Emu Valley Rhododendron Garden needs recognition

Emu Valley Rhododendron Garden near Burnie in the state’s north west is a public garden in search of love and appreciation writes Jennifer Stackhouse.

The 11-hectare Emu Valley Rhododendron Garden (EVRG) was established 41 years ago by members of the Australian Rhododendron Society (North West Tasmanian Branch). The first planting was a magnificent, yellow-flowered rhododendron called ‘Golden Dream’. The plant is still going strong says volunteer General Manager, Geoff Wood, but the golden dream of those original founding members of EVRG has become a little tarnished as the garden continues to struggle for both recognition and funding.

The garden is a major tourist attraction in the north west yet it has failed to get the recognition it deserves from major bodies such as Tourism Tasmania says Geoff. The garden has a lot to offer – not just spring blossoms. While it was seen as a woodland garden planted to showcase rhododendrons by those founders, who were rhododendron enthusiasts, it is now much more. It is worth visiting at any time of the year as it has collections of trees including maples and flowering cherries, massed wisteria, water features, garden buildings including a Japanese-style tea house, art works, shaded walks and a tearoom with views across the garden. Indeed, there are more than 24,000 plants in the garden including rhododendrons.

EVRG is building a reputation as a function and wedding venue, welcomes visitors of all ages and is updating its database so its valuable collection of plants can be easily located through electronic tagging.

Renovations scheduled for 2023 will see its kitchen updated and additions that will incorporate a gift shop.

The garden relies heavily on volunteers and has only one full time employee, its Horticultural Manager, a part-time administrator and two casual gardeners. Other major roles including General Manager and Function Coordinator are voluntary. Geoff is standing down from his voluntary role in 2023 and is unsure who will replace him. He currently works at least 30 hours a week for the love of the garden.

How can we help?

EVRG operates on entrance takings (admission for adults is $15 or concession $13), earnings from functions including weddings and grants for special projects. They are not able to seek grants to pay staff however and Geoff feels the garden is desperately in need of more full-time employees.

One lucrative source of income was from tourist ships berthing at Burnie as these provided visitors through the summer months. The two-year hiatus on cruise ships visiting Tasmania during COVID has seen tourist numbers plumet dramatically since March 2020.

Geoff wants is more people, including Australian Garden History Society members, to put Emu Valley Rhododendron Gardens on their radars and to visit or become a Friend of the EVRG. He’d also like to build relationships with like-minded organisations and has recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Garden. And if anyone wants to volunteer to work in the garden or help in anyway don’t hesitate to get in touch on 0427 722 060.


Emu Valley Rhododendron Garden is at 55 Breffny Road, Romaine (just a 10-minute drive from Burnie) and is open 10am-4pm daily (except Christmas Day and Good Friday). Peak flowering of rhododendrons is from September to November while autumn colour peaks from May to June however the garden is worth a visit in any season. Admission is $15 (adults) or $10 (concession). Children under 16 free. For more information see www.emuvalleyrhodo.com. Phone (03) 6433 1805.

The history and landscape of Scone on the South Esk River

Dr Bill Gibson addressed Australian Garden History Society Tasmanian Branch members at his farm and garden Scone beside the South Esk River near Perth. The visit was part of a pre-Christmas 2021 tour to historic gardens and landscapes in the north of the state. He has kindly made a transcript available to members.

