A stroll through our gardens
GORGEOUS GARDENS OF TASMANIA – AN ISLAND ODYSSEY
Words and pictures by Liz Francis ( Forty South Publishing, $ 45)
AS Peter Cundall would say, “it’s bloomin’ wonderful” – a spectacularly produced new book about the work of a group of botanic artists who joyfully toil away in sunshine and rain, hot weather and blizzards to create what must be among the most gorgeous gardens you would find anywhere.
Gardening is one of the truest of all art forms: working with living landscapes, enduring extreme weather conditions, and competing with possums and wallabies which would rather chew than admire the efforts which go into converting bare paddocks into showcase gardens.
For her second outstanding book on Tasmania’s botanical bounty, author/ photographer Liz Francis has produced Gorgeous Gardens of Tasmania: An Island Odyssey, which deserves at least to share a place with Huon pine bowls and bottles of wine as tourist keepsakes and gifts used to promote Tasmania.
In the two years since the publication of her first book, Gorgeous Gardens Way Down South, Francis and ever- patient husband, assistant and chauffeur Geoff Francis drove thousands of kilometres to inspect, photographe and interview the owners and creators of 30 of the most picturesque gardens in Tasmania.
While Gorgeous Gardens Way Down South was restricted to mostly private gardens hidden away in areas such as the Huon, the Channel and other places south of Hobart, Gorgeous Gardens of Tasmania took the couple on an odyssey as far afield as Edith Creek in the North West and Ringarooma in the North East, back down to Glendevie in the southern Huon.
The new book is packed with pictures which do justice to the glorious gardens. Francis has a natural eye for photography, and chose the seasons in which gardens were at their best.
All of the gardens in the new book are open to the public, if not regularly or permanently, then at least once a year or by appointment.
Many of the big gardens featured – the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens in Hobart, Port Arthur Historic Site Gardens, and the Launceston City Park and Cataract Gorge Gardens, for instance – are open daily, some around the clock.
Kaydale Lodge at Nietta in the North is open every day ( literally from dawn to dusk). Many of the other gardens are open regularly or by appointment.
Something that struck Francis was the extent to which volunteers with vision, energy and commitment have made magnificent gardens from broken and degraded land.
The Emu Valley Rhododendron Garden near Burnie, the Tasmanian Arboretum near Devonport, and the Tasmanian Bushland Garden near Buckland are amazing examples, she says, of what can be achieved by a group of like- minded volunteers who converted degraded land into superb gardens.
Now, the gardens are wholly maintained by volunteers.
“We all know how hard it is to keep people enthused about a project, but these three gardens managed to do just that and the results are amazing,” Francis says.
The Emu Valley Rhodo Garden is internationally acclaimed – “It is fantastic,” says Francis – all because some people followed their dream and set about turning it into reality.
Volunteering even extends to the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens in Hobart and Entally Estate at Hadspen, where volunteers help maintain the properties.
Francis sees her books as acknowledging the contribution made by gardeners. “Everybody loves being in a beautiful garden, even if they don’t particularly want to make a garden themselves,” she says. “Whatever your problems might be, they are instantly erased by immersing yourself in a lovely garden.
“I think we underestimate the social value of our gardens and the pleasure that gardening brings to so many people from different walks of life. It would be nice to see more recognition of their contribution to our community.
“There is also a need to acknowledge the economic value of gardens as tourism attractions and the opportunity they provide for people to visit different parts of the state.
“Prospect Villa at Hamilton is worldrenowned and has been the subject of many articles. Wychwood at Mole Creek is another world- class garden which has been written about all over the world.”
Francis says it is surprising Tourism Tasmania does not recognise that garden tourism can be of huge benefit to the state.
New Zealand, Canada, the UK and many other countries have thriving garden tourism.
She says Tourism Tasmania has shown little interest in promoting garden tourism, having “hugely diminished” what little support it gave to the garden lovers’ organisation Blooming Tasmania, which sought to engender interest by inserting volunteer- produced brochures in the nationally circulated Gardening Australia magazine.
While there were a limited number of privately run garden tours in Tasmania, Francis says the government tourist agency was missing out on a major promotional opportunity.
“Cool climate gardens are the best gardens of all,” she says. “We can grow so many things with ease providing the wildlife lets us.”