30th Birthday Seminar and Afternoon Tea

30th Birthday Seminar and Afternoon Tea – Report

The Seminar and Afternoon Tea was held at the Mt Alexander Golf Club on Wednesday 22 July 2015.

Forty-eight people attended the Seminar, 30 Club members and 18 non-Club and an additional 12 people came for the afternoon tea.

The Program for the day featured a beautiful water colour by Sue Spacey and each participant was given a memento card, designed by Marion Cooke, with the same linocut Marion had created for the framed awards given to past members who were key people in the early days of the Club. Sue Dimozantos prepared a lovely floral display of native flowers and foliage which was later raffled and taken home by Christine Hewett.

Peggy Munro collected and displayed a wonderful array of memorabilia covering the past 30 years of the Club. She also put together a film, with the assistance of Alan Isaacs, showing various aspects of the Club over the years.


Participants enjoyed three presentations:

Marion Cooke – Art in the Garden

Michael McCoy – Game Changer Gardens

Julian Blackhirst – Growing heirloom vegetables

Marion’s slide show depicted a variety of garden art from the private gardens of a number of Club members, as well as from other places. We are fortunate that we have so many creative people working in the area of garden art in Central Victoria, including our own members, Marion and Sue Dimozantos!

Michael gave an interesting talk firstly on the development of his own garden at Woodend, then on gardens worldwide that he regards as “game changer gardens” because of their unique design and location.

Julian provided very useful information on growing heirloom vegetables and organic gardening both at his own property in Trentham and at the Garden of St Erth in Blackwood where he is Head Gardener.

The diverse subject matter of these presentations left participants with much to ponder and perhaps put in to practice.

The guest speakers joined participants at a delicious lunch and made themselves available to answer questions. Michael had signed copies of his books available to buy and quite a few people took an opportunity to add to their library of gardening books. In addition, Michael kindly donated signed copies of his books to the Club either to be given to the Goldfields Library or to be raffled.

Afternoon tea

Following the seminar, participants and guests who had been invited because of their past association with the Club, enjoyed afternoon tea provided by Club members. Gary Sobey, who assisted in reforming the Club in 1985, and was the first President, congratulated the Club on its 30th birthday and the current

President, Judy Uren, presented framed linocuts to several early club members, including Mollie Maddox, Carlyn McGufficke, Gary Sobey and Gwen Davey. Other early members unable to attend the afternoon tea will have their awards sent to them.  They include Margaret Willis, Lyn Ellery (was Stuchbree), Lloyd and Betty Curtis, Mary Willis and Sue Grimes. Thanks to the hard work put in by these people the Club continues and provides an opportunity for garden lovers to get together just as they did thirty years ago.

To end this special occasion, a beautiful fruit cake made by Christobel Comerford was cut by life members, Peggy Munro and Barbara Maund and shared by all present.

Feedback on the day and subsequently, has been positive with the day considered a resounding success.

Thanks to all those who made the day a success, including Tom and Christobel Comerford, Peggy Munro, Jan Gower, Judy Uren, Marion Cooke, Sue Spacey, Heather Spicer, Sally Leversha, Alan Isaacs, Maxine Tester, Judy Hopley, Sue Dimozantos and those members who contributed to the afternoon tea.

Philip Hopley, Organising Committee, 30th Birthday Seminar and Afternoon Tea

Julie-Ann Webster has kindly provided the following notes on the presentations of the two guest speakers, Michael McCoy and Julian Blackhirst.  Thank you Julie-Ann.

Our first guest speaker was Michael McCoy, garden designer, horticultural writer, author and “gardenist”. Michael took us on a tour of five spectacular gardens. These stand-out gardens were his “Game Changer” gardens, and as we toured, he described the elements which made each garden special for him.

Our first stop was the famous garden Great Dixter in East Sussex, England, where Michael had been invited to live and work with its creator, famous plantsman and author, the late Christopher Lloyd. The 15th century manor house, restored and enlarged by architect Edwin Lutyens, became Michael’s home for some months and his upstairs room gave him a bird’s-eye view across the gardens.