Welcome to the farm called Scone. You’ve just come from Eskleigh. In a moment I’ll begin by talking a little of the connection between Scone and Eskleigh, but I’d like you to have an idea of where they sit. Introduce the more local aerial photo – the one that does not extend out to Cressy; the one that gives a better view of just around here. You’ve come about 3km from Eskleigh.
See how important the South Esk River is for any consideration of landscape. If you were driving from the South and headed to Longford you would be coming up the Midland Hwy, you would cross the South Esk at Perth. You’d probably notice it. You’d head left from Perth. You’d drive on a bit and come to Longford where you would cross a river again. You might even be aware that this is the same river. I don’t think you’d have any idea that between these two crossings the river has taken a large loop off to the left making room for a couple of thousand acres (800 hectares) of farm. That loop comes close to enclosing Scone.
This property has 14km of river boundary and only a couple of kilometres of land boundary that separate it from Glen Ireh where you’ll be going next.
The farm was granted to a Ritchie in 1819. Another Ritchie built the flour mill at Scone, now Eskleigh, but it was burnt down when Gibsons bought Scone. From about 1870, William Gibson developed a notable Merino stud based on top Merinos including some imported from Saxony. It had much influence on the development of Australian fine-wool Merinos during Queen Victoria’s reign.
William Gibson developed the stud and became a rich man, able to build, then rebuild, the Scone Homestead and to have a great garden and dozens of employees.
He was the grandson of a convict who had arrived in Tasmania in 1804 with the Collins Expedition that made the first permanent settlement on the Derwent. That expedition had been charged with settling on Port Phillip Bay. After a few months they had to move on because of harsh conditions and inadequate water. In Tasmania, the family fortunes turned around. Only two generations lived in the Scone House – my great aunts were the last. They lived there in decaying splendour. After them, my father understood that the house would provide an opportunity as a home for people with serious disabilities who had hitherto been in hospitals. They needed care but not all the high-powered clinical attention that hospitals can provide.

Landscape Geological Inheritance So, what’s this got to do with landscapes? Well, quite a bit, but first I’ll briefly mention what our forebears inherited here – the landforms made over millions of years – which remain our inheritance. It surprised me when we came here from Melbourne that we have under us a deep layer of sediment – a thousand or two thousand metres deep. I had been a physiologist, not a geologist, so it surprised me that This Midlands area was a basin filled with water. A graben. Sunken. Each side of it we have a horst – as you drove here you were pointed at the Western Tiers; behind us now, to the east, you see other highlands including Ben Lomond. Erosion from the highlands over millions of years has accumulated down lower in the water. The water drained. The South Esk subsequently worked the land into a series of terraces that rise from the present position of the river. The slopes from one terrace to the next are rather gradual. You’ve just driven down over a couple likely without noticing. There is another just here where the flood plain begins. Much later, only thousands of years ago, winds have picked up sands and blown the sand to make dunes. This shearing shed is cut into the edge of one. Another is behind you where the big pine trees are. The river has left us with the soils on those terraces. [Fairly good but classified as Class 4. Can grow crops but need careful handling or their structure will be lost, and they may blow away.]

