Top ten list of garden plants

  • Abutilons of all kinds
  • Buddlejas old and new
  • Epiphytic orchids and ferns
  • Gordonia species
  • Heliotrope, Lemon verbena, Fennel and herbs
  • Michelias of all sorts
  • Perennial Salvias large and small
  • Species Camellias
  • Tea and China Roses
  • Weigela of all types

Montville Rose

Friday, August 26, 2011

Garden history and garden inventories

August 2011 we spent the weekend at Maryborough discussing garden history. The following draft was presented on Sunday on the topic of Garden plant inventories.

Our preparations for our open garden have been put on hold but for a very pleasant reason. Heavy rain after 8 weeks of dry has given our seedlings and new plantings a guaranteed lease on life. New additions include (from Mt Tambourine) Magnolia x loebneri 'Merrill', and Pelargonium 'Big Red' among others.

Our rustic coral and shell fountain structure is coming on well and enhanced by the planting of different fern species which I ave not catalogued.

Draft of Garden History and the vital Role of Garden Plant Inventories in Conservation.

Dr Michael Simpson

Australian Garden History Conference

Maryborough, August, 2011

Picture: Kyleigh at "Baddow House" , Queens Street, Maryborough

Any of us who has visited a large old garden and seen the twisted remnant shrubs and big old trees in it may wonder about their past and worry about their future. The lumps and bumps on the ground and half buried lines of stone may reveal mysterious clues to previous garden beds and structures. Old photographs may show a house in a luxuriant setting where we see only remnant trees and shrubs or a place telling a story of many phases of rise and decline.

The study of a mature garden is inexorably linked to the study of the plants grown within it as much as an understanding of the people who made the garden and those who altered it and recorded it in successive generations.

Even though Queensland's European settlement and therefore its oldest remaining gardens only go back about one hundred and seventy years a wealth of maturing gardens and plant populations has been lost in the pressure to subdivide urban land with little or no protection on the basis of "heritage value". Queensland's remaining garden heritage rests in mature gardens which should have plant inventories made for them. The fashionable plants going into newly built gardens in new suburbs today will be the historic gardens of the future and therefore should have their plant catalogue documented. Gardeners lucky enough to live with an old garden and those of us who make gardens now should be recording the plants in them for future researchers of garden history as well as for historical, genealogical, horticultural and conservation purposes. For completeness and rigour a garden plant catalogue should include everything from the bulbs and rhizomes under the ground, grasses, shrubs, perennials, vines, water plants, trees and all things ornamental and productive

The topic of conservation of gardens perhaps using plant inventories is not just an academic one, based on the evidence and data possessed and understood by a few. Beautiful gardens touch us all because they decay, are revived and evolve, sometimes over generations, to become a work of art. Seeing bulldozers rip through a mature garden to create a new development, a common event in Queensland, is no different to seeing someone throw acid over a painting by Fred McCubbin. Whereas we all expect that the painting is protected and secure the garden as a work of art has almost no enforceable protection but survives on good will and luck alone.

Therefore it seemed to us that every tool available, including garden plant inventories, should be used when creating the evidence planners require when arguing for the conservation of important gardens and landscapes. Publishing the evidence, including inventories, widely and especially online, may enrol popular support when a conservation issue may become a political one.

The membership of the Australian Garden History Society, when surveyed, "strongly endorsed our continuing advocacy role-after 25 years, this is still a key objective of the society" (1). Detailed garden plant inventories should be seen as a standard tool in this advocacy for the conservation of gardens and landscapes.

Are plant inventories being made? Are they widely available? The answers are maybe and no! The Garden Plant Conservation Association of Australia (GPCAA) registers collections of garden plants and these collections are the subject of updated plant inventories (refer .The journal of the Australian Garden History Society contains a few reports which include detailed garden plans accompanied by printed or online plant lists (2) (3). Branches of the Australian Garden History Society in Victoria and ACT-Monaro have prepared booklets which include a garden plan and a plant list for sites such as "Belmont", "Buda", "Bishopscourt", "Turkeith" and "Mooleric" and a few others (4). Australia's botanical garden curators of course maintain inventories of the changing plant populations within their gardens for example the Brisbane Botanic Gardens plant Census 2010 which lists plants systematically without description or notes (5). This census describes a collection of 15,000 plants representing 3988 taxa (5). Commercial nursery catalogues form an ongoing source of record of the plants grown in Australian Gardens. Yarralumla Nursery in Canberra, has been recognised for its role in development of the cities tree lined streets and gardenscape by being placed on the register of the National estate (6). Yarralumla Nursery like many other nurseries has its plant catalogue published online (6).

