One year in a growth industry

Royal Botanic Gardens in Cranbourne.
Royal Botanic Gardens in Cranbourne.
Flinders garden Musk Cottage.

Flinders garden Musk Cottage.

ANNIVERSARIES have been celebrated and fungal diseases tackled. Gardens have been opened, festivals launched and the death of a great gardening patron mourned. It's been a busy year in the garden …

The centenary in June of William Guilfoyle's death prompted a run of lectures and garden tours examining the life and work of the great landscape designer and botanist. Guilfoyle, who had a great eye and a supreme plant knowledge, was 32 and enthralled by the tropical wonders of the South Sea Islands when in 1873 he replaced Ferdinand von Mueller as director of Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens. Not only did he redesign the gardens (think four new lawns, a fern gully, lake, reservoir, garden beds and rockeries) but he worked his way through a host of private gardens and other public gardens as well.

No contemporary discussion of his work would have been complete without some heated debate about how his landscapes are cared for today and whether it is possible, or even desirable, to hold them exactly as they were. But we also got lectures about the many different aspects of Guilfoyle's career, including his role as the hands-on gardener prepared to undertake the hard labour himself if it meant getting something to look just how he wanted it.

Of all the things being said of Victoria's desalination plant, the most positive is its green roof - all 26,000 square metres of it. Somerville company Fytogreen put in place the biggest green roof in the southern hemisphere, with a 15-centimetre-thick substrate on which 105,000 indigenous plants help increase biodiversity, retain water, muffle noise, and provide corrosion resistance and thermal control. The prize for the biggest green roof in the world, though, still goes to Chicago's eight-year-old Millennium Park, which at 99,127 square metres boasts serpentine paths, bridges, pavilions, exhibition spaces and more than a hectare of native plants.

Victoria has struggled with myrtle rust, and the Department of Primary Industries found in June that the fungal disease of the Myrtaceae family was too widespread to warrant continuing restrictions on the importation of myrtle rust host materials into Victoria. In Britain, ash dieback is having a more deadly impact. The fungus Chalara fraxinea, which has claimed 90 per cent of Denmark's ashes and devastated other ash tree populations around Europe, was discovered in Buckinghamshire in February and has now been found at more than 290 sites throughout Britain. A government policy of destroying infected trees has seen more than 100,000 specimens removed.

Twenty years in the planning, the Royal Botanic Gardens in Cranbourne were fully signed, sealed and opened to the public in October. What we got when the first stage opened in 2006 has turned out to be just a taster for what was to come. Landscape architects Taylor Cullity Lethlean and plant designer Paul Thompson whip the visitor from rainforest to desert to beach to estuary. Their flights of fancy over land previously used for a military reserve, sand mining and grazing show how Australian plants can be played with as surely as the exotics in any other botanic garden.

When Dame Elisabeth Murdoch died at the age of 103 in December, it was as a gardener as well as a philanthropist that she was remembered. Her involvement in gardening extended far beyond the boundaries of Cruden Farm, the much-loved Langwarrin garden she began developing in the 1930s and frequently opened to the public right until the months before she died. In 1980, Murdoch - a great giver of cuttings and much else besides - was one of the founders of the Australian Garden History Society and became its inaugural chair; she was also a supporter of Open Gardens Australia, and in 2002 had a rose named after her.

While London's Chelsea Flower Show turns 100 in 2013, this year saw the first incarnation of the Chelsea Fringe. The brainchild of English gardening and landscape design writer Tim Richardson, the event highlighted how gardening has spilled out of the private backyards and into potholes on footpaths and beer cans towed by bicycles. A mediaeval herb garden was planted outside a bookshop and a lavender field grown atop a road. Australian-born, London-based master of the pimped pavement Steve Wheen was one of the headline acts with his witty and whimsical vignettes in gaps in the bitumen. It got neither funding nor sponsorship but Richardson is back for more and has put out a call for entries for 2013.

While the wildflower meadows (all five football ovals' worth of them) sown in London's Olympic Park were devised to be in full bloom for the July games, they will live on as a reminder of the sort of naturalistic plantings we might try elsewhere. Adaptations would have to be made for a similarly wispy, leisurely expanse in Australia, though there is always the risk that plants that thrive in such a setting might become environmental weeds. London Olympic Park designers Nigel Dunnett and James Hitchmough spent two years perfecting their flower and grass mix for London; Dunnett has since said visitors to the meadow tend to become ''much less satisfied with what they generally see around them''. The park will reopen as a permanent outdoor space in the English summer.

Every year, 275,000 people visit open gardens to watch what other gardeners do, get ideas for their own yards and generally while away whole slabs of the weekend. Open Gardens Australia, established as Victoria's Open Garden Scheme in 1987, gradually spread around Australia, becoming a national scheme in 2000 and celebrating its 25th anniversary in August. The openings recommence on the weekend of January 5-6 with gardens in Portsea and Sorrento. On Saturday, January 26, the Twilight Gardens event will include Musk Cottage, a Flinders garden designed by Rick Eckersley. See for details.

This story One year in a growth industry first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.