Landscape inheritance – from the family of the 1800s You’ve seen the variety of exotic trees that are so attractive around present-day Eskleigh. John Hawkins – a member of your Society – gave a talk a few years ago in which he gave evidence for his view that William Gibson planned a landscape embracing a view much wider than Scone alone. It also included the developing township of Perth and Native Point, which the family also owned. I will confine my attention just to this property Scone where we still have hawthorn hedges, willows, scattered oak trees, gorse – all of which go back to the 1800s. I’d say three cheers for the oaks which provide good shade in the summer, but I’m not so enthusiastic about the others. They have given us our worst invasive woody weeds. Perhaps a couple of cheers for the hawthorns which provide good shelter from wind but escape around the river and can dominate the riparian area at least where willows fail to dominate. But willows do dominate much of the river’s edge. From here you see willows in most directions. Just over to your right, they form a belt 80 metres wide around the river (can be seen on the aerial photo). We do at least have gorse under control.
The area next to the river provides an opportunity for invasive woody plants to do their invading because they are not subject to the normal agricultural practices of cropping and grazing which allow those plants to be controlled easily. We are almost surrounded by river; 14 km of river boundary. A continual challenge just to keep rogue hawthorns, pines, gorse, and briar suppressed. There is a magnificent opportunity to have 14 km of superb riparian area which, to my mind, would be best without the woody weeds and returned to native species.
Now, about pine trees. Scone had 100s of these huge trees remaining from the 1800s. They dominated the landscape. They are a hazard. There is no knowing when they might fall – as has the one to your left. We had a few near misses, and they were a worry. An unlikely event allowed me to have most of them removed. Many here will remember the First Gulf War. Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait. American troops kicked the Iraq army out. There was great destruction of Kuwait City. In the years that followed, a Korean (Taiwanese ?) company was involved in the reconstruction. It was to supply timber for scaffolding. Only needed low-quality timber. They contracted to buy up lots of pine from around here. This was a boon to me as they bought most of our old pines, greatly reducing the danger. For me, it was also good for the landscape, for which I wanted to make Australian rather than false Californian.
[I was apprehensive about reactions that I might get from people around. Too much wilful destruction. I had a couple of phone calls. “Are you the person cutting down the pine trees on the edge of Perth?” “Er, yes.” “Can you please tell me the name of the contractor who can do that?” “Phew.”]
My approach to planning So here was an unplanned event which changed the landscape on the farm and the view this way from Perth and the. Highway. I do believe in planning where possible and have taken two courses on Whole Farm Planning.
[Their approach is to pay attention to underlying features like slope, aspect, bodies of water, land capacity, soil types; not so much attention to man-made developments like fences, buildings.]
Chaotic Events I have to admit that, as far as landscape goes, I don’t have much to show for my planning. I’ve been much influenced by events. Events that I couldn’t see coming, I’d say entirely unpredictable – almost chaotic in the mathematical sense of that term. A graphic example is The Butterfly Effect – the notion that a butterfly fluttering its wings in the Amazon might lead to a tornado in Texas. With the American aspiration to control events in their hemisphere, I do expect a Texan to ask, “Why hasn’t somebody caught that durned butterfly?”.
My rustic example of this is the failure of the wool market in the 1980s. Some of you will remember how a wharfie in Gdansk, Poland was an activist about conditions of workers. This led to unrest in other Iron Curtain countries and through various twists and turns to the break-up of the Soviet Union and to bleak poverty in Russia. They had been major buyers of our wool but now couldn’t afford it. Our wool market was failing helped along by our woolgrower bodies who had naive views about price mechanisms. This was about the time I started at Scone. Income from wool was limited and, consequently, I had little enthusiasm for spending towards improving landscape
Another example is how technology moves on. Thirty years ago, we were not much aware of centre pivot irrigators. Now, look at the map. Six small ones on this property. Tasmanian vegetable growers largely sell their spuds, onions, peas etc. to large companies. Those companies began, 25 or so years ago, to make us aware of them and were suggesting that they would push for their use. They might not buy from us if we used the gun irrigators that we were used to. So, we have all these circles and rectangles – areas where we can’t grow trees. We would have to accommodate the circles and rectangles and to drop earlier plans for where trees would go.
I got into this in 2003. For me, it was hastened by another unplannable event. There was a move by government to minimise sewage from rural towns being discharged into rivers. I was happy to cooperate with the Northern Midlands Council in installing a system to deal with Perth’s sewage. Such a system requires a low-pressure irrigator; not a high-pressure gun irrigator that would be launching sewage high into the air. So, there are circles on Scone and tree planting goes on around that.
What do we plant? Trees and shrubs; Australian species. [Have a list available.] I wanted any influence of this property on landscape to look Australian – apart from close to Eskleigh where there is still a great heritage of exotic trees.
I was not very pure about choosing Tasmanian species at the outset but have been influenced to shift increasingly to Tasmanian species. In this year’s plantings were added Tasmanian tussocky plants like Lomandra and Poa. The influence here was from NRM North who have a project to secure the future of bandicoots. Bandicoots became extinct on the mainland but hang on in parts of Tasmania. They used to be common on Scone when I was a kid but are not common now. So, the aim now is to provide harbour for bandicoots in addition to shelter for sheep and cattle.
Fencing off River and Planting in Riparian Area NRM North’s project for Tamar catchment.
Shearing Shed and Nearby Buildings Now, about these buildings: shearing shed, stables, bakery, and house. Some mystery about them. Somebody here may be able to throw some light on them. Look at wall on east side to see that it has been modified. We think also stables.
Built ~ 1830s. Flood-prone area. [Show flood picture.]
Why built here? Coach stage? Grain to Ritchies Mill?
Heritage value? Interesting but not enough to be listed.
Hesbia bars. Holds every size brick in Australia.
Belgian ping-pong table.
High tide mark of 1929 flood.

Nursery and Garden Industry Australia finalists and winners

ElegantOutdoors3 copy

Elegant Outdoors at Turramurra in the northern suburbs of Sydney makes brilliant use of a small, narrow site. It was the smallest garden centre among the finalists.


