Meet the win­ner: Gar­dener of the Year

for his work over 40 years trans­form­ing Glen­rock Scout Cen­tre from a bar­ren, for­mer coal-mine site into a se­ries of na­tive gar­dens brim­ming with wildlife

Gardening Australia - - CONTENTS - words AB BISHOP pho­tog­ra­phy KEN BRASS & RACHEL HEN­DER­SON

Tal­ented in­di­vid­u­als who are la­belled ‘overnight sen­sa­tions’ have usu­ally toiled for years within their cho­sen field. This is cer­tainly true of John Le Mes­surier, whose 42 years of ded­i­ca­tion to de­vel­op­ing the gar­dens at Glen­rock Scout Cen­tre have cul­mi­nated in him be­ing voted 2018 Gar­dener of the Year!

His in­cred­i­ble gar­den­ing jour­ney be­gan even decades ear­lier. “Seventy years ago, when I was eight, two won­der­ful things hap­pened,” says John. “I be­gan push­ing seeds into my very own veg­etable patch at our North Dubbo home, and I be­came a Cub Scout. Both were ad­ven­tures that would give me a life­time of plea­sure.”

the early years

John’s var­ied early ex­pe­ri­ences with gar­den­ing and na­ture shaped his ca­reer, and de­vel­oped in him a real pas­sion for vol­un­teer­ing and shar­ing his knowl­edge.

On bush camp­ing trips with his fa­ther, young John de­lighted in multi-trunked mallees, prompt­ing a life­long fas­ci­na­tion of trees and even­tu­ally lead­ing to a stint as a forestry field worker. He speaks fondly of a south-east­ern Queens­land Plun­kett mallee (Eu­ca­lyp­tus cur­tisii) he planted at Glen­rock.

Aged 10, John lived with his un­cle, who was the gar­dener at a prop­erty in the her­itage gar­den vil­lage of Mount Wil­son in the Blue Moun­tains, west of Syd­ney. “I was drawn to all the glo­ri­ous gar­dens in the area, and my love for gar­den­ing in­creased.”

John first vis­ited Glen­rock as a Scout in 1954. At the time, the for­mer coal mine, 6km from New­cas­tle’s CBD, was a bar­ren land­scape that was de­void of top­soil and use­ful plants but flour­ish­ing with in­va­sive weeds. Aes­thet­ics aside, John spent many en­joy­able years with his Scout­ing peers, ad­ven­tur­ing, so­cial­is­ing and de­vel­op­ing out­door skills. He gained his Scout Gar­dener badge at 15, then later be­came the dis­trict Scout­mas­ter and a trainer and ex­am­iner of Scouts work­ing to­wards their Ven­turer Scout En­vi­ron­ment badge for the Queen’s Scout Award.

a grow­ing pas­sion

When he fin­ished school, John stud­ied en­vi­ron­ment pro­tec­tion, pest con­trol and wa­ter-borne dis­ease con­trol. At 19, he be­gan a trainee­ship with New­cas­tle City Coun­cil and even­tu­ally be­came Deputy Di­rec­tor of En­vi­ron­men­tal Man­age­ment, be­fore re­tir­ing after 40 years. He was also a TAFE teacher for five years and has writ­ten nu­mer­ous pub­lished ar­ti­cles.

John has de­lib­er­ately broad­ened his hor­ti­cul­tural knowl­edge over the years by sat­u­rat­ing him­self with rel­e­vant pur­suits and ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing vis­it­ing open gar­dens and vol­un­teer­ing with ex­pert or­gan­i­sa­tions such as Land­care Aus­tralia. His pro­fi­ciency, cou­pled with his deep ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the nat­u­ral world, saw him lead the way in re­turn­ing Glen­rock’s de­graded land­scape to flour­ish­ing beauty.

In 1976, to cel­e­brate Earth Week, John joined col­leagues from the New­cas­tle Apex club to con­duct an in­au­gu­ral plant­ing of trees at the site, and so be­gan the slow and steady res­ur­rec­tion of the area where the Awabakal Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple had lived for cen­turies, en­joy­ing an abun­dance of fresh wa­ter and food from the land and ocean.