Historical references such as 19th century plant catalogues of Australia's Botanic gardens and plant Nurseries are not only of research interest but speak of evolving domestic garden fashion and the role of plant inventories in the development of colonial commerce and development (7),(8),(9). They may also illustrate how many garden plants we use today have been popular in gardens throughout European history in Australia. They may also be used as reference material when planning the replanting of an historic garden in keeping with a nominated period such as the 1870s for example.

As for frequently visited gardens it may be possible to request inspection of the current plant list, for example at "Everglades" at Leura and at "Alton" at Mt. Macedon there is a tree survey from the 1990s available on their website if you go looking.

A visitor or researcher may ask to see the 1997 Garden and Grounds conservation Plan for the magnificent garden at "Runnymede" at Hobart (extract, appendix 1.) but you'd have to be aware that this document existed.

The 1997 "Runnymede" garden conservation plan only mentions two plants by name and only one of those is the binomial. There was no plant inventory included in the plan to objectively describe the garden and assist the recommendation to plant specimens "in common use" during the period of significance. This latter recommendation seemed at odds with the 19th century ambition to acquire new plants very much not in "common use". Overall the conservation planning for the garden at "Runnymede" as in other important gardens would be very much enhanced by the wide publication of the gardens plant inventory today, as it would have been in 1997 (appendix 1.).

On visiting the open garden "Tallaringa" on Mount Tambourine the owners Christine and John Youngman keep a card system with the binomial at the top of a card for each plant and a picture plants label or a photograph. This is a large garden with extensive collections of exotic shrubs going back to the 1920s. At "Tallaringa" a rain forest area has been the subject of a formal report by a botanist identifying species within it. Only by asking would anyone see this private record of the collections of plants at "Tallaringa".

Some well known and historical gardens may have privately or officially compiled garden plans and plant inventories which are not available to the public. However, I would contend that most of Australia's private gardens, even those of historical importance may not have a current plant inventory or any systematic record of plants grown throughout their development.

A few gardens do have well researched and detailed photographic and descriptive accounts of the plants within them due to the energy and devotion of a literary occupant.

The renovation of the garden and the development of plant collections at "Forest Hall" in Tasmania has been described beautifully in a book by Susan Irvine (10). Another 2002 book by Leo Schofield described plantings in detail, including plant lists, in his renovation of "Bronte House" in Sydney (11).

Conservation of these latter gardens is greatly assisted by having a permanent readable record for interested citizens and Government organizations to use as evidence.

The Walling survey report of 2003 sponsored by Victorian Heritage attempted to list and make recommendations about extant gardens with plans by the garden designer Edna Walling (12). This report did not include plant inventories, except in listing natural landscape vegetation in areas advocated by the designer. However Edna Walling's labelled plant schemes have been widely published and comparing these to what remains of these plantings, for example at certain properties at Bickleigh Vale, would demonstrate the evolution of those gardens (12) (13). A brochure by the Victorian heritage register for an Open garden Scheme day in 2005 lists Indigenous trees, conifers and Edna Walling 'signature' plants at Bickleigh Vale (Heritage Victoria 11/10/05). Accuracy still depends heavily on the plans of the original designer rather than modern record keeping.

The 19th century inventory of the plants in a large private garden, written in the hand of the owner, such as the extensive plant ledger of East Talgai Homestead on the Darling Downs, is a rare and valuable document (14).

Although the garden is very much altered and much of the planting has disappeared one can point to trees and shrubs in the garden and using photographs for comparison know when they were planted and whose hand recorded the event (14). However, there is no published modern catalogue of the plants in the garden at Talgai Homestead and no planting information is mentioned in conservation documents such as the listing on the Queensland Heritage Register ( place ID 600006 21/8/1992). The website for heritage NSW lists quite a number of gardens and named gardens without any access to plant lists if they exist (

The lack of an accessible plant catalogue, accompanying notes and plans is a common situation for many of Australia's historic gardens.

