intended to support and guide actual activity in the garden, as opposed to replacing it. Garden plans were used to convey layout, with some particularly artistic ones, such as those by Edna Walling, also managing to be works of art in themselves. Without access to visual images that could convey the delicacy, colours and variety of native plants, the experience that many people would have had of them was limited to that which they encountered on their ventures into the bush, or even the beach, where plants were wild and by definition often ragged and unstructured. Without the knowledge of where and how to look, the smaller, more delicate plants, which were appropriate for the garden, could pass unnoticed. Educating people about the value and beauty of the native flora was essential to both saving it for future generations, and encouraging people to use it in their gardens.34 When Lord Somers, the Governor of Victoria, opened the Wildflower Show in 1927 he commented with surprise at how little people knew about the native plants in their area: It is a strange thing that people go about with their eyes shut among such natural wonders as abound in this land.35

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The campaign to save wildflowers from extinction, and thereby legitimate their use in the garden, might also be recognized as an adoption of visually suitable plants, or plants that could be suitably introduced into the garden. The language of taming the wild is important here and carries echoes of the assimilation policies directed toward Indigenous people whereby Aboriginal children of mixed descent could be removed from their families and placed in government- or church-run missions. The thinking behind such policies was determined by ideas about breeding out the colour, or a belief in the inevitable decline of the Aboriginal race; if you bred out what was feared, the hope was that you would also dilute the way of life, the untamed behaviours. If native people could be civilized, so too native plants could be redeemed for and in the garden. Given the repeated exhortation for people to garden with native plants, we can assume that most white Australian gardeners were slow on the uptake. One popular inter-war garden designer, Olive Mellor, observed in 1938 that only twice in her twenty years or so of practice, has she been asked to design a native garden.36 Edna Walling, one of the most well-known garden designers of the 1920s to 1960s, had her own epiphany about native plants at some point in the late 1930s. In July 1938, she wrote in her regular Letters to Garden Lovers column about a native garden she was designing, this will be a lovely native garden, and once and for all let us hope it will help to lay [to rest] the ghost that frightens people and makes them look so depressed when one mentions native plants. You really cannot wonder. Take the border of Australian plants in the Botanic Gardens. Could anything be more uninspiring?37 Is the ghost of the native plant an uncanny allusion perhaps to the ghost of the Aborigine, stalking the landscape? Wallings image evokes the idea of the Australian gardener pursued by the spectre of dispossession, a whispering that the garden making of the respectable citizen may not be so benign after all. Her reference to the border of Australian plants reminds us again of the importance of the aesthetic appeal or lack of it when it came to native plants, and how even trained horticulturalists struggled to use native plants in a way that was visually appealing to them. In inter-war Australia, it seems that no matter how ardently horticulturalists and garden writers might promote the use of native plants in the garden, White Australians did not necessarily see that space as one where their identity as Australian citizens needed to be expressed. The dahlia along with the rose, the carnation and chrysanthemum remained dominant. They were enduring embodiments of the British Empire in the Australian garden.

Post-war attitudes
After World War II, ideas about the garden began to change, albeit slowly. Garden writers might encourage gardeners to use more native plants in their garden, but did not refrain from disparaging comment about their inadequacies. Reginald Edwards, in The Australian Garden Book (1950), for example, encouraged gardeners not to have their blocks cleared of all trees when building their homes, then proceeded to observe that native trees and shrubs were not so colourful and beautiful as many imported kinds, and throw much less shade, but they should not be despised, for they are very hardy and with a little care and attention can be converted into specimens of lasting utility and decoration. But his 316 page book devotes just six and a half pages to native flowers. A more notable shift in attitudes toward native plants began to happen with the publication of several significant books by women writers, namely Edna Wallings The Australian Roadside (1952), and Thistle Harriss Australian Plants for the Garden (1953).38 In 1957, the New South Wales-based Thistle Harris and the Victorian botanist Arthur Swaby founded the Society for Growing Australian Plants, which helped to disseminate knowledge about the cultivation of native plants. In post-war Australia, the encouragement to grow native plants was framed less as a patriotic duty and more as an expression of national identity, their suitability to the environment and as a measure towards their preservation. Thistle Harris believed that the majority of exotic plants were ill-suited to the Australian climate, and she wanted to publicize the versatility of the Australian flora. Prewar concerns about the threat posed to Australias unique botanical heritage were compounded, post-war, by expanding suburban development. In the 1950s and 1960s, calls to grow more native plants frequently echoed earlier fears that White settlement threatened those same plants with extinction. The Society for Growing Native Plants took as its motto Preservations through Cultivation, and sought to cultivate, improve and preserve Australian flora in both the garden and the bush.39 The Society played a significant role in educating the public about native plants and their possible use in gardens. There were other such groups with similar motivations. The Beaumaris Tree Preservation Society, from the Melbourne

