Karen Sutherland : Women in Horticulture : Interview

What drew you to horticulture originally?

It was pre-destined – horticulture is in my genes – my mother dug the garden over, the day I was born, and I come from a family of farmers and gardeners, at least on my mother’s side. My grandfather was a vegetable farmer and orchardist and a keen home gardener as well.

What pathway did you take to get there?

My path to study and work in horticulture was accidental. I dropped out of an Engineering degree as I realised it wasn’t right for me and went along with my boyfriend to a pre-apprenticeship gardening course at a barely-opened CERES Community Environment Park in Lee Street, Brunswick. On the second day, I had an epiphany that this was what I was meant to do with my life. It was quite profound. This led me to seek out a gardening apprenticeship, which I managed to get at Royal Melbourne Zoological Gardens. From there I went to Burnley Horticultural College (now Melbourne Uni), began working for myself, and have continued to do so to this day.

What obstacles did you encounter along the way?

Ha! At my first couple of interviews for gardening positions I was turned down when I got there as I was a woman! This was before affirmative action was a thing. Luckily for me, this came into legislation at that time, and my apprenticeship at the Zoo was funded through an affirmative action program. Over the years I had many clients ask to speak to my husband when they called to arrange a quote. I used to love telling them that he could sell them some carpets but not help with their garden! They were very confused…After a good 15-20 years of this, things changed and I rarely if ever have a sexist reaction from people now.

Who were your mentors?

My teachers at CERES were wonderful, teaching us permaculture principles and sustainable gardening practices at a time when these were not well known. Many of the gardeners at the Zoo like John Arnott (now manages Cranbourne) were wonderfully supportive of me and taught me things I still remember and teach others, such as always using tools on both sides of your body to stay balanced. Other mentors have been my neighbours and community gardeners over the years in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, who have taught me so much about how to grow and use a range of herbs, vegetables and fruits. I also count all the authors I have read over the years. In recent years, Penny Woodward has been my writing mentor, without whom I never would have co-written ‘Tomato – Know, Sow, Grow, Feast’ and she still helps me in my writing for Organic Gardener magazine.

What is your favourite plant?

So hard! Lemon myrtle, Backhousia citriodora, about 20 other plants are close second, including native Australian food plants and some rare ones from Crete.

What is your favourite material to work with?

My favourite material to work with is plants – I’m a plants woman at heart.

What are you working on at the moment?

As usual some interesting consulting projects, but I’m excited to be developing my range of ID signs for bushfood plants. It’s something I’ve been wanting in my projects for years, so it’s gratifying to have them for sale on my web shop and have more available. I’m hoping to have non-native plant signs available this year too. I’m also developing an eBook on native food plants, to help people grow and use these plants confidently, particularly in urban situations. It’s going to be available soon, as a plant-by-plant download, and over the next year, will hopefully be available as a complete eBook and perhaps printed format.

What are 3 of your most worthwhile tips?

Top tips? 1. Be prepared to do the hard yards. For instance, maintenance gardening is not seen as sexy, but in the 20 or so years I did that I learnt so much about plants, through lived experience rather than through a book. 2. Get a good bookkeeper and accountant, as they will do a better job than you and it frees you up to do other things.  3. Be aware and realistic about the fact that horticulture is not well paid!

 What do you most love about the industry you work in?

The amazing thing about horticulture is the variety of employment it offers – in my career I’ve worked in maintenance gardening, landscaping, design & consulting, edible plant installations for festivals, hosting open gardens, doing some radio and TV, teaching, writing and now online sales! Importantly, I have loved helping people to connect with nature, and in the last dozen years, to learn how to nurture themselves through growing their own food.

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Emmaline Bowman : Women in Horticulture : Interview

“What drew you to horticulture initially?”

Initially I would never have thought I would be involved in horticulture as my passion revolved around animals. However to have animals you need a balanced and healthy ecosystem that comprises of many different plant species.

I quickly became fascinated/addicted by the different types of ecosystems, and the varieties of plants. Equally I loved how integrating and planting back indigenous plant species which were once lost to the area encouraged local animal species to come back. I have complete respect and admiration for our native plant species and when I visit other countries, I am always blown away at the adaptations these plants make to suit their environment as do animals.

