From little things, big things grow
IT’S a well- known saying that we should never judge a book by its cover – or its title. So allow me to shamefully confess to making a silly blunder.
After glancing at the apparently bland title – The Launceston Horticultural Society:
A History – my first naive impression was of a book that could only be of interest to a relatively few local horticulturalists.
I could not have been more mistaken. It details one of the most extraordinary and exciting histories I’ve ever read and is of enormous interest to anyone wishing to know more about the early days of European settlement in Van Diemen’s Land.
Of course, the book deals with the affairs and history of Australia’s oldest, continuously existing horticultural society.
However, the very nature and activities of those early horticultural pioneers perfectly reflects the developments and changes that have happened in Tasmania over the decades.
After all, the LHS was founded in 1838. That’s 176 years ago, when most European settlers were looking around in amazement at this strange, wondrous new land and desperately trying to create food gardens to survive in a totally unfamiliar climate.
This is clearly the basic reason the society was formed, as revealed in the original announcement of intent published in the
Cornwall Chronicle in June 1838.
The founder’s initial intention was “for the improvement of garden culture, and particularly of vegetables”.
The LHS has never looked back and over many generations its countless, dedicated members have not just been part of history, they have made it.
In essence, this is the story of European settlement and the constant struggle to create food and ornamental gardens and teach people how to grow things, especially in and around Launceston.
The book reads like a fantastic novel because of the painstaking research and wonderfully seamless prose of author Gwenda Sheridan, one of Australia’s most respected historians, landscape planners and a renowned expert in gardening history.
The rapid growth and development of the Launceston Horticultural Society’s activities happened when new exotic plants were being constantly discovered.
A century- and- a- half ago was a period of almost obsessive interest in plant collections, propagation and the design and construction of gardens – especially public gardens and parks.
Plants, cuttings and especially seeds were being brought from remote corners of the world and widely distributed.
By 1845 the society was able to offer a huge range of seeds, plants and rooted cuttings for sale to members.
They included delphinium, lupin, poppy, African marigold, aquilegia, bell- flowers and other annual and perennial plants.
A few shrubs and trees innocently added to that early list included some that have become serious weed pests.
Most, however, were highly attractive ornamentals such as oleander, a surprisingly large number of fuchsia varieties, pelargonium, pines, roses, thuja occidentalis, hydrangea and even passion vines.
A big range of apple varieties were made available by the society during the 1840s.
It was fascinating to see traditional varieties we grow in our gardens in the catalogue, particularly Cox’s Orange Pippin and Emperor Alexander, but many others in those lists appear to have been either lost to cultivation or have different names.
For me, the most illuminating and engrossing parts of this book were the old photographs and maps of Launceston and the surrounding district.
The pages are filled with reproductions of old prints, paintings, newspaper clippings, reports and even the quaintly worded advertisements of some of our first plant nurseries.
Without question, this remarkable, gloriously illustrated book is a treasure house of information about the struggles and successes of those bewildered but highly ambitious European settlers. It is the story of Tasmania and how we grew.
BLOOMIN‘ MARVELLOUS: The history of one of the oldest horticultural societies is a fascinating read.
THE LAUNCESTON HORTICULTURAL SOCIETY: A HISTORY
By Gwenda Sheridan RRP: $ 59.95