Pam Vardy : Women In Horticulture Interview

What drew you to horticulture initially?
I started my working career as a Trained Infant Teacher (grades Prep to 2) in Melbourne. Following my marriage, I spent two years in Hobart and one year in Orange NSW, before settling in Devonport, Tasmania. There we bought a beautiful old Victorian style house on three quarters of an acre of established garden.

I soon threw myself into managing the garden. The soil was so rich and fertile, and everything flourished. There were magnificent old trees, border flower garden beds, and a huge vegetable patch. In winter I would supply friends, who were living nearby above the snow line, with vegetables.

What pathway did you take?
My husband had heard about a new community radio station starting up in Melbourne. When the family, including three young children, returned to Melbourne to live, I volunteered at 3CR Community Radio. After completing my training, I commenced broadcasting, hosting the Friday Morning Show which had an emphasis on health, welfare and the arts. Over time, I took on many different roles, including training other volunteers and joining the Management Committee. I had always listened to the Gardening Show, and when I heard a call out on air for someone to help with the show, I jumped at the chance to combine my love of radio media and horticulture. At the time, Allen Gilbert from the then Burnley Horticultural College’s Garden Advice Line was heading up the show. When Allen left in 1997 to live on Bruny Island, Tasmania, I took over as host. It was at this time, that I joined the Horticultural Media Association Victoria (HMA Vic.).

Did hosting the 3CR Gardening Show open up other opportunities?
As host of the show, I worked with a great variety of inspirational horticulturists each week. I was fascinated to hear about the community gardens on some of Melbourne’s public housing estates, and in 2002 I joined the Cultivating Community Management Committee that oversees and supports the gardens. Penny Woodward, author and horticulturist, was also passionate about them, and this led to our collaboration to produce the book ‘Community Gardens’ – A celebration of the people, recipes and plants. To sit with gardeners and hear their stories, via interpreters, of trauma, conflict, natural disasters, displacement and isolation, and their joy of re settlement in Australia and having their own little plot of land to grow the food they love, was very humbling. The gardens are so important for their mental, social, physical and cultural welfare. Their stories, the plants they grow, the food they cook, highlighted the wonderful diversity and enrichment these people have brought to our country.

How did joining the HMA expand your interests?
Becoming a member of HMA Vic. has been a wonderful way of connecting with like-minded horticulturists working in media throughout Australia and New Zealand.  I joined the Executive Committee in 1999, and was humbled to be awarded an Honorary life Membership in 2012.

In 2009, HMA Vic. chose to sponsor an award in the Victorian Schools Garden Awards (VSGA) and I joined the VSGA Committee as HMA Vic. representative. The collective work of children and teachers in the schools is truly inspiring. Horticulture and gardening can be linked to so many areas of the school curriculum in very practical ways. Of course this also has the benefits of learning outdoors in the fresh air, working with nature, and improving the physical, mental and emotional welfare of all involved. It was awe inspiring to visit schools from all over the state, sharing their visions and achievements.

Who were your mentors?
I didn’t have any particular mentors along the way. Instead I have been constantly inspired by sharing knowledge and ideas with people across a broad range of horticulture.

What is your favourite plant?
I don’t have any one favourite plant, but I particularly love growing edible plants and visiting kitchen gardens from diverse cultures. I also love magnificent trees, a broad range of flowering plants, and take great joy from seeing the wattles in full flower in late winter.

What do you love about the horticultural industry?
Gardeners are such caring, sharing people. I really love communicating with everyone involved. Their passion and commitment is truly remarkable. My whole horticultural career has been unpaid voluntary work, and I have had to juggle paid employment in a different field, but this has given me freedom to pursue many different areas of interest within the industry.

I would strongly recommend volunteering in some capacity, whether it be joining working bees in community gardens, school gardens, land care groups, or getting involved with a local community radio, to really expand your knowledge and creativity, and to make some wonderful friends along the way.

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Jane Edmanson : Women in Horticulture : Interview

What drew you to horticulture originally?
I have a country background, born in Mildura, and grew up with my parents who had a citrus and avocado farm. Mum had a beautiful garden so I guess it was in my blood. She gave me a little patch of cosmos and nasturtiums and all those things that kids like to grow. I remember picking all the freesias as they came into flower and she came out and exclaimed in horror “Oh my goodness you’ve picked them all!” But she was a very encouraging person. She taught me a lot about the flowers you love to pick and bring inside.