“What pathway did you take to get there?”

Initially, I undertook a Bachelor’s degree in Biosciences and Zoology, but my vision was to somehow help our broken and fragile environments and re-establish habitats for plants and animals. This led me to discover Landscape Architecture. When I researched the course, it revealed a profession that can lead you to many different roles or preferred areas of expertise.

“What obstacles have you encountered along the way?”

The current system is a huge obstacle: the rules and mentality surrounding the world of development and construction is tailored to creating mass profit at the expense of our natural environment. Though many companies word their new developments as sustainable and environmental, I have found by the time the landscape is involved the overall budget is exhausted. This restricts the ability to hire professional individuals like ecologists which most times results in a planting of monocultures that have a very small benefit to the huge varieties of flora and fauna. This has made me feel hopeless and disheartened at times.

“Who were your mentors?”

During my course in Landscape Architecture, I had a beautiful teacher called Jane Shepherd. She was very focused on empowering women and was incredibly influential and a born teacher. I looked up to her and respected her very much. She taught me about food production, history of landscape design and site conditions.

Two people who I have always admired and looked up to are Sir David Attenborough and Jane Goodall.  Though they haven’t provided me with a physical mentorship, their teachings and their passion for the natural world inspired me at a very young age and I too want to share, protect and teach others about our natural environments and the unique lifeforms within.

My biggest mentor of all is Mother Nature. All the answers are found in nature.

“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

I really hope to be inspiring and teaching others about our local environments and leading some major rehabilitation projects to restore habitats and help threatened animal species.

I also hope that I will have my own land to conduct rehabilitation trials and regenerative agriculture on.

“What is your favourite plant?”

The problem with loving plants is you can have many favourite plants.
Pycnosorus globosus was my first favourite however my two current favourites are Isotoma axillaris and Utricularia species. Utricularia are fascinating, they are a carnivorous plant commonly known as bladderworts and they grow in fresh water or boggy soil. They capture their prey in the bladder like traps located in their roots. Not only this, they have pretty little flowers which is why they are commonly named ‘Fairy Aprons’.

“What is your favourite material to work with?”

Stone. I love the variations of colour and form, planting around large stone boulders, and how they become valuable habitat to vast amounts of insects, reptiles and many other animal species. I am also aware of how important it is to use local geology and to remember that it is better to use materials on site rather than importing, as rock is quarried and taken out of the environment.

“What are 3 of your most worthwhile tips?”

1. Look at your local native plant ecologies- I always incorporate indigenous plants into every garden along with natives and exotics. If we want to be conscious of helping our environment, one thing we can all do in our backyard is to help restore habitat.

2. Responsible gardening. We all have a huge responsibility in the types of plants we use. Species that are not local and can pose a weed threat should be planted in a way that won’t pose a risk to the environment. We all have a responsibility to know what plants we put in the ground and to educate the clients we work with.  Remember most weed species have all started from someone’s backyard.

3. Site conditions: Make sure to assess the site aspects, soil type, moisture and existing species.

“What are your 3 loves about the industry you work in?”

1. I love the diversity of different people we get to work and engage with.

2. The continuous learning, you never ever stop learning and the plant world is so exciting and complex.

3. That we can actually make a big difference in the world and help our environment. Sustainable practices and planting back local plants will provide habitat to insects and animals and rehabilitate areas that had been destroyed by our actions as well as teaching others to appreciate the amazing plants, insects and animals that we share this world with.

Interview was conducted by Emma Herd.

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Book Review

The Earth in Her Hands: 75 Extraordinary Women Working in the World of Plants” by Jennifer Jewell.

This new book by Cultivating Place radio presenter Jennifer Jewell, gives us valuable insight into how our notable sisters from around the globe are making their mark in the horticultural world.

The selection of women covers a wide variety of countries and cultures from North America, Europe and Asia, as well as some of our own women. Drawing mainly on her US counterparts, Jewell has interspersed these with profiles of women from other countries. Occupations represented are as diverse as florists, writers, head gardeners, artists, environmentalists, landscape architects, educators, photographers and much more.

