Botanic garden's future lies in its past

THERE’S a quiet green revolution under way at Warrnambool’s Botanic Gardens to bring back sweeping features of  the original design implemented 140 years ago.

In what some regard as the biggest transformation in decades gardens curator John Sheely and his team are removing plants regarded as not appropriate for the original theme.

His work enacts some of the key recommendations of a major masterplan undertaken in 1995 which criticised the way the eight-hectare reserve had been allowed to grow into what was more a municipal park than a proper botanical garden.

Early emphasis on  evergreen, tropical and coniferous plantings themes gave way to deciduous material. Shrub bed diversity was also lost.

“Guilfoyle’s design was sweeping paths and lawns, larges shrub beds and vistas,” Mr Sheely told The Standard.

“We’ve been renovating beds to get rid of unnecessary plants and replacing them with appropriate types.

“We are certainly focused on bringing them up to botanic gardens standard.”

The masterplan noted that under several previous curators the theme had strayed off course and the essential purpose of a botanic garden was blurred.

According to Friends of the Garden secretary Mandy King expert advice has been sought widely, including Heritage Victoria on how to restore the standards set by original curator Charles Scoborio and landscape designer William Guilfoyle, who was director of  Melbourne Botanic Gardens.

Warrnambool was Guilfoyle’s first foray into regional Victoria and is regarded as one of this masterpieces.

Scoborio used considerable horticultural skills to implement the plan over two decades until the gardens were gazetted in 1897 when the emphasis changed to nurturing.

“They’ve lost their botanic structure,” Ms King said.

“John is working to restore the botanic integrity. He’s guided by the masterplan and interprets it accordingly.

“It is being updated to reflect today’s planning guidelines.

“It’s probably the biggest makeover in generations. The beds haven’t had a major change for a long time.

“We are tying to take it back to Guilfoyle’s early idea of having a broad spectrum of plants and trees.”

According to the masterplan consultant Guilfoyle’s  desire was that “at every step the visitor should see something to remind him that he was not only in a landscape, but also a botanic garden”. 

“While a park might reflect the municipal authority’s response to public desire for flowerbeds, Guilfoyle at least was very clear on their role  — flower gardening in such an extensive place should be concentrated in certain spot,” the masterplan states.

 Mr Sheely said the transformation included replanting heritage trees and maintaining existing trees, particularly two veterans which are 130 years old.

Cypress perimeter hedges will be trimmed and more shade-tolerant plants introduced.

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