Without an inventory of plants and the collation of previous inventories there is no evidence of what plants survive from an historic period in a garden and what plants, if any left to see, are new.

Without old planting records it is difficult to interpret historic garden plantings today.

Without new plant catalogues being created there may be no evidence to pass on to future generations for the care and protection of important new or renovated gardens.

Without the evidence provided by planting inventories it is more difficult to construct a case for conservation on the basis of heritage value or horticultural gene pool.

Sadly, the conservation of beautiful and historic gardens and landscapes requires this evidence to be available and maintained to manage the threat of destruction through inappropriate development.

As a members of the Australian Garden History Society and as builders of a complicated garden over twenty years my wife Kyleigh and I undertook a project to revise and record our own garden plant catalogue of "The Shambles" at Montville (15). The plant inventory of our garden had already been published in two previous books and illustrated in a garden DVD film (16), (17), (18). The plant catalogue is also published and updated online at our website

In order to answer the question, "Was this grown in the 'old days' in Queensland?", we used the revised version of our own plant inventory to research and record evidence for the 'heritage plant' label attached to many of the plants grown in our modern garden. To this end we selected a number of references, including the oldest available botanical and acclimatization garden, nursery and garden catalogues and annotated each plant in our list. The inference we drew was similar to that made using stratigraphy in geology.

We inferred that if, for example, Agapanthus praecox was grown in the Brisbane Botanical gardens, as recorded in Walter Hill's Catalogue of 1875 (7) then it may well be found in private gardens from 1875 if not earlier and therefore, in current parlance, may be termed a 'heritage plant'.

Overall, the aims of writing and publishing "Australian Gardens Making History, the Vital Role of Making and Keeping Gardens Inventories" and presenting this garden inventory to the Australian Garden History Society conference were threefold

1. Create a discussion around what we see as an important tool, namely, Plant catalogues, labelled planting schemes and photographs in garden history research, which may guide conservation and even legislated protection of historic gardens and landscapes. For a modern gardener the creation of a plant inventory may inform future researchers and conservation planning for gardens of our time.

2. To propose for debate a model for cataloguing a garden which may include plant lists, interesting descriptions, horticultural notes and reproducible evidence for the use of certain plants at earlier stages of European settlement. In our model references to specialist plant societies, including web references, are made when recording particular species where there are large numbers of plant varieties and specialist study of them.

3. To contend that garden plant inventories should be made readable, interesting and available by publication in printed format and distributed as widely and freely as possible via websites and social media. Long plant lists may be collected by a few researchers but a more readable, frequently updated document may survive the test of time if supported by plans, photography and written evidence.

A more readable document may help the reader understand the context of the garden and the aspirations of the people who made it and therefore be a better tool for conservation.

Already we have received comment and online suggestions for corrections to plant names and other data in our own garden inventory which I have reprinted as an 'erratum' page included in the print version of "Australian Gardens Making History, the vital Role of Making and Keeping Garden inventories" (15) and on our website .

Lastly we presented a seven step suggested guide for commencing a garden inventory in language which would be suited to the non professional gardener (15) & Appendix 2. The task of creating a garden inventory de novo is quite challenging and time consuming but at the same time can be very absorbing.

Many of Australia's important gardens are in private hands and not all keen gardeners have been interested in cataloguing bulbs, vines, trees shrubs and perennials etc. except perhaps in their own memory.

Hopefully, our project will stimulate debate about the role of inventories in preserving the knowledge of these gardeners and providing evidence to assist the evolution and conservation of their gardens and those of historic places for future generations.

Perhaps a project of the Australian Garden History Society could be to collect, collate and publish online, via the AGHS website, as many modern inventories of gardens great and small, as can be gathered with web links to those inventories published online by other organizations. Perhaps gardens, including the inventory of plants within them could be registered with the AGHS in the same way that plant collections may be registered with the Garden Plant Conservation association of Australia (refer )

One of the main challenges that confronts the goal of conservation of mature and historic gardens in Australia is the loss that may occur when the garden changes hands by sale or when maintenance fails due to inheritance by less interested family members. Succession planning for the ongoing care of a mature garden, using updated garden plant inventories and a formal guidance and advice role through the AGHS could be used to manage this issue. Farmers and other businesses recognise the need for succession planning. Gardeners such as ourselves may do well to plan to preserve the gardens name or title, important structures and living plant inventory in our gardens by recording these and nominating a successor, succession timeframe and training. A role for development of specific and legally binding conservation protection with advice from the AGHS could be modelled on the documents developed by the Garden History Society in the UK (refer

Legally binding codicils protecting the garden when making a will or placing protective restrictions on a gardens real estate title might be an avenue for conservation which would be assisted by updated garden plant inventories. As a lawyer would perhaps say in this context , "If it isn't written down, then it never happened".


