Saturday, 15 June 2013

What were our early gardens like?

In a recent post we highlighted an exhibition of photos taken of several Central Tablelands towns by Merlin Beaufoy and Charles Bayliss of the American & Australasian Photographic Company in the early 1870s. Many of the the 3,500 surviving images - known as the Holtermann collection - show views of gardens, and while many of these domestic landscapes are underwhelming, several photos show residents with a deep love of horticulture and gardening. While none of the Holtermann collection images are of early Capertee district gardens, these photographs offer us valuable clues to the look of late Victorian and early 20th century gardens within our own area.

Despite the humble construction of this Hill End home, this
family are clearly proud of their formally laid of garden

The more notable garden images in the Holtermann collection show a preference for formal designed gardens. By this we mean a preference for symmetrical layouts, a style popular since first settlement times.The Hill End photo (seen above) shows a garden with a mix of ornamental and productive plants. The central gravel path is bordered with cottage pinks (Dianthus), while the surrounding beds are filled with roses and other ornamental shrubs. Behind the house is an orchard planted with productive fruit trees. By the size of the trees the garden is only a few years old.

Most plants from that time have not survived due to changing plant fashions, grazing, neglect and bush fires. Despite this, evidence of original plantings can still be seen near many early homes, even when the original building has been lost. Most flowering roses are grafted on tough species rootstocks such as Sweet Briar. While the original bush may have died the understock has survived. Many of the pink flowering single roses we see in spring are often the progeny of original early plantings.

Another formally laid out Hill End garden 

Another 19th century plant to survive is the grey Agave. This plant has survived and prospered near many local mining-era dwellings such as at Airley and Blackman's Crown. Architectural style succulents such as Agave were popular plants in late Victorian and early 20 th century gardens thanks to their ease of culture. These plants reproduce mostly by vegetative growth or by seed.

Despite bush fires, grazing, and neglect, two large circular patches of
19 th century blue-flowered varieties of Iris continue to grow close to 
the front door of a, now lost, miner's cottage near Cherry Tree Hill
One of the toughest and most reliable garden plants from the 19 th century is the Bearded Iris. The only reason the Irises shown above has survived over one hundred years is due to the hardiness of the plant. Iris's have been grown in Australian gardens since colonial era times. They were popular then because they were easy to transport when lifted and reproduced well from annual division.  While many other plants were grown in this garden only the hardy Iris has survived.

One organisation interested in the look of 19 th century gardens is the Australian Garden History Society.This 2,000 strong organisation - formed in 1980 - publishes a fascinating quarterly magazine titled Australian Garden History

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