We came to Melbourne when I was still small and lived in Caulfield. It was a little Edwardian house where my mother had a little garden and people used to stop and say “What a beautiful garden that is”, because it matched the house. What I’ve learnt from that is a garden should be what you like it to be: you can give bits and pieces away to those who show an interest. It’s really important that we share our gardens with people who want to learn about having a garden, and that’s what I aim to do.

Did this early gardening experience set you on a career path to horticulture?
Not at this early stage. I went to Uni and became a Secondary Teacher, so it wasn’t part of my thinking then. I was teaching in Dimboola, in the Wimmera, and started learning about native plants in the Grampians region and Little Desert. It was a revelation! That was when I started thinking that this interest could lead somewhere, but I didn’t know where until the Principal suggested I do a horticultural course. So I went and did a course at Oakleigh Technical School which had a really fine practical course, and also did a course at Burnley Horticultural College.

Then I needed to get a job so I applied at 25 different nurseries around Melbourne – all of them said “No, we don’t take women”. It was in those days when they thought women couldn’t do work like that in a nursery. Then finally one lovely man, Ted Poynton from Poyntons Nursery (not the current Poyntons Nursery) said “Yes, come along and we’ll see how you go” so I went over there and it was wonderful. Then I went to the Victorian Schools Nursery where we grew all sorts of plants with thousands of kids coming to learn how to grow plants and why plants are important. Plants and education: showing people why gardening is so important is what started me off.

You met resistance when trying to get your first job. Have you encountered any other obstacles along the way?
No, I truly haven’t. I’m going back to the 1970s [when the nurseries rejected me]. In that case it was a matter of me setting my mind to it and determining that there must be someone out there who is prepared to look at what I can do, not what I can’t do.  I think in those days as long as you went quietly about showing that you could do the physical work and were keen to learn, then it was fine. Then all of a sudden women did become accepted in the nursery trade. No, there haven’t been any other obstacles like that.

Who would you say were your mentors along the way?
When I was in the Victorian Schools Nursery we had training for teachers. They came into the nursery to learn about teaching Nature Studies – remember Nature Studies? No-one does that anymore, which is a real shame. Anyway I was a leader doing that and another leader was Kevin Heinze. He was a great mentor. And the boss of the nursery, Paul Crowe was terrific. Kevin had listened to one of my lectures and asked if I was interested in going on television. He had been running [his TV program “Sow What”] for a very long time and he wanted [a successor], a woman and someone who was younger. He set up the Kevin Heinze Garden Centre and got me involved in that. You’ve got to be a people person: that’s what he brought out in me.
That’s what prepared me for my work in television. I still enjoy it very much and have been doing it for going on 32 years and love it. Every time I go out to do some filming there’s something to learn and I love meeting the people behind the story.

What would you say is your favourite plant?
Oh, I can’t answer that one! It really depends on the season. Well, to give some idea, I’ll describe my front garden. It’s full of a whole lot of plants which don’t need a lot of water. From now to November they don’t get any extra water so it’s made up of really tough plants: Euphorbias, Salvias, Grevilleas, all sorts of Hellebores. It’s a garden where I can pick cuttings to take to garden talks which I have done for so many years. That’s the kind of garden that I love but I can’t really say that I have a favourite.

What are you working on at the moment?
Apart from Gardening Australia which I work on once a week, my other loves are history and geography.  I’ll be giving a talk later in the year to introduce Matthew Flinders, who navigated around Australia in about 1802, about his journey and the plants that he discovered, because he had a botanist on board, so that will be what I’ll concentrate on, a little talk about plant exploration.

What are some tips you can pass on to others who are starting out in the industry?
I always tell young people starting out don’t ever be afraid of a “fence” or a “gate” – jump over that fence, open that gate. Sometimes people get confined to “boxes”, discouraged by barriers. Don’t be afraid of what’s on the other side. I was a very shy person but I pushed myself to overcome the shyness. I kept thinking, “No, I’m going to do this!”

Another tip is to put your head down and learn. There is so much opportunity in this world and if you take the opportunities to learn then that is the best thing you can do. In horticulture I found that everyone shared their knowledge. There was never anyone who was nasty or told me they weren’t going to share their knowledge.

What do you most love about the industry?
I love plants, love talking about any plants, love learning and meeting others who are passionate about what they are doing. We’re very fortunate, you and I and all the women working in horticulture, that we’re doing something we love. People out there don’t realise how good gardening is for us until they get involved and try to grow a cauliflower or a Grevillea or something. It’s great for the physical and mental benefits. Plants are really good at slowing you down and causing you to pause to look at them, and to go out into the native bush – lovely. We’re very lucky to be part of the horticultural world.

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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.


BOOK LAUNCH – The Allure of Fungi

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