Gardens and Gardeners

Public gardens, Hobart, 1888 (ALMFA, SLT)

One of the earliest records of gardening in Tasmania is the planting of fruit trees at Adventure Bay during Bligh's visit in 1788. In 1792 a garden was laid out at Recherche Bay by the French expedition led by Bruny d'Entrecasteaux. The garden was divided into four plots and included cabbages, potatoes, sorrel and a variety of European seeds.

When the British arrived in Van Diemen's Land from 1803, they needed to establish gardens for food and medicine at the settlements at Port Dalrymple and Risdon Cove. There was only limited success due to unfamiliar landscape and climate. Established in 1830, the penal settlement of Port Arthur aimed to be self-sufficient in fruit, vegetables and herbal plants for the needs of convicts and militia. Officers were allotted their own gardens and more formal 'government gardens' were established. Several commandants and officials were members of the Royal Society  so had access to plant material from the Society's gardens in Hobart. Originally established in 1818 as government gardens, these were transferred to the Royal Society and later became the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens. Throughout the colony there was a fascination in growing a wide variety of exotic plants and fruits, many of which had come from collectors and exchange with organisations such as Kew Gardens (England).

Garden design was influenced by English publications such as works by JC Loudon, and the desire to create a familiar landscape. Local information came from Daniel Bunce who published a list of plants available at his New Town nursery (1836), one of the earliest such lists in Australia, and also a manual of practical gardening. James Dickinson published a comprehensive catalogue of plants for sale from his Hobart nursery (1845) and also a gardeners' manual. William Charles Chandler emigrated to Van Diemen's Land and worked as a gardener at Government House. After an apprenticeship at the Botanical Gardens, his eldest son William Charles established a nursery in New Town in 1888. Several years later it moved to its present site in Sandy Bay. Chandler's Nursery produced extensive catalogues, and imported plants and seed from overseas.

Hand-coloured postcard of The Homestead Tea Gardens at Ridgeway, about 1910 (AOT, PH30/1/5077)

Brothers Frederick, Henry and Edward Lipscombe were also nurserymen. By 1840 Frederick owned two nurseries, the Grange and Pine Apple Place Nursery, Sandy Bay (later owned by John Osborne). Frederick published a 'Gardener's Kalendar' and offered to give advice on laying out gardens in any part of the state. When Edward died it was recorded that the three brothers did more than any other men in the colony for the development of horticultural prosperity. Henry's son John Leslie Lipscombe was responsible for the planning of many of Hobart's parks including Franklin Square, Fitzroy Gardens and St David's Park (formerly a burial ground).

Another man of influence was Charles Frederick Creswell, a nurseryman, seed merchant and florist. He took over Frederick Lipscombe's business in Hobart, grew seeds under contract for the seed trade and collected indigenous seeds for export. For many years the name Creswell has been synonymous with the supply of seed for Tasmanian gardeners.

Frank Walker, nurseryman, seed merchant and florist, established his nursery in Launceston in 1876. By the early 1890s his extensive nurseries were propagating stock for the nursery and cut-flower industry throughout Australia. In 1892 on the west coast James Overall laid out the first gardens in Zeehan, growing vegetables, small fruits and flowers. The fast-developing mining areas opened up new fields for botanical study and Overall began collecting specimens of the unique west coast flora, sending plants and seeds all over the world. The Overalls are credited with pioneering the Australian sphagnum moss trade, exporting the first consignment from Zeehan in 1906. In 1909 Overall moved with his son to Sulphur Creek where they established one of Tasmania's largest nurseries, the Darwin Nursery. The business was sold in 1976.

One of the most notable Tasmanian gardens is Panshanger, which was planned as a grand English estate to reflect the status of its owner, Joseph Archer. Entry is through an avenue dominated by oak and elm. As well as gardens, there is a woodland, and sweeping lawns which draw the eye to distant vistas.

The garden at Malahide, Fingal (AOT, PH30/1/3965)

The Government House gardens, laid out in about 1857 by William Thomas, feature avenues dominated by mature evergreen trees with carefully controlled vistas to the lake and the River Derwent. The gardens still retain the elements of an estate with surrounding paddocks, formal gardens for both public and private use, a kitchen garden and cottage gardens. On a smaller scale, traditional cottage gardens have subsisted since the settlement of Tasmania. Their design is essentially a central path to the front door with gardens on either side for fruit, flowers, vegetables and herbs.

In the 1920s the influence of Victorian garden designer and writer Edna Walling and Hobart garden designer and florist Kitty (Kathleen Vivian) Henry introduced a more naturalistic style, incorporating rockeries and the use of exotic and indigenous plants. In 1957 the Society for Growing Australian Plants was established with branches in all states, aiming to preserve indigenous plants in gardens and the bush. This has been one of the major influences leading to the acceptance of native plants in garden design. Since 1980 interest in historic gardens has been promoted by the Australian Garden History Society, and from 1992 there hve been regular openings of private gardens through the Open Garden Scheme.

Further reading: N Plomley & J Piard-Bernier, The General, Launceston, 1983; J Clark & Viney, Gardens of exile, Port Arthur, 2002; R Aitken & M Looker (eds), The Oxford companion to Australian gardens, Melbourne, 2002.

Ann Cripps