Newmans Nursery at Tea Tree Gully in the Hills north of Adelaide is an immaculate and innovative nursery that’s always a pleasure to visit. It was one of the five finalists in the Specialist Garden Centre category.

Stonemans2 copy

Stoneman’s Garden Centre at Glenorchy in Hobart is a Plants Plus branded nursery that’s undertaken a huge rejuvenation of the property in recent years to improve customer flow. It was a finalist in Best Lifestyle Garden Centre.




  12 finalists in 2014 awards

It’s a tough gig running a garden centre in Australia at the moment. Years of drought and water restrictions on top of the Global Financial Crisis and the rise and rise of big box hardware stores, have taken their toll. The number of garden centres has declined in the past decade as owners close shop some selling their land for far more than the business ever earned while operating while others have simply closed the gate and hung up the secateurs.

But it is not all doom and gloom for garden centres. Those who remain in business have lifted their game and become exciting and inspirational places to shop. Australia’s top quality garden centres are recognised by excellence awards from the Nursery and Garden Industry Australia (NGIA). These are announced at the association’s conference which this year was held in Sydney with the theme of ‘Blue Sky Thinking, Real Green Living’.

I was lucky enough to be the onsite judge for this year’s garden centre awards and also presented the awards to the winners. I visited the 12 finalists, which were selected from entries from around Australia. I spent a hectic two weeks visiting every part of Australia to track down the finalists and put them through their paces.

Eden Gardens

Eden Gardens in Sydney is a large garden centre and one of the finalists for Best Lifestyle Garden Centre.

High quality makes it tough for the judge

From the very first nursery I visited (Eden Gardens in Sydney), I knew I had taken on a tough job. The garden centres were all excellent and ticked all the boxes on the assessment form I’d been given. They had signage, clean accessible trolleys, healthy plants, well-stocked shelves of garden products as well as ornaments and gift lines and inspiring display gardens. Most also had coffee shops and shady seats where customers could relax and drink in the atmosphere. For anyone into plants and gardening the modern nursery or ‘garden centre’ is a wonderful place to visit.

allora1 copy

The friendly staff at Allora Garden Centre in Darwin, NT made me welcome when I visited despite the lashing rain and cyclonic winds that had swept through just before my visit.

All were run professionally, employed friendly and knowledgeable staff and put a focus on plants. Many grew a lot of their stock themselves and all sourced plants from top suppliers. One specialised in salvaged grasstrees. In all the garden centres finalists, plant stock was well maintained and

Grasstrees Australia, Perth WA

Grasstrees Australia, Perth WA excelled in salvaging and marketing grasstrees. This business was a finalist in the Specialty Garden Centre category.

correctly labelled. Plants were also well displayed. It was very hard to not grab a trolley and start filling it with plants as I wandered the garden centre paths.

So, how do you judge the best of the best? Part of the decision was out of my hands as, for these awards, the original entry counted for a portion of the marks. I awarded my marks based on how things looked on the day of my visit. As not all the garden centres had the same offerings these results were then worked out as a percentage. Hopefully it is a fair system, but really any of the businesses could have been winners.

displaygardenTim's2 copy

Tim’s Garden Centre at Campbelltown in Sydney’s busy south-west is an oasis and a finalist in the Best Speciality Garden Centre.

Before I announce the winners, here are the 12 finalists grouped into three categories: Best Lifestyle Garden Centre, Best Speciality Garden Centre, and Best Group Garden Centre. All are very worthy finalists and worth visiting to buy plants or other garden-related products.

Best Lifestyle Garden Centre

Upside down pots greet customers at Brookfield Garden Centre in Qld.

Upside down pots greet customers at Brookfield Garden Centre in Qld, which was a finalist in the Best Lifestyle Garden Centre award.

Allora Gardens Nursery, Berrimah, NT

Brookfield Garden Centre, Brookfield, Qld

Eden Gardens, North Ryde, NSW

River’s Garden & Home, Yarrambat, Vic

Stoneman’s Garden Centre, Glenorchy, Tas

Best Specialty Garden Centre

Elegant Outdoors, Turramura, NSW

Grasstrees Australia, WA

Newman’s Nursery, Tea Tree Gully, SA

Tim’s Garden Centre, Campbelltown, NSW

Zanthorrea Nursery, Maida Vale, WA

Best Group Garden Centre

Also a Plants Plus branded nursery,

McDonalds Nursery is a Plants Plus branded nursery was one of the two finalists in the Best Group Garden Centre representing Bendigo in country Victoria.