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the use and meanings of native plants in gardens in twentieth-century australia

bay-side suburb of Beaumaris, sought to raise awareness of the areas unique heathland flora. The Society claimed that whereas early immigrants to Australia had planted the deciduous trees of Europe because they were familiar with them, it is now generally realised that native trees have a beauty of their own that is unique and an adaptation to soil and climate that others have not. Many of them are becoming domesticated, happy in cultivation.40 While some of the language with which the use of native plants was promoted had changed, the need to tame their wildness remained. In 1965, Hugh Elliot wrote of the shy bush plants, which needed some persuading to accept civilised living.41 It is difficult not to draw comparisons with contemporary attitudes towards the Aboriginal population. Sociologist Nick Smith argues that in Australia, the indigenous population and the nature to which it is allegedly so close have consistently functioned as Other to a settler sense of self.42 While I agree that at times the meanings given to the term native might be seen to be interchangeable for either plants or people, settler Australians identified themselves with native plants and chose these as an expression of patriotic feeling in ways that has proved consistently and appropriately inconceivable with the Indigenous population.43 The most significant shift in the understanding of how native plants might be used in the garden came in 1966 with the publication of Betty Malony and Jean Walkers Designing Australian Bush Gardens. Outside a few forward-thinking projects such as Castlecrag and Eltham,44 here was a radical rethinking of the garden aesthetic then dominant in Australia, a step away from the familiar lawn and garden plot and the fighting against nature it demanded. Walker and Malony sought to embrace the bush, the most distinctive feature of the Australian landscape. They hoped that their designs would be adopted both by those wanting to preserve the bush around them as well as those wanting to start a bush garden from scratch. The design should create a garden in very close harmony with the Australian bush, or a particular section of it. Tall eucalypts, lots of ground cover, banksias, grevilleas, acacias, ferns, etc; this was bush very reminiscent of that surrounding Sydneys northern and coastal suburbs, and beyond. The bush garden was to be maintenance free, no weeding . . . no lawnmowing. It is above all an Australian way, in harmony with our own very wonderful environment.45 The garden was to reflect the characteristics of the Australian lifestyle: relaxed, easy going, and confident of its relationship with the surrounding landscape. Dont fight against nature: eliminate the lawns and let a soft, restful carpet of fallen leaves and bark eliminate your weeding for you. This is the first stage in carefree gardening.46 This reinvention of the bush as a benign and tranquil place was captured even more strongly in Walker and Molonys second book, More About Bush Gardens: Let us look again with humility and understanding. Our flowers are modest; they do not swagger. Look now and be endeared by their gentleness, their wild charm and untamed loveliness.47 Both the garden and the bush were being reinvented here.48 No longer threatening and foreign, native plants are rendered almost childlike, their wildness now seen as charming and endearing. When the bush became garden, it also became familiarized. It became a landscape to be embraced rather than one which by its nature excluded. The raggedness and untidiness of native plants were now qualities to be celebrated, for these were the features that ensured the all important carefree gardening.49 It is significant that it was the bush garden that represented this Australian way of life. In their book Unknown Nation, Curran and Ward argue that from the mid-1960s, with a dwindling material basis for imperial sentiment, Australians were confronted with the task of remaking their nation in the wake of empire. The search was on for alternative ideas, symbols and practices that could express the new nationalism emerging across the nation.50 For the advocates of native plants, and many other artists, politicians, and cultural commentators, it was the Australian landscape that represented the most distinctive aspect of the Australian experience. The bush garden could replicate something of that landscape, reflective as it was of a certain rare feeling of national self-respect current in Australia in the 1960s.51 Alistair Knox, a Melbourne designer who became famous for his championing of mud brick as a building material, embraced the bush garden as appropriately Australian, believing that [t]inder dry bark, fallen leaves and the scent of the bush in the vertical rhythm of the eucalypts is written into the heart and inner being of every genuine Australian.52 As Kylie Mirmohamadis article in this issue demonstrates, residents of the Melbourne suburb of Eltham, where Knox was best known, as well as particular suburbs along Sydneys north-shore, welcomed the idea of the bush garden; it was a coming of age for Australian gardening, an adaptation of both Japanese and British gardening traditions using local plants and natural resources. In general, the style of the bush garden had limited appeal. Perhaps the aesthetic was too different, the sensory appeal still more readily embraced in the bush itself rather than the garden. But the practice of growing native plants in the garden was slowly on the rise and the idea of a distinctly home-grown style of garden was more enduring. When the Canberra Botanic Gardens finally opened in 1970 (from 1978, the National Botanic Gardens), for the Australian

