Where are they now? Rosemary Davies, founding member of EWHA

by Rosemary Davies, founding member of EWHA
Rosemary Davies writes about her involvement in the development of the EWHA beginnings and horticulture in general across the community for over 40 years. Rosemary has filled three lifetimes into one lifetime – horticulture in consulting, media and teaching, plus a bit of EWHA history!

Photo: 08/02/2017. Sunbury/Macedon Star Weekly. Myplace. Issue Date 14/02. Gisborne. My Place Feature – Rosemary Davies. Picture Shawn Smits.

It was on a lovely sunny day when I was networking at MIFGS at the Exhibition building and gardens that I crossed paths with Dawn Fleming of Fleming’s Nurseries.  I’ve known Dawn Fleming since the 1980s when she came as a guest, on to the ABC radio gardening with me. We chatted about a topic that had been on my mind for years, that so many women in horticulture were working on their own in what was this very male-dominated industry and it would be great if they could get together to chat as well as how we may encourage more women in horticulture.

I had friends working in local government in parks and gardens, nursery and landscaping that were working on various job roles,  (often the ones the men did not want to do) and often alone down in the depths of the council nursery or weeding in parks and roadside, though they had the same qualifications and experience. At the time I was living in Bendigo and my daughter was early primary school age so it was difficult for me (being the only one with a young child) to get to all our meetings with a range of other horticultural colleagues to form the EWHA group.

I’ve continued to take an interest since those early years and attend various functions when I can. I also had numerous discussions with a horticultural friend of mine Sandra Ross of Ross Garden Tours in Sydney in those days to explore making EWHA national. That’s largely my connection to the start of EWHA.

I’d always wanted to be involved in gardens and nature since I was about seven or eight. Both grandmothers had wonderful gardens, or I thought so and we had a big yard. A next door neighbour at the time taught some basic skills in vegetable growing and I helped him harvest the vegies.  We lived in Templestowe then, when it was rolling acres of apple orchards and farms as well as a smattering of artistic hippies from groups that met in Eltham and Warrandyte. In late primary school (then in the Macedon Ranges) I had a teacher who inspired me so much one day I decided I wanted to be a teacher of nature study just like him and that’s where it started.

Shifting back to Melbourne again with my parents, I completed a three year diploma at Burnley in the 1970s when the only other horticulture courses at that level were in New South Wales or a mix of horticulture and agriculture. A three year diploma, post-VCE (with science and maths subjects) was the highest qualification at the time that you could study in ornamental horticulture. It was expected many would gain employment in the Department of Agriculture, so we studied ornamental horticulture, as well as fruit and vegetable growing and viticulture.

At Burnley we had classes every day like school terms from 9am-4pm with a day and a half of that spent in the Burnley Gardens doing practical work in these areas and with science as well as practical emphasis. There was no part-time or night options or certificates. As soon as I finished I was seconded to be one of the team at the newly developed Garden Advisory Service at Burnley under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture. This job was to be the most fantastic opportunity for grounding my career and exponentially developing my knowledge and experience.  As the only female in a team of five men, three of which were ‘generously’ at least twice my age (I was only twenty) it was fantastic!

We travelled all around the state, as advisors at all the Agricultural shows to farmers and country people, ran short courses at the Agriculture colleges across Victoria, travelled interstate to attend major conferences and met most of the major nursery growers, commercial cut flower growers, specialists agricultural officers, in Viticulture, Entomology, Grains, Plant Quarantine, commercial vegetables fruit and nut-growing across the state.

 It was while I was at the Garden Advisory Service where I began to write fact sheets on a wide range of agricultural and garden topics, that I was offered two positions: a part-time position as a columnist in horticulture for The Age newspaper and a job with ABC Radio garden talkback speaking and answering questions from all over the state on any sort of garden topic you could think of.  I was the youngest (at 20yrs) and only woman on talkback radio gardening at that time.

My career at this stage has followed three different paths in horticulture simultaneously now for over 40 years. I started with ABC Radio Melbourne in 1977 and continued with metropolitan and regional stations until 2015.  I did many live radio shows from around the state, at shows and exhibitions. The story of my help when they were building the ABC in Bendigo after I shifted there and how I’d travel from Bendigo to Melbourne to do my radio program before the crack of dawn on a Saturday morning, before Bendigo ABC was set up, is another story!

I was a regular garden expert along with one of four. We rotated as a pair, (again me, with men old enough to be my dad) who were experts in their fields of horticulture. There was the late Kevin Heinze, Eric Dalziel from the Melbourne City Council, the late Allan Gardiner, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens and the late Rod Cantrill, my mentor from the Department of Agriculture Horticulture branch. 