Barossa Nursery, Nuriootpa, SA

Macdonald’s Plants Plus Nursery, Bendigo, Vic

And the winners are…

Congratulations to the three winners.

Best Lifestyle Garden Centre River’s Garden & Home, Yarrambat, Vic

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Part of a lifestyle complex, Rivers won Best Lifestyle Garden Centre for this family-owned business at Yarrambat in the north of Melbourne.

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With nothing out of place, beautifully maintained display gardens and stock, and a happy, helpful staff, Zanthorrea in Perth, WA was a worthy winner of the Speciality Garden Centre.

Best Specialty Garden Centre Zanthorrea Nursery, Maida Vale, WA

Best Group Garden Centre Barossa Nursery, Nuriootpa, SA

Barossa Garden Centre at Nuriootpa in country SA is a welcoming site along the road.

Barossa Garden Centre at Nuriootpa in country SA is a welcoming site along the road. It provided excellent plants, products and advice for local gardeners in a friendly and relaxing atmosphere.

Small is green

An artist's impression of the Goods Line park at Ultimo in Sydney.Turning small brown and grey bits of left over city into green space is the latest trend in urban landscaping around the world. Australia is following suit with a new project in inner city Sydney. Jennifer Stackhouse was at the launch of Sydney’s newest park project.
Cities may be growing up and out, but there are lots of leftover pieces down at ground level, wastelands that look unsightly and create a management problem for local authorities. In recent years several such spaces have been given a makeover to provide much-needed green space for city workers and residents. London’s Mayor Boris Johnson recently announced two million pounds in funding for 100 ‘pocket’ parks in London from underused urban spaces into small green oases including a car park roof in Stratford which is set to become a fruit orchard.English: Meatpacking District/Manhattan Català...
One of the success stories however is the High Line in New York. This goods line has been transformed into an elevated linear park that’s become a Mecca for tourists and New Yorkers alike. Once providing access to the Meatpacking District on the lower west side of  Manhattan, the elevated West Side Line is now a 2.33km linear park complete with lots of seating among the trees, perennials and grasses. It is accessed by steps along its route and has encouraged rejuvenation of the area around it with lots of real estate development.

Sydney’s high line
The High Line has provided inspiration for a new park in Sydney along a disused rail line. Known as the Goods Line, it ran between what was the Darling Harbour Goods Yard and the main rail line between Central and Redfern stations.

Pyrmont, Darling Harbour, Sydney city CBD: The...

Darling Harbour after the removal of the Goods Yard and prior to its development in the 1980s.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A length of the Goods Line from the Power House Museum to the redeveloped campus of the University of Technology is being transformed into a park to provide pedestrian access from Broadway to Darling Harbour. The park is being developed for the site’s owners the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority by ASPECT Studios.
The site of the new park was the venue for the launch of the Nursery and Garden Industry Association initiative 202020 Vision in November, 2013.

Sacha Cole is leading the design team for the Goods Line park

Sacha Coles from Aspect Studios is leading the design team for the Goods Line park.

Speaking after the launch, the director of ASPECT Studios, Sacha Coles (pictured), said the area had been shut to people for 100 years or more and yet it is a vital link between Central railway and Darling Harbour (itself formerly a goods yard). It has been used as little more than a parking area and is sadly neglected.
“We want the new park to be thriving and buzzy,” says Sacha. His aim is to create a place that’s about engagement, ideas and participation as well as a new pedestrian access and city oasis. The Goods Line has a four-metre elevation, well below the elevation of New York’s High Line, which at 7.6m above the pavement is accessed by steps. The Goods Line also has no issues with contamination. The lines will be left in situ, revealed where possible and surrounded by lawns, trees and sitting areas. Sacha says there are also plans for a meeting space. Tenders have gone out for the construction of the park, which should be completed in around 10 months and open in late 2014.
“The 500m long park is around 20m wide. It is bordered on one side by Sydney’s light rail and on the other by a series of large buildings and smaller factory or storage areas. One of the key buildings for the park’s precinct is Frank Gehry’s innovative brick building (likened to a crumpled paper bag) for Faculty of Business for the University of Technology. The building, which is still under construction, is known as the Chau Chak Wing building. It is due to open in mid 2014 with space for up to 2000 students and 390 academics. Dr Chau Chak Wing donated $20 million to the building’s construction.
At its northern end, beyond the Powerhouse Museum, it becomes a park for the people of Ultimo. At the southern or Broadway end it includes a heritage railway bridge, which is no longer structurally sound for the use of rolling stock. Sacha says the park will not remove any of the Goods Line infrastructure. It will lie dormant under the park and could be reused in the future.