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studies in the history of gardens and designed landscapes: holmes

Womens Weekly its delays since the first official plantings in 1949 were a blessing in disguise. It gave the notion of a wholly Australian garden time to take hold. There was a new climate of nationalism, a search for identity. Now the concept seemed so palpably right.53 While relatively few Australians took to bush gardens or all-native gardens, many more began growing natives in their gardens, planting them alongside exotics in a more familiar reflection of the garden of their gardening heritage. It is beyond the scope of this article to consider in detail more recent arguments used to promote the use of native plants. But, broadly speaking, by the 1980s general gardening books routinely included a chapter on native plants as well as one on lawns, and an increasing number of books devoted to gardening with natives began to be published. While the idea of native gardens as low maintenance was still important, other features became increasingly significant. Geoff Rigbys The Australian Gardeners Guide to Native Plants (1982) argued that the native garden will be aesthetically more in tune with its environment than introduced flora can ever achieve. The gardens attractiveness to birds was evidence of its greater harmony with the surrounding environment.54 In the early 1990s when Diane Snape, a vocal practitioner and advocate of gardening with native plants, published her Australian Native Gardens: Putting Visions into Practice, a number of the gardeners she interviewed articulated a strong sense of nationalism as a motivating factor for their native gardens. I dont want to be too nationalistic, observed Tim Woodburn, but we should be proud to be Australian, and theres a great future for Australian plants. Bruce Champion was even more forceful: We have a native garden because of nationalism. Britain is not our home; were Australian and proud of being Australian, and we know that there are so many lovely Australian plants that we can grow.55 For many gardeners, however, arguments based on nationalism and patriotism remained as unconvincing in the 1990s as they had in the 1930s. While knowledge about how to cultivate native plants increased significantly, and hybridization introduced a range of new and attractive varieties, garden centres continued to sell exotics in far greater numbers than native plants. The drought conditions affecting much of south eastern Australian since the late 1990s introduced an alternative argument into the call to garden with natives. With water restrictions in force and some areas restricted to hand watering with buckets only, or even no use of water outside, many exotics proved themselves to be unable to withstand the prolonged lack of water. A garden of dead and dying plants, after all, holds little aesthetic appeal. In this context, and amid growing fears about the impact of climate change, native plants have been promoted as the obvious alternative, and as more suited to the prevailing climatic conditions. They fit in, are more at home, and natural.56 Advocates of indigenous gardens, namely those would argue for the use of plants from the immediate, local area, have also used the opportunity provided by the drought conditions to promote their vision of the garden. Indigenous plants are also credited with the power to restore the landscape to its natural, pre-invasion, state.57 Environmental sustainability has been the new argument used to endorse both the native and indigenous garden. Such arguments received a battering, however, in the wake of Victorias Black Saturday fires in 2009. Native plants, their detractors argued, were more susceptible to fire and placed homes at greater risk then exotic species whose green canopy could provide greater protection from a raging blaze.

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For the century or more that garden writers and horticulturalists in Australia have been encouraging Australians to grow more native plants in their gardens, the call has increased in intensity with the passing of each decade. The reasons given as to why Australian gardeners should so cultivate the native flora has changed, but the ongoing presence of such encouragement alerts us to an inescapable fact: Australian gardeners themselves have not been very keen on going native in their gardens, and they have proved strikingly resistant to the barrage of arguments advanced as to why their garden aesthetic should change. In particular, calls to use the garden to reflect ideas about Australian national identity or character have had little sway, although gardening books will frequently discuss the need for the garden to incorporate the outdoor lifestyle many Australians enjoy. When designer Jim Fogarty was selected to take his award winning Australian Inspiration garden to the Chelsea Flower Show, he observed: This is not an Australian native garden. It is, nevertheless, a typical Australian garden. A true blue Australian garden with an eclectic blend of plants, indigenous and exotic, brought together in an informal and relaxed way.58 There is recognition here of the diversity of Australian gardening culture and the mixture of international influences that have now shaped it, and a repetition of Walker and Moloneys idea that the garden should reflect the easy-going character of the Australian people. Some garden writers would still seek to have the garden express something of the surrounding landscape and national