1. Colleen Morris, Visions & Voices, The Australian Garden History Society 1980-2005: Foreword, page 1.

2. Wendy Joyner and Cas Middlemis An Adelaide Garden: Dulwich House, Australian Garden History, Vol.15 No.5 2004 pages 9-14

3. Volkhard Wehner Genesis of a Historic Garden Part 1-edna Walling at Folly farm Australian Garden History, Vol.16 No.2 2004 pages 8-14

4. Helen Page, Visions and Voices , The Australian Garden History Society 1980-2005: Helping Hands: Many Willing Hands, page 14.

5. R.D. McKinnon, P.M. Cameron and B.H. Cooney Brisbane Botanic Gardens (Mt.Coot-tha) Plant census 2010, Brisbane City Council, Brisbane 2010

6. Yarralumla Nursery Plant catalogue

7. Walter Hill Catalogue of the Plants in the Queensland Botanic Gardens, Government Printer, Brisbane 1875.

8. Frederick Manson Bailey, Colonial Botanist, Catalogue of Plants in the two Metropolitan Gardens, The Brisbane Botanic Garden and Bowen Park (The Garden of the Queensland Acclimatization Society), Government Printer, Brisbane 1885

9. Catalogue of Plants for Sale by Michael Guilfoyle” Exotic Nursery, Double bay, Sydney 1851

10. Susan Irvine, The Garden of Forest Hall, Viking ,Australia, 2002

11. Leo Schofield, The Garden at Bronte House , Viking Australia, 2002.

12. Karen Olsen, Walling Survey Report, Heritage Council of Victoria, Australia, 2003.

13. Edna Walling, The Edna Walling Book of Australian Garden Design, Anne O'Donovan Publisher, Australia, 1980.

14. Talgai Homestead, Plant Ledger, commenced 1868-1907 Ellen and George Clark. Additions after 1907-1942 George Carr Clark, 1945-1965 Bardwell

15. Kyleigh and Dr. Michael Simpson, Australian Gardens Making History, the Vital Role of Making and Keeping Garden Inventories, self published 2010

17 Kyleigh and Dr. Michael Simpson, The Shambles, the Story of a Montville Garden, self published, Australia, 2007

18. Kyleigh and Michael Simpson, Over the Fence and Overlooked, Traditional Plants In Queensland’s Gardening Heritage. Copyright publishing, Brisbane, Australia 2009

19. A Garden in the Rain, The Shambles DVD film, Producer Robert Simpson, Director Michael Simpson, Montville Australia 2009

Appendix 1

Extract from: Runnymede Garden and Grounds Conservation Plan

Prepared for the National Trust of Australia (Tasmania)

Nigel Lewis Richard Aitken Pty Ltd. November 1997

Summary of Major Recommendations

Conservation of the garden should include a combination of retention of existing plantings, some new plantings, and some removal and replacement of existing plantings. The framework of the garden should reflect the period of primary significance (i.e. Pitcairn and Nixon) but in general the detail planting and layout should reflect the period of contributory significance (Bayley and Bayly families, especially to 1941), especially where there is considerable interpretive potential in later plantings.

Where new trees are required these should be drawn from plants known to have been widely available in the period of primary significance to ensure that the property overall retains its mid-Victorian character.

Any trees not in common use during the period of significance should be progressively removed and replaced.

Existing shrubberies and garden beds should be progressively reworked to remove modern hybrids and plants not in common use during the period of significance.

Selection of appropriate plants should be based on documentary sic.(such as early photographs) supplemented by information from early plant and seed catalogues. (references page 54-55)

Detailed planting plans based on this conservation plan should be prepared by the Runnymede House Committee in consultation with the head gardener, House Manager, garden volunteers and outside consultation as deemed appropriate. (page 54)