News & Events

An Update from Tegwen

August 24, 2022

The importance of gardens in re-creating a sense of place in new environments.

Just after moving into a new place during the first year of Covid lockdowns, I ripped out most of the existing garden to start over. To begin with I decided to work on the small areas either side of our front door. It wasn’t until about 6 months later, when the plants I’d put in began establishing, that it dawned on me that I’d recreated the garden that was outside my bedroom window when I was a child. Tree ferns, lambs tongues, windflowers, ajuga, hellebores, camellias, Chinese star jasmine – they were all there. This surprise evoked involuntary memories from my past. Amongst them was the comforting sound of my Gran’s footsteps as she brushed past the ferns on her way to the front door after her usual Thursday night dinner with friends. She lived in a Granny flat attached to our house and she and my Dad did our gardening.

My experience of connecting with a new place by incorporating elements of past gardens is not isolated. In a thesis looking at the meanings residents give to landscapes in Australian aged care facilities, the author suggests that for the residents she interviewed:

“The strong connection to their memories plays a very important part in linking their current living environment. Artefacts from the past provide association of place memories that were once important parts of their lived experiences. Memories of place can be embodied in the current garden” (Tsai, 2019:107).

In other words, plants can introduce our memories into a new landscape and help to give us a sense of home.

Catherine Lazer, a recently arrived Leith Park resident, talked to me about how this process is unfolding for her. She explained to me that sadly her father had passed away earlier in the year. Instead of flowers, her friend gave her a camellia plant as a tribute. Her father was an avid gardener and she remembered the row of camellias that adorned the front of her childhood home. After she had planted her friend’s gift, I loved that she described the act as ‘’planting her Dad in the garden”. Catherine’s plant in a way roots her to the current landscape through special entangled memories of her father and her childhood.

In his research Mark Francis (1995), a landscape architect, suggests that childhood memories of gardens are linked to people’s present and ideal garden relationships. He conducted over 100 in depth interviews and asked his students for over 20 years to draw maps of their favourite childhood gardens. These gardens could be parents, grandparents or friends gardens. From his analysis, he found that over time gardens seem to have lost the most important elements for children, “especially those elements of mystique and mystery, [they] are missing in modern gardens as these have become more manicured…” (Francis, 1995:11). As a result Francis suggests that we need to ensure gardens are memorable for children. Indeed, in relation to our context we have seen how childhood memories of plants and gardens are important in recreating a sense of home later in life. So when Peter and Karen Smith’s grandson, Fletcher is grown up and he’s reflecting on spending time with his grandparents, I wonder if he’ll find anything memorial about the Leith Park Estate landscape?

Francis, Mark (1995) Childhood’s Garden: Memory and Meaning of
Gardens, Children’s Environments 12(2)’s_Garden_Memory_and_Meaning_of_Gardens

Yi-Hsin (Mimi) Tsai (2019) The Meaning of Gardens in Aged Care: Residents’ Landscape Experience in Australian Facilities

Winter in Review – Embracing Decay

As we head into spring, I want to take one last look back at winter. In a previous newsletter I celebrated plants that flower during winter/early spring through pictures. I could again post images of annuals such as primula and violas that give us some colour in winter/early spring, as do daffodils, camellias, apple and cherry blossoms and some natives such as rock thryptomene and hardenbergia violacea. The embrace of flowering plants is generally what people think about when designing for a winter garden. However, instead of celebrating flowers, Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf has an alternative point of view. His genius moves us away from mainly focusing on the plant when it’s in flower, towards selecting herbaceous perennials for their aesthetic qualities throughout their growth and decay cycles. According to him:

“If you make a four-season garden you have to learn to accept decay and see the beauty of it. It’s about the texture and shape, the seed heads and the skeletons. So instead of using the scissors you use your eyes” (Oudolf in Barrett 2011).

Thus for Oudolf a successfully designed garden lies not only when it blossoms but in the beauty of it when it dies. He wants us to pause and appreciate the sculptural interest of dead plant material and its relationship to other plants around it before we rush in and clean up spent flowers and frost bitten foliage.

I thought of Oudolf’s philosophy as I went to remove the old dead growth of the canna lilies amongst the flowering euphorbia in a garden bed near Liscombe House. And on reflection, l decided to leave the dead leaves there for contemplation. I’ll return later in spring when the new growth begins. Ouldolf thinks that embracing an elegantly decomposing garden meets an emotional need in people, a reminder that we are also a part of nature. He suggests it is with this embrace that “You accept death. You don’t take the plants out, because they still look good. And brown is also a color.” In the spirit of Oudolf I’m going to keep my eye out for more plants that fit his philosophy. I’d also appreciate any pictures if you find further examples of beautiful decay.

Barrett, Sara (2011) Piet Oudolf’s Cold Weather Landscapes – The New York Times, 09/02/2011

Leith Park Estate Update –

Garden Restoration – Bank Adjacent to the Dry Creek Bed

The unwanted vegetation on the bank adjacent to the dry creek bed has now been cleared. This completes the initial stage of the Banyule Council Community Grant funded project. Many thanks to our gardener Rick and volunteers, Grant, Rob and Bryan for spending numerous hours on the slope digging out stubborn agapanthus and deities and hauling them away. Now the bank is ready for us to dig 2000 holes for the native tube stock to be planted in September.


Finally, another of the projects we have undertaken over the winter is the construction of a greenhouse. Big thank you to our volunteer, Rob and the maintenance team, Rob and Ian for doing the majority of the build. As a result, we now have a fantastic resource for propagating our own plants. We have already started growing some alyssum, lobelia, and violas from seeds for the Lifestyle/activities gang to use with the residents in Liscombe House.

Volunteering is important to Deb, enabling her to contribute in the aged care sector. “I love it when the residents get downright cheeky. I love it when we get a bit too loud with laughing."

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