Here, we viewed the famous Long Border, a complex mix of shrubs, perennials, bulbs and annuals. The perennial border provides the ultimate challenge to the skills and ingenuity of the designer, and Michael explained the difficulty of successfully creating such a masterpiece, and to maintain interest and the integrity of the plantings throughout the season. Whereas, Christopher Lloyd had favoured a more restrained style of planting, today’s garden manager, Fergus Garrett, takes a more experimental approach, using colours and plant combinations which are a little more daring.

Hidcote Manor Garden is our next stop. This garden was created by American expatriate, Lawrence Johnston, at the beginning of the 20th Century, and consists of a sequence of themed “garden rooms” surrounding a 17th Century manor house. Hidcote made the concept of the garden room exciting and fashionable. The rooms were linked by hedges, grassy walks and featured herbaceous borders.   Lawrence was the first to use single coloured borders. In this garden, we experienced how the garden spaces were manipulated in an almost theatrical way. We walked through the famous red borders (the first single coloured borders to be used in England), mounted a flight of steps onto a level area with two elegant matched pavilions. From the restricted space inside, we could view the ‘long walk’, a grassed open space reaching far into the distance. We then continued into the confined simplicity of the Stilt Garden, consisting of pleached hornbeam in formal blocks on either side. From this restricted space, we are drawn on toward Heaven’s Gate, which opens onto a wide vista of the Cotswold countryside, where sheep graze in green meadows. All the way the garden design manipulates our senses, with the garden spaces opening and closing around us, and drawing us onward as vistas open ahead.

Next, we move on to the Berry region of central France, and The Priory Garden at Orsan (Prieure de Notre-Dame D’Orsan). This beautiful garden is set on the ruins of a 12th century medieval priory, and it surrounds the restored ancient monastic buildings. Its style is based on the art of gardening during pre-Renaissance times. Simplicity and restraint are the keynotes, evoking a sense of peace and tranquility.   The garden is enclosed with magnificent arched and tessellated hedges. It is primarily a productive garden, with orchards, herb garden, and vegetables. All produce is grown organically and used to supply the restaurant on site. Outstanding features were a cloistered garden with arches of clipped hornbeams to form a delightful contemplative garden with a central fountain; espaliered apple and pear trees; quince trees pruned to form hood-shaped arbours with woven cane seats beneath; rhubarb grown in forcing pots woven from willow; and the Berry Path, with raspberries trained on v-shaped frames to aid ripening and assist picking. Everywhere an atmosphere of abundance and prosperity, combined with order and discipline. Quirky touches included rows of poles with snail shells or stones arranged precariously on top; totem poles, woven from willow with symbolic designs drawn from early monastic illustrated manuscripts, and a heart of clipped ivy wrapped around a window. This recurring “heart” motif occurs in different forms throughout, and perhaps makes reference to the founder of the community, who became a saint, and his heart returned to the site for burial. These are thought-provoking symbolic references to the early history of the site

Onward, to Northern Italy where we visit the famous Villa Gamberaia in Tuscany. This beautiful villa, with its exquisite 18th Century baroque style garden, is situated high on a hillside above Florence with distant vistas of the city.   This garden displays a masterful use of scale and space, and consists of a series of connected terraces on different levels. It features parterre gardens, clipped hedges and topiaried cypress, stone urns and statuary. The Lemon Garden features a display of lemon trees in ancient terracotta pots. In winter, these trees are stored in a ‘limonia’ adjacent to the house. A remarkable ‘long lawn’ or bowling alley, with overlooking statues, stretches alongside the house, even crossing over a bridge to extend its length and enhance the vista. The garden’s most famous feature is the water parterre, a 20th century innovation, designed to be viewed from the upstairs windows of the house. Here, the box parterres are filled with pools of water, instead of flower beds. The reflections add another dimension to the space.

