It was the Afternoons program on 774 ABC Melbourne that got me thinking about my gardening pedigree. Presenter Richard Stubbs asked listeners how they came to take up gardening. Was it passed on from someone else?
I grew up in a gardener’s house and remember constant talk of Spring and Autumn annuals, Marigolds, Petunias, Camellias, Dahlias, the constant moving of sprinklers and manure.
When Nana came to live with us in the late 1970s, the garden talk doubled and if my Great Auntie Rosie came to visit, well. Auntie Rosie was Nana’s sister and they had other siblings that were keen gardeners too.
This is a lovely photo of Uncle Bill as young man in his parent’s backyard at 78 Coleraine Road, Hamilton, planting seed in neat rows with help from his niece, Margaret. It was about 1934.
I too lived at 78 Coleraine Road. Mum and Dad lived there when they first arrived in Hamilton after their marriage in 1967. I came along in March 1968 and we lived there for about a year after my birth. I wish I had have been older to remember the house, which was later pulled down, as that was the family home of my great grandparents, Thomas Hadden and Sarah Harman and where Nana and her brothers and sisters grew up. Four generations lived in that house.
I showed Mum the photo of the backyard at 78 Coleraine Road and she was able to tell me more about it. She said there was still a fence across the backyard when we there but it is was then made from chook wire. Auntie Rosie had lived there before us and she kept chooks. After the photo, cherry plum and blood plum trees were planted and an apple tree, seen in the photo, was still there 33 years later.
Uncle Bill had his own home built after returning from WW2. It was at 80 Coleraine Road, next door to his parents.
The photo above, shows Mum and Nana, on the left, and Mum’s cousin Norma, right, in the front yard of Uncle Bill and Auntie Bess. Although a reasonably new house, Uncle Bill already had an established garden and neat concrete and lawn driveway. He later added a garage and sheds at the end of the driveway.
Alma, another of Nana’s sisters was also a green thumb. When I visited her a few years ago, when she was in her late 90s, I was amazed at her beautiful potted cyclamen on her back porch. Despite almost no vision, she tended them with care. She was often found pottering around the garden that she knew so well and was able to move around nimbly.
Before Nana came to live with us, she and my grandfather, Bill Gamble lived in Ballarat and I have great memories of visiting their house. The backyard was small but the space was well used . Bill grew espalier apples, among other things, and had a shed with three sections lining the back fence. From my memory, the left section was a fernery, the middle a utility shed that held grain to feed the occupants in the third section, the chooks. I did like to admire the maiden hair ferns and their cool, soft foliage, and the feed shed where I dipped my hands into oats in a large wooden barrel. But I did not go in the chook shed.
When I checked my memory against mum’s she told me the left side of the shed was interchangeable, depending on her father’s interest at the time. He used to have budgies too and I can now remember budgie boxes in that part of the shed and attached to the fence. She couldn’t remember the maiden hair ferns, but her father did grow Pelargoniums at one point. That must have run in the family, as the following is a photo of one of Mum’s Pelargoniums.
The next photo was taken looking across the Gamble backyard. We have several photos taken from this angle. It must have been the “photo spot”. Nana (centre) is flanked by Bill’s aunt, Jane Diwell and a friend of Jane’s from Geelong. In the front is my Uncle Peter. Hopefully the photo shoot did not go on too long as there may have been an accident.
Of interest here is the espalier apple tree on the fence, the concrete garden edging my grandfather put in himself, the sack of oats and the Bergenia or “Elephant’s Ears” along the toilet wall. Mum used to call them “toilet flowers”.
Auntie Shirley, Bill’s sister is also a keen gardener. We visited her in the past year and her garden was beautiful, a result of much hard work on her part. She is now in her 80s.
My grandfather, Auntie Shirl and Auntie Jane were descended from a keen gardener, Richard Diwell, Jane’s father. Richard was a member of the Hamilton Horticulture Society. His specialty was chrysanthemums. The society often attended shows in nearby towns and the following item is from 1896 when the Hamilton growers headed to Portland to show of their blooms. Richard won three prizes in his class.
The chrysanthemums exhibited by the Hamilton growers were impressive, some a little too impressive for an amateur show.
Richard also liked ferns and apparently had a fernery. He was a keen photographer too, and this is one of the photos we have that he “staged” and took himself with a camera timer. A selection of plants are in the foreground including a maidenhair fern.
A garden photo that interests me is from the backyard of Richard’s daughter, Edith Diwell, my great-grandmother. The photo is of three of her sons, including Grandfather Bill on the left. This was either at a house in Mt Napier Road, Hamilton or Skene Street, Hamilton. Either way, they would have only been in the house a short time before the photo was taken, so the garden layout was not the work of Edith. However, it still gives an example of a 1920s backyard. There is a vegetable garden, with wooden edging and the boys are standing in front of a Yucca. A fruit tree stands in the background.
My paternal side of the family, the Riddifords, did not have the same influence on my love of gardening. Dad has never grown anything. Well, at least that’s what I thought. Mum told me how he thought cauliflowers could be a profitable venture, sometime around 1967, and planted them in the backyard at 78 Coleraine Road. Turns out there was little market for his produce and that was the end of his gardening days. We probably ate cauliflower with white sauce for some time afterwards.
Dad’s father, Percy Riddiford, did like to garden. It was not until recent years that I came to know how much.
Prior to her death, my Grandma, Mavis, gave me a binder of Your Garden magazines collected by Grandpa. I knew he liked roses as they lined the perimeter of their front yard, but I didn’t realise his passion went as far as buying gardening magazines. It just happened that the year the magazines were from was 1968, the year I was born.
I did enjoy visiting Grandma and Grandpa’s in Ballarat. A sign, “The Riddifords” hung proudly on the letterbox. A terrace garden was at the back of the steep block. Three large steps led to the top of the terrace and I recall that as a small child, I would haul myself up the steps and teeter on the top to look across neighbouring backyards to see Sovereign Hill in its infancy, sprouting up on a nearby hill. I would cry out that I could see the “historical park”.
I recently drove past Grandma and Grandpa’s old house to see if Grandpa’s roses were still there. I do remember them there, but look old and gnarly, not the many years ago. They are now gone, but suckers grow were the roses were. A little reminder of Grandpa.
‘My gardening history started in a rented house, but now with a home of my own, more passion is imparted. In the 13 years we have lived here, I have gardened through a 10 year drought, dogs, goats, child and recently a plant shredding hail storm. Inspired by Edna Walling and dispirited by Mother Nature and her creatures.
My garden is probably not at the point I would like it, but it has changed over the years thanks, I suppose, to the drought. I started with a range of cottage perennials, including some unusual varieties, but full water restrictions (no mains watering) did not help many of those thirsty English plants. Anything that survived I have planted more of, and more natives and succulents have come in.
One of my favourite plants is the Aquilegia or “Granny Bonnet’. It was also a favourite of Nana’s.
One day my “Zephirine Drouhin” roses will cover the arch they grow beside. But every year, just as the juicy new shoots show, two white creatures manage to break into my garden and indulge in one of their favourite delicacies.
The Sedum is an underrated plant and one that dates back to 19th century Australian gardens. It transforms itself throughout the year giving ongoing variety in its form and it can cope with dry weather. I have filled my borders with different varieties and they never disappoint. The following description of the Sedum is from 1911.
If you would like to get an idea of how your ancestors’ gardens may have looked or you would like to recreate a garden from earlier times, Cottage Gardens in Australia by Peter Cuffley is a beautiful book and an excellent resource for studying Australian gardens right back to Colonial days.