Down in the garden
In this special gardening feature, IRT Maintenance Gardener, Brian Wardhaugh, reflects on gardening in 1969.
“In 1969 I was a ten-year-old growing up on the Cumberland plains of Sydney. My parents had moved from the coast to buy a home of their own and raise a family.
New houses of brick, fibro and tile were popping up on what were previously dairy farms and remnant spotted gum and grey box forests. The graders had stripped the topsoil and the clay substrate left would prove a challenging environment to garden in.
With money tight and families often large, a beautiful garden was a luxury but many residents were aspirational and resourceful.
The first trees went in, with jacarandas, liquidambars, flowering plums, golden cypress and eucalyptus being popular. Plants had to be hardy to survive the winter frost and the long hot summers, and the lawn became the garden’s crowning jewel. Our kikuyu lawn was grown from runners and sods, and provided an important place for play and entertaining.
In winter it went brown from the frost but by summer the Victa battled hard to tame its growth, with children jumping through sprinklers a common sight.
Azaleas, roses and camellias were desirable, as were dwarf conifers, with agapanthus and clivia being tough and easily shared between neighbours. In fact anything that could be divided or taken as a cutting was sought after, so ribbon grass, Swedish ivy, impatiens, succulents, geraniums and fishbone fern soon ran rampant. The oleander was the classic ‘60s plant, a mainstay in the shrub border. Tough yet heavily flowering in the summer months, which was to fall out of favour due to its toxic sap.
On one side our Italian neighbours grew grapevines, and vegetables and roses in neat concrete squares. On the other side a mulberry tree dominated the backyard, with a chicken coop under its branches. Mulberry pie with fresh whipped cream became a summer favourite, after the flying foxes and birds had their fill. The backyard lemon was a staple, along with the navel orange and veggie gardens.
In 1969 the plant that piqued my interest in gardening was introduced to Australian nurseries. With its compact shape, fern-like foliage and year-round flowers, grevillea Robyn Gordon was the hybrid native plant that could fit proudly in the garden and helped start the native plant craze of the ‘70s. It was also the era of bush rock glued together with black oxide and cement, the cocos palm and pampas grass. But that’s for another story.”