From lit­tle things, big things grow

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - BOOKS - PETER CUN­DALL

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

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