Meeting space and playground
A key feature of the park is a round enclosed space designed for meetings. The simple structure is based on the Guggenheim Lab, which is a steel frame temporary building sponsored by BMW that moves from city to city. There will also be a children’s playground area. The area will be accessible at night with pole lighting providing high level of LED lighting around the new park.Recycled materials are being used where available. Planting includes some local and indigenous plants along with deciduous trees and lawns.
BMW Guggenheim Lab Media Preview - August 2, 2011“It is not an intensive planting scheme,” says Sacha Coles. “It is going to be very utilitarian with post-industrial feel including barrage mulch.”
As well as transforming a long-neglected industrial space into green and usable parkland for students, workers and local residents, Sacha Coles says it is part of a much a larger and long-term vision for the western side of the city. By using some existing tunnels and other space, Sacha says he would like to extend the walkway park extending from Carriage Works at Redfern in the south to Barrangaroo Parkland to north at the edge of Sydney Harbour to form a cultural ribbon for Sydney.

For more of my stories see the current issue of Greenworld magazine or visit GardenDrum.

Books to inspire a garden

Cover of "The Very Hungry Caterpillar"

Cover of The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Cover of "Diary of a Wombat"

Cover of Diary of a Wombat

A love of gardening can be fostered in many ways, but one subtle method is through books. The books we read as kids help shape our imaginations. Books can make us fall in love with the bush, the romance of gardens or the beauty of flowers. Those images we take from our reading stay with us to shape the style of garden we want to plant or visit.

Ask most keen gardeners – particularly female – and you’ll discover they cherished The Secret Garden as a child. The image of a walled or hidden garden has stayed with them all their lives.

English: Frances Hodgson Burnett

English: Frances Hodgson Burnett (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cover of a 1911 publication of The Secret Garden

Cover of a 1911 publication of The Secret Garden (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Its author, Frances Hodgson Burnett, has a lot to answer for when it comes to gardening. Her book has been in print for 100 years so her influence on the minds of gardeners has been immense.

While most of us don’t get the opportunity to have a secret garden, we can make tiny bits of that garden that we’ve carried in our minds. A large spreading tree, a wall, a cascade of roses or a sudden turn in a path that gives you a thrill, are elements in a garden that create a shadow of the garden from our imagination.

When I visited Ninfa south of Rome one spring I knew I’d found my secret garden. Here were all the elements I’d held in my mind: a door in a wall, roses climbing old walls, spreading trees, a beautiful stream. Wandering in The Nuttery among apple and nut trees in flower in the huge walled garden at Penrose Place in the UK invokes similar romantic notions of secret gardens.

I am sure my desire to grow vegetables stemmed from being read Peter Rabbit as a child and my love of flowers and wild hedgerows came from the delightful Flower Fairies books by Cicely Mary Barker. I read copies that had been my mother’s when she was a child, but these books are still in print and there’s a website too.

Nearly every person under 40 goes gooey when you mention The Very Hungry Caterpillar, a book that celebrated its 40th birthday in 2011. If you don’t know this book it tells the story how a caterpillar eats its way to become a butterfly.

I only read the book to my kids but I still have trouble killing any caterpillar (unless it’s a cabbage white or a looper that’s just eaten buds on my flowers – and even then I gather them up for the chooks).

If these books seem a little old-fashioned to modern kids there are a host of more recent books that will stimulate that love of plants, gardens and the bush from Jackie French’s Diary of a Wombat to Glenda Millard’s Isabella’s Garden.