the use and meanings of native plants in gardens in twentieth-century australia

identity. In reviewing the Bryants Encyclopaedia of Australian Native Plants (2005), Karen Ingram observed that despite the problems of coping with eucalypts [in the garden], theyre a beautiful symbol of life in a sunburnt country. And as Bryant writes: Nothing says Australia as powerfully as a white-branched ghost gum in red desert soil set against the blue sky.59 The unruly, messy eucalypts will continue to cause the gardener headaches, but they are worth enduring for meanings this quintessentially Anglo-Australian tree brings to any garden.60 To drive or walk around the suburbs of Australias southern cities today it is clear that the European garden aesthetic still dominates. Some all-native gardens are visible, and many more gardens use native plants alongside exotics in ways that gesture toward accommodation and incorporation. In these instances, the aesthetic is still predominantly European, with plants selected for their colour or form, rather than any attempt to develop a distinctive Australian style or to reflect the surrounding landscape. Other gardening traditions will also be encountered, reminding us that the Australian population is a highly multicultural one, and thus we should expect a diverse range of gardening styles to be represented.61 Perhaps not surprisingly, it has been the realities of drought and the ravages of climate change that in recent years have forced more Australians to rethink their gardening culture and aesthetic. We can see the environment, landscape and gardens moving closer together and reshaping the look and meaning of this at once both intimate and public space of the garden, a space which continues to be invested with powerful personal, cultural and political meanings. As this article goes to press, it seems that the drought that has afflicted south-eastern Australia for the last ten years has finally and dramitically broken and that once again there is water for the garden. It will be interesting to observe if the changes witnessed over the last decade hold sway, or whether, as our native garden advocates would hope, the increasing incorporation of native plants in garden is here to grow. La Trobe University

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1. Charles Luffman, Principles of Australian Gardening (Melbourne: The Book Lovers Library, 1903), p. 20. 2. Anonymous, Going Native. Very Best of Gardens and Outdoor Living Garden Design, i, 2003, quoted in David Trigger, Jane Mulcock, Andrea Gaynor and Yuan Toussaint, Ecological restoration, cultural preferences and the negotiation of nativeness in Australia, Geoforum, xxxix, 2008, p. 1276. 3. National Trust Statement of Cultural Heritage Significance. Maranoa Gardens is still an all native Australian Garden and open daily to the public. 4. See John Foster, Natives in the Nineteenth Century Garden, Australian Garden History, ii/4, January and February 1991, pp. 35. See also Libby Robin, Nationalising Nature: Wattle Days in Australia, Journal of Australian Studies, lxxvii, March 2002, pp. 1326; and Kylie Mirmohamadi in this issue. 5. Garden and Home Maker of Australia (1 August 1927), p. 16. 6. Jean Galbraith to John Inglis Lothian, 14 August 1927, State Library of Victoria [SLV], Manuscripts Collection, MS 12637, Box 3462/6. 7. Harold C. K. Stephens, Beautiful Surroundings an Essential to the Modern Home. Hornsby and KuRing-Gai Shires Advocate (24 August 1928), p. 12. 8. Argus (7 November 1924), p. 16. 9. Argus (31 October 1924), p. 16. 10. Argus (21 August 1925), p. 16. 11. Argus (1 May 1925), p. 4. 12. John Dixon Hunt, Greater Perfections: The Practice of Garden Theory (London: Thames & Hudson, 2000), p. 128. 13. Argus (28 November 1924), p. 16. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. Argus (2 January 1925), p. 3. Argus (14 November 1924), p. 16. Argus (24 July 1925), p. 17. Jean Galbraith, Garden in a Valley, 1939 (Hawthorn: The Five Mile Press, 1985), p. 59. Australian Garden Lover (1 May 1927), p. 62. Ibid., p. 96. Argus (23 September 1925), p. 25. Australian Home Beautiful (June 1930), p. 37. Garden Lover (1 January 1926), p. 338. Nancy Bonin (ed.), Katie Hume on the Darling Downs: A Colonial Marriage: Letters of a Colonial Lady (Toowomba: Darling Downs Institute Press, 1984), p. 14. Garden and Home Maker of Australia (1 February 1929), p. 208. Dixon Hunt, Greater Perfections, p. 128. Garden and the Home (1 November, 1923), p. 28.