Each profile gives a brief description of the subject’s occupation, her favourite plant, and then her plant journey, with accompanying photos.

Jewell’s excellent compilation of stories of passion and dedication is a testament to the value of women to the industry and a great inspiration for the women who follow them.

This book will be one of the lucky prizes at one of our future events.

The Earth in Her Hands is published by Timber Press and is available at all good book retailers and online. Book Review written by Rosemary Ulph.

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Yarra Ranges Council : Community Solutions in a Changing Climate, Friday 9th August, 2019

Are you concerned about what a changing climate means for you? Have you wondered how climate change will impact your local community? To learn more come along to this event which will be facilitated by Dr Susie Burke, an environmental psychologist and Associate Professor Lauren Rickards, an expert in community climate change adaption. Further information can be found here.

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Friends of Burnley Garden : Fruit Tree Pruning, Saturday 3rd August, 2019

FOBG is pleased to have Chris England from Merrywood Plants demonstrate fruit tree pruning. For further details please see this flyer.

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Friends of Burnley Gardens : Flora of Sichuan – In the footsteps of the great plant hunter Ernest Wilson, Wednesday 29 May, 2019

FOBG is fortunate to have Geoff Crowhurst, once again as a guest speaker. His travels this time have taken him to China in search of rare and beautiful plants. For more info please see the flyer here.

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Friends of Burnley Garden : Valentine’s Day 14th February, 2019

The Annual Valentine’s Day Dinner for the Friends of Burnley Garden will be held at the Long Table under the new Wisteria Arbour.  Guest speaker is David Daly from the famed Conifer Gardens Nursery will speak on “Growing cool climate plants in a changing environment: how to get the best out of the cool climate plants in your garden. Exciting and varied alternatives.”   For more details see flyer here.


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Alison Pouliot Photography : Book Launch Wednesday 20th Feb, 2019

Although relatively little known, fungi provide the links between the terrestrial organisms and ecosystems that underpin our functioning planet.   This Allure is represented in this book of photography showing all facets of fungi.

Come along to this book launch:

Wednesday 20th February at 6pm in Mueller Hall, National Herbarium of Victoria

Royal Botanic Gardens, Cnr Birdwood Ave & Dallas Brooks Drive, South Yarra.

RSVP:  alison@alisonpouliot.com

BOOK LAUNCH – The Allure of Fungi

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Empowering the Women of Horticulture

Current and emerging female leaders in the Australian horticulture industry can now apply for a leadership development scholarship valued up to $10,941.

The scholarship, which is celebrating its second year, is funded by Hort Innovation and Women & Leadership Australia (WLA), with the scholarship grants covering up to 60 per cent of the cost of the following three types of training programs:

  • The Accelerated Leadership Performance Program
  • The Executive Ready Program
  • The Advanced Leadership Program

Participants will learn skills such as heightened presence and influence, managing team dynamics and driving performance and leading innovation and change.

With positive shifts already seen in the attitudes towards women in horticulture, Hort innovation and NGIV hope to encourage more women into taking leadership roles within the industry.

The funding is available to individuals and groups of employees who own or work within businesses that pay a levy to Hort Innovation.

Expressions of interest close on Friday, 7 December at 5pm AEDT, for more information and to apply follow the links:

Apply via the WLA website, visit www.wla.edu.au/horticulture.html

For more information about the partnership with Hort Innovation, click here  

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BBM Youth Support – Horticultural Awards

BBM Youth Support Awards open for applications 

BBM Youth Support is offering one $8,000 Award to young horticulturalists aged 16-23, designed to help the successful applicant develop specialist skills and widen their networks overseas. Upon their return, awardees are then encouraged to share these skills, enriching communities as role models, mentors, teachers and employers.

If you are eligible and between the ages of 16 and 23 and are passionate about developing your skills overseas, please apply using the link below.


Applications close in August – please contact Melanie 02 9233 4005 for exact date-  and are judged by a panel of selectors from a number of horticulture institutions, and BBM Youth Support.

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