The 6.2ha prop­erty is sit­u­ated within the Glen­rock State Con­ser­va­tion Area, along­side Glen­rock La­goon. Be­sides the black­berry, bitou bush and lan­tana, John

and the many other vol­un­teers bat­tled strong, salt-laden winds and ero­sion. “I learnt a lot back then from the Forestry Com­mis­sion about se­lect­ing suitable plants for front-line coastal gar­dens,” says John. Also, liv­ing on a clifftop prop­erty at nearby Red­head and mak­ing hol­i­day vis­its to beach­side lo­ca­tions has given John and his wife Pam a deeper un­der­stand­ing of the chal­lenges and so­lu­tions re­lated to coastal gar­den­ing. Banksia and westringia top John’s list of coast-tol­er­ant plants.

na­tive gar­dens

Since 1976, John has ini­ti­ated and over­seen the de­vel­op­ment of 26 gar­dens within Glen­rock, us­ing only na­tive plants, which was un­usual in the 1970s and ’80s.

“The Scout camp sits be­tween a lit­toral rain­for­est and some ex­ten­sive eu­ca­lyp­tus wood­land,” he says. “It was en­vi­ron­men­tally cor­rect to cre­ate na­tive gar­dens that would re­turn wildlife to the camp prop­erty. It is now a cra­dle of life for pos­sums, lizards, birds, but­ter­flies, bees and other in­sects.”

Gar­den bed themes in­clude the Bush Tucker Gar­den, Waste­water Tran­spi­ra­tion Tree Bed, Ero­sion Gar­den (swamp she-oaks that ac­cept brack­ish la­goon wa­ter), Wild Gar­den for Bird Safety (na­tive rasp­ber­ries, spiky vines and sand­pa­per figs), and a much-longed-for Gre­vil­lea Bed.

Stick­ing to the themes and dream­ing of what plants would go in each bed, ac­cord­ing to as­pect, soil and ma­ture plant height, was of­ten eas­ier said than done, as it de­pended on plant do­na­tions. “I was very grate­ful for any­thing we re­ceived,” laughs John. “A favourite mem­ory for me is re­ceiv­ing a call from Charlestown TAFE invit­ing me to col­lect plants that hor­ti­cul­tural stu­dents had prop­a­gated.

I was there with a trailer in record time!”

John and other en­thu­si­as­tic vol­un­teers have planted thou­sands of seedlings dur­ing nu­mer­ous work­ing bees. “Scouts who’ve as­sisted me have con­tacted me years later to re­live their ex­pe­ri­ences and say how much they learnt,” says John.

Bring­ing the prop­erty’s soil back to life to en­sure plants thrived was in­te­gral for the ini­tial suc­cess, and con­tin­ues to­day. “Gar­dens are mulched with ev­ery pos­si­ble veg­e­ta­tion,” says John. “We use worm cast­ings, prun­ings, straw from bil­ly­cart race bar­ri­ers, com­post and grass clip­pings.”

Open ex­panses of lawn at the cen­tre pro­vide am­ple space for Scout­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, while plant­ings of cal­lis­te­mon, melaleuca and calotham­nus, among oth­ers, en­velop the Scout camp ac­com­mo­da­tion cab­ins and other fa­cil­i­ties. “I cher­ish all the plants, but I’m drawn to the Hakea ‘Bur­ren­dong Beauty’ and the weep­ing pit­tospo­rum (Pit­tospo­rum an­gus­ti­folium) that I adored dur­ing my boy­hood,” says John.

John is grate­ful to re­ceive recog­ni­tion from the ex­tended gar­den­ing com­mu­nity of read­ers who voted for him, and is ex­cited to win. “It is an op­por­tu­nity to share the joy of this oc­ca­sion with my vol­un­tary col­leagues at Glen­rock, and use my won­der­ful golden Di­gadoo spade for new plant­ings!” We wouldn’t ex­pect any­thing less, John!

CLOCK­WISE FROM FAR LEFT The swamp oaks John planted help pro­tect the fore­shore of Glen­rock La­goon; many trees have been grown to pro­vide shade for campers; one of the many gre­vil­leas at the site; John makes and paints the plant signs at home, us­ing dis­carded pieces of wood; the Bur­wood Col­liery in op­er­a­tion in 1894 at Glen­rock La­goon.

The Sun­dial of Hu­man In­volve­ment is the re­sult of a be­quest do­na­tion. Two South Aus­tralian sun­dial sci­en­tists, one of whom was a King Scout, built the struc­ture and gave in­stal­la­tion ad­vice. To tell the time, some­one stands on the north-south line, with hands raised, caus­ing a shadow to fall on col­umns that mark each hour.

BELOWe build­ings at Glen­rock Scout Cen­tre are set among thou­sands of na­tive plants planted by John and other Scout vol­un­teers, who also spent time en­rich­ing the soil.

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