24. 25. 26.


studies in the history of gardens and designed landscapes: holmes

27. 28. 29. 30. 31. Amateur Gardener (1 November 1904), p. 4. Garden Magazine (1 August 1923), p. 9. Garden and the Home (1 November, 1923), p. 28. Garden Magazine (July 1924), p. 17. Garden and Home Maker of Australia (1 March 1930), p. 240. Garden Lover (November 1937), p. 31. Argus (28 September 1929), p. 12. Elise M. Cornish, Her Garden, in Louise Brown, (eds), A Book of South Australia: Women in the First Hundred Years (Adelaide: Rigby Limited, 1936), p. 165. Argus (28 September 1927), p. 20. Australian Home Beautiful (1938), p. 81. Edna Walling, Letters to Garden Lovers 19371948 (Sydney: New Holland, 2000), p. 61. Edna Walling, The Australian Roadside (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1952); Thistle Harris, Australian Plants for the Garden (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1953). John Walter, Society for Growing Native Plants in Richard Aitken and Michael Looker (eds), Oxford Companion to Australian Gardens (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2002). More About Native Plants and Seaside Gardens (Melbourne: Beaumaris Tree Preservation Society, 1956), p. 2. Hugh Elliot Rearing those Shy Bush Plants, Sun Herald (23 January 1965), p. 14. 42. Nick Smith, Nature, Native and Nation in the Australian Imaginary (PhD thesis: La Trobe University, 2000), p. 5. 43. This is not to suggest that representations of Aboriginal people, their artwork and other forms of cultural production have not been used as a short-hand for representations of aspects of Australia. 44. See Mirmohamadis article in this issue. 45. Betty Maloney and Jean Walker, Designing Australian Bush Gardens (Sydney: Reed, 1st edition 1966, 1978), pp. 910. 46. Ibid. 47. Jean Walker and Betty Moloney, More About Bush Gardens, 1967, edited by Barbara Mullins (North Sydney: Horwitz Publications, (1967) 1969). 48. Trimble, The Garden in Australia, p. 16. 49. The promotion of native gardens as low maintenance was previously advocated by the Beaumaris Tree Preservation Society in 1956 who wrote of our desire for minimum maintenance requirements. 50. James Curran and Stuart Ward, Unknown Nation: Australia after Empire (Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 2010), p. 5. 51. The quote is from Robert Drew, cited in Curran and Ward, p. 62. 52. Alistair Knox, Living in the Environment (Canterbury, Victoria: Mullaya Publications, 1975), p. 60. 53. Kay Keavney, Canberras Botanic Gardens: Where city folk stroll in an ancient land. Australian Womens Weekly (9 December 1970), p. 24. 54. Geoff Rigby, The Australian Gardeners Guide to Native Plants (Milson Point NSW: Currawong Press, 1982), p. 7. 55. Quote in Diana Snape, Australian Native Gardens: Putting Visions into Practice (Port Melbourne: Lothian, 1992), pp. 118, 128. 56. For a discussion on the ways advocates of native gardening appeal to the naturalness of native plants, see, Trigger et al., Ecological restoration, p. 1276. 57. See Katie Holmes, Susan Martin and Kylie Mirmohamadi, Reading the Garden: The Settlement of Australia (Carlton, Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 2008), p. 194. 58. Cliff Green with Jim Fogarty, Australian Inspiration: A Bush Garden goes to Chelsea (South Melbourne: Lothian books, 2004), p. 4. 59. Karen Ingram, Fascinating Flora. Canberra Times (1 December 2005), p. 5. 60. For a discussion of the changing meanings of the eucalypt, see, Lucy Kaldor, Gum Tree, in Melissa Harper and Richard White (eds), Symbols of Australia: Uncovering the Stories Behind the Myths (Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2010), pp. 5965. 61. See Holmes, Martin and Mirmohamadi, Reading the Garden, Chapter 10.

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32. 33. 34.

35. 36. 37. 38.