Next, we cross the Atlantic to the United States to visit two very different contemporary gardens. On the East Coast, we visit Chanticleer Gardens in Pennsylvania.   This 35-acre garden was given to the nation by the Rosengarten family along with a generous endowment for its upkeep and development. It enjoys great popularity with the visiting public, and with such a substantial budget, it attracts all the very best of American garden designers who want to come to work here and showcase their skills. Here, they can produce cutting-edge work, which may only last for a season before being superseded by something even more edgy! Designs are exciting and vibrant, and plants are used in quirky, innovative ways.  We visit the Teacup Garden, where a wonderful atmosphere is created within a very small area which features a central fountain (the teacup) and lush plantings of tropical and sub-tropical plants, bananas, ginger and pineapple, in unusual contrasting colours. This garden has now disappeared.   The gardens are filled with garden artistry. Decorative pots filled with unexpected colour combinations, provide points of interest, and garden seats, such as lime green Adirondack chairs, contribute sculptural interest to garden spaces.

Finally, we arrive in New York, to visit the High Line Gardens. Here, the “wow factor” really impacts us!   In terms of its size, location and innovation, this is a massive undertaking, and something very special. Located in New York City, the High Line is a 1.45 mile long elevated linear park, built on a section of disused freight railroad, elevated high above the streets of Manhattan. Saved from demolition, the space has been used to create a much visited public park. The area was designed as an “aerial greenway”. The space was renovated in sections to provide planting space and walkways. The old rail tracks were lifted and planting areas prepared. Plantings are embedded in railroad gravel mulch. The garden is designed to provide textural and colour variation all year round, and plants are selected for their rugged qualities and ability to withstand harsh exposed conditions on site. Species include meadow plants, clumping grasses and prairie flowers, with stands of sumac, smokebush and species of birch.   Plants which had naturalized on the disused tracks were also included.   The garden is owned by the City of New York and is maintained and operated by a Friend’s group who raise 98% of the annual budget, which runs into millions of dollars. Private donors also sponsor the garden. This huge project has been an overwhelming success and is extremely popular with visitors, and with people wanting to contribute their services and help in the gardens.

Our second guest speaker, Julian Blackhirst, gave us a comprehensive talk on Growing Heirloom Organic Vegetables. Julian is the Head Gardener at the Garden of St. Erth at Blackwood, but he treated us to an energetic gardening session in his own productive vegetable and fruit garden at Trentham. This garden, as at St. Erth, is managed on organic lines.   Soil improvement was central theme to establishing productive garden beds. Julian used a composting technique using layers of carbon (dried leaves etc.), nitrogen (green products) and manures. The whole pile is then covered with straw and left to mature. This would take from 2-3 months.   Several stacks at various stages would ensure a continuous supply. Using diagrams, Julian explained the method of “double digging” which he used to incorporate compost into the soil. He also explained the importance of aeration of the soil to ensure good drainage and assist chemical exchange. Crop rotation was essential, using different plant families at each turn. Overhead watering was the preferred irrigation method to achieve thorough coverage. Tests had confirmed that the dripper system of delivering water was less accurate. He used Russian Comfrey, planted under fruit trees, as its properties as chemical fixator helped to fertilize the soil.   The leaves of Comfrey can also be used to enrich compost. Crops grown included pumpkins (true cucurbits), hard-necked garlic, potatoes ‘Toolangi Delight’, tomatoes, cabbages and salad greens, and many more. Planting techniques were discussed. Plant growth could be manipulated to achieve desired results. When Julian wanted to produce taller more elongated cabbages and minimize spreading growth, he did so by planting seedlings closer together so they would reach upwards for the light. Close planting, where appropriate, could also minimize weed growth by shading out the light. Weeding between plants was recommended at the earliest stage, and Julian used a ‘stirrup’ hoe for this job. In a large berry garden, Julian grows eight varieties of raspberries. As with his other crops, any excess produce is eagerly taken up by a local bakery. When asked about the need to use bird netting over the raspberries, Julian offered a very non-textbook solution: Birds were not a problem. They preferred to dine at a very large commercial raspberry farm nearby, and so gave his garden the miss!

Julie-Ann Webster

3 10 (1)  26 100_6353 IMG_117211

Photos by Peggy Munro and Philip Hopley

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