We weren’t deterred by the early rain on Saturday 23rd March when our group joined the bus tour to Geelong Specialist Nurseries and Gardens. This was an opportunity to visit horticultural sites which would normally have restricted access to the public either by way of limited opening times or only by appointment.
A significant number of our attendees were Burnley students who saw the value in learning about particular plants from the growers themselves.
Our first stop (which included morning tea) was at Jenny and Arthur Parish’s Country Dahlias. Here fields of 20,000 Dahlias (2,250 varieties) greeted us in all their blooming glory! Jenny described how from humble beginnings they rose to have Australia’s largest Dahlia collection, some of which Jenny has bred herself. Arthur also showed off his mechanised inventions: the tuber planter and a weeder incorporating a hammock for the driver! Jenny explained that all of the tubers are lifted and stored over winter, a process which starts in May and is not completed until the end of July. They are then planted again each October.
At Cottage Farm Nursery and Café at Gnarwarre, we enjoyed a delicious lunch overlooking owner, Chris Tournier’s, display gardens. Chris gave us a short talk about her journey in horticulture and introduced us to her Nursery which houses a number of rare plants, particularly large specimens.
At Palm Life on the outskirts of Geelong, John Zele described himself as a self-taught grower. He has gradually built up his business mainly dealing in Canary Island Date Palms, Washingtonia Palms and Bottle Trees as large specimens, selling to the Landscaping industry. Several of those on display were many years old and many metres high.
Our final stop was at Suealoe Gardens where Sue Davis gave us a tour of her large, eclectic, drought-resistant garden where she uses a wide variety of succulents and rare native shrubs as well as many exotic species. Her 3 acre garden incorporates massed plantings for maximum effect, sculpture, and a pond, as well as a large cat run, aviary and generous chook pen. After a generous afternoon tea Sue described how she began her career as a florist, including a stint in central Australia using synthetic floristry! However due to arthritis, she had to cease this occupation and turned her attention to horticulture instead. This occupation is also not without its challenges though – from rats, rabbits and of course low rainfall. Her sheer hard work and persistence is an inspiration to us all!
We would like to extend our gratitude and thanks to each of the venues for their generosity in sharing their gardens, experiences and time.