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Source: ABC radio archives.

In a short talk on landscape gardening the best thing one can do, perhaps, is to try and tell you how to acquire something of the gentle art of garden making. In Melbourne we are fortunate in the possession of Botanic Gardens of unusual beauty of design, due to the fact that one, at least, of the Curators was a Landscape Gardener of more than ordinary gifts. This was Mr. W.R. Guilfoyle, and our good fortune in having Mr. Guilfoyle as a successor to that great botanist Baron Von Mueller is a thing we should never lose sight of - for here in the Botanic Gardens he has left behind an example of landscape gardening of very great beauty. Here you may see the way he has moulded the earth's surface so that the lawn sweeps softly up to tree and shrub groups, and rolls easily down to the surface of the lake. You may see how he formed grassy glades by massing his shrubs and trees, and how beautifully the long sweeping curves of the pathways flow around the grounds.

One of the most pleasing things to note about the Botanic Gardens is the undulation of the lawns. This sculpturing of the earth's surface is of first importance in landscape gardening and it is no use beginning your planting schemes until this has been quite satisfactorily achieved. So often one hears "We've had the ground graded and are all ready to lay out the garden now". And so often this grading means that all the interesting hills and depressions have been levelled off to a perfect and uninteresting plane, either flat or tilted; any hope of making the most of existing irregularities of the topography vanishing in the process. It is true that existing undulations are not often to be found on small suburban allotments but even here some irregularity of the surface may be sufficient to inspire an idea that will give character to the garden if it is developed, instead of eliminated.

For this reason it is wise to take time to study the ground carefully before allowing anyone to come in and tear it about, and to view any unusualness of the surface as a possible blessing. Sometimes it is even advisable to retain the material from the excavation of foundations and so on, rather than cart it away at some considerable cost. This material may be used to raise the ground in which trees and shrubs will be planted to form a glade, or conceal some unwanted scene. When the lawn is softly graded up to such a mound the result is generally more pleasing than a perfectly flat surface. It also provides you with hot and cool positions for various species, since one side of the bank will be in full sun and the other in the shade. The advantage of having both sunny and shady conditions for plants is known to all true gardeners, and anything that helps to provide shelter - either with mounds, with low walls, with a large boulder or two, or with trees and shrubs will make the garden a much nicer place to work in, and certainly a much more restful place in which to relax.

In the beginning I referred to our good fortune in Mr. Guilfoyle's design of the Botanic Gardens for the reason that though these gardens are so extensive, the same principles of landscape gardening apply to the smallest suburban garden. It is merely a matter of scale. In a very large garden you use big trees, small trees, large shrubs and low-growing shrubs for covering the ground. In a small garden you use small trees, low-growing shrubs, and very few large shrubs, and perhaps one big tree for shade. Large shrubs absorb more space than trees and are mostly too bulky for small gardens, except against the boundary fences for background work, and for concealing unsightly views and objects. In the small landscape garden the chief requirements are plenty of flowering trees, and a permanent ground cover consisting of low-growing shrubs, creeping plants, and lawn. This is the sort of garden that people who like to sit in their gardens sometimes will need. Those who enjoy flower gardening and the exercise of their wits in combating various diseases and pests will be reluctant to give space and nourishment to tree and shrub roots. To try and combine flower gardening and landscape gardening in a small garden is not very successful, but many who would love a landscape garden possess a flower garden against their natural inclination in the belief that it is the only thing to have in a small space, and yet a tree, a boulder, a little pool, turf and some low-growing plants are the components of a landscape garden.


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