My writing career in horticulture ‘took off’ with three books authored and co-authored and my own 300 pg. ‘tome’ in 1987, with five others to follow, the latest in 2017.

Weekly radio broadcasts on horticulture with a number of the ABC regional stations complimented my work with ABC 3LO at the time.

Almost alternative weekends were taken up with public speaking events as well as the work in teaching short courses in horticulture around the state and also with the CAE in Melbourne.

In the 1980s I studied for two years to become a TAFE teacher of apprentices in horticulture, teaching others some of what I knew! (I also studied basic floristry at this time). I began teaching at what was Collingwood TAFE but now Kangan. Teaching horticulture and all my writing led to a full-time offer to be a horticultural journalist with the Herald/Sun which I accepted after some years of TAFE teaching apprentices.

I wrote full time for Your Garden, The Sun and some of the other magazines under the Herald and Weekly Times banner. In any spare weekends I had, I developed my own garden and landscape consultant business.  I was also offered the opportunity by two travel agents to take garden groups on tour to the Chelsea flower show and beyond. I gave several live programs from The UK to ABC breakfast radio, on the latest from Chelsea.

In the late 1980s we shifted to Bendigo, a ‘tree changer’ before they’d invented the term, looking for greener pastures and places to grow plants myself and do more consulting, as well as keep my part-time jobs from Melbourne (ABC Radio, Columnist with several publications, some part-time teaching and some writing of my own. I’d picked up another job offer to develop and teach a range of horticulture courses with a correspondence college in Melbourne with students across the state and interstate).

While living in Bendigo I had my daughter, kept the other jobs going, became a rural horticulture writer with the Weekly Times paper, along with John Henwood and Neil Robertson developed the Open Garden scheme from the Victorian one to the Australian one, worked as a magazine editor part-time, wrote for New Zealand Gardener magazine, Country style, wrote four more books, became the co-founder of the Bendigo Friends of the Botanic Garden Bendigo group (another community group that is still going well), became Bendigo Business and Professional Woman of the Year for 1999, took several more overseas and Australian tours with several tour companies, became a senior manager in Community Education in Bendigo with a range of over 100 students  a year, ran my own vineyard for several years, opened my rural garden for Australia Open Garden  Scheme, studied a Bachelor of Education and Training by distance education,  worked for  private public relations company, studied a graduate Diploma on Primary Education so I was qualified to formally teach primary children in gardening and landcare/ Environment studies.

I’ve been a member for various community groups over my horticultureal life-  Landcare groups, the Rose Society, The Fern Society, The Cactus and Succulent Society,  The Herb Society, the SGAP.

To sum it up, my radio career spanned over 35 years from the days of old valve radios and tapes in the old Studios of 3LO and 3AR in Lonsdale street Melbourne,  right into the current digital age of sound and radio. My first writing was hand-written, research only through books, research papers and chatting in person with experts. We typed on a typewriter when we used lots of liquid white-out to cover the mistakes.  The option was a ‘newspaper copytaker person’ over the telephone,  that you dictated to late at night right through to the start of computers (my first Apple Mac in the 1980s with its floppy disks) and stories you send to head office on a fax machine( there was no internet then). Now of course we email or attach a copy and have access to information downloads and PDFs. There was no ‘spell checker’ then either, just a few people you know who could do a double check/ proof read.

My initial live teaching and correspondence teaching which meant marking papers of students who had hand-written the answers to assignments then posted them in to head office, where they then were resent to me to mark and send back, has ‘morphed’ over time to another employer or two but into a wide range of courses currently in a ‘global’ online classroom,  where student email work to me and it goes back to them in any part of metro or regional Australia, but  I have also had students from Switzerland, Germany, also across Spain, France, Singapore, New Zealand, UK , America. COVID 19 has brought me many more students from lockdowns across the globe.

What am I doing now while I am living in the Macedon Ranges in my fifth diverse garden?

Still teaching globally, I am instilling into my two toddler grandchildren a passion and love of nature/ food gardens and the great outdoors, helping ‘a smidge’ with Landcare locally, consulting in natural  gardens and design and working on several books related to gardens, nature and creative therapies. In lockdown, where I am also working on my passion for the arts with more painting and textile work and more recently, to expand the brain cells and the voice on something quite different – I’ve taken up the ukulele and belong to a group of great ‘green’ musos in Trentham. We have booked gigs in the region.

As my father once told me, it’s better to wear out than rust out; life’s what you make it!

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