Operator Profile: Springvale Botanical Cemetery

Springvale Botanical Cemetery, Moorespart of Southern Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust in Victoria, runs an outdoor power equipment (OPE) fleet that any small city council would be proud to own. We speak to Horticulture Manager GARY MOORES about his teams’ activities, which are helping to attract non-traditional users to the facility.

Q: (PEA): Southern Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust oversees eight cemeteries in Greater Melbourne – do you service the horticultural needs of all of them?

A: (Gary Moores): The Trust operates Springvale Botanical

Cemetery, Melbourne General Cemetery, Bunurong Memorial Park, Brighton General Cemetery, Cheltenham Pioneer Cemetery, Cheltenham Memorial Park, Dandenong Community Cemetery, and St Kilda Cemetery. From a horticulture management perspective, I manage the three sites at Springvale, Dandenong and Melbourne, with Springvale being the base of operations.

Q: What are the main physical features of Springvale Botanical Cemetery?

A: Our Springvale site covers 422 acres, and is basically made up of memorial gardens, cemetery lawns and monumental areas. For instance, at Springvale we maintain 29,000 roses, representing about 523 varieties. There are specialist areas like Asian gardens, Australian Native gardens, and 19 different water features – in fact we are more than three times the size of Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne!

Q: How many horticulture-based staff work at Springvale, and what are their main roles?

A: We have 48 staff, including myself as manager and two coordinators: one for Arbor and one as Project Coordinator. We have full-time rosarians, arborists, specialist gardeners and maintenance gardeners. In terms of support staff there are two full-time mechanics and two full-time plumbers.

Q: How are staff members’ duties structured?

A: We have refined our practices over time to include plenty of flexibility and create efficiency. Our guys, in effect, look after an average 12 acres each, but their responsibilities and territories are quite wide-ranging. The gardens are really intricate and staff have an understanding of all the zones; they might be working on roses one day and then back on to general maintenance or ride-on mowing the next. With Arbor, we treat it as ‘total tree maintenance’, which involves planting trees through to pruning, general maintenance, right up to maintaining the canopy and removal if need be. We follow the tree all through its life.

We have four teams who look after about one quarter of the cemetery each; they might have Memorial gardens, they could have Monumental… there is variety across each of the four parts. Each staff member has a home base, so they would call that team their home base, whether it is arbor maintenance, soft landscaping or hard landscaping. They might come out with a crew for a week or two weeks at a time and then go back to their original team.

We do have people who specialise – some have different machinery licences, some people prefer Arbor, so we cater to their strengths.

Then, there are some tasks that just about everyone does – for example brushcutting! Every piece of lawn is mown and beds manicured at least every week to 10 days.

Q: That’s a huge amount of work – what equipment do you use?

A: We have 10 different ride-on mowers, with models like the Kubota BX2660 and the Kubota GZD15. We have a couple of Gianni Ferrari catcher mowers (see photo page XX), which catch grass and the leaves in premium areas. And one of the mowers we use for intricate areas is the Ferris. For our smaller handheld equipment we use STIHL chainsaws, brushcutters and hedge trimmers. We also have Atom edgers – we have tried others over the years like Bushranger and Alroh, but have settled on Atom. We have Honda catcher mowers and mulchers. Some of our turf equipment is a bit more specialised – we have a Ryan turf cutter or Turf Tec scarifiers. As for some of our bigger equipment for project work, we have John Holland and Iseki tractors, as well as a small fleet of Kubota buggies, John Deere Gator, and we also have Kubota RTVs.

We use Silvan sprayers, and the Arbor guys use Vermeer chippers.

Gianni F

Q: Is your power equipment fleet fairly static, or do you like to experiment with new gear?

A: We are pretty flexible – some pieces of equipment work really well. Still, we are always interested in different types of equipment. We go to field days and we certainly have visits from company reps. Edgers would be a classic example – we used to use the four-wheel push edgers like the Alroh, and then new people joined us and suggested we use the Atom edger – we had a trial for a couple of days on-site; the staff used it and gave us a report back on it, and at the end of the day we got a fleet of eight or 10 of them.

We need equipment that’s heavy duty enough to go for five hours or more at a stretch. With ride-ons we have to take note of vibration and noise levels and overall configuration. If a model changes we might get several different models in and trial them and find the most suitable for us.

Q: Many visitors to cemeteries appreciate peace and serenity. Are you under pressure to reduce noise?

A: It’s an interesting question because we’re here for the general public – it is a beautiful place where people come for quiet reflection. So around the peak areas like Administration and the Chapels, we’ll get in really early and then move on, and that way we won’t be disturbing services. In the grounds, we keep an eye out for the public – if there happens to be a service we’ll turn the machine off and walk away and head to a different area and keep aware of scheduled burials. We’d rather be seen and not heard. And when the family has finished – which might be five minutes or two hours, we’ll come back and continue the work after that.

Q: In 2013 Springvale Botanical Cemetery won the American Cemeteries Excellence Award – was this accolade for grounds management only?

A: That was part of it, but the international award was primarily about our policy of regarding cemeteries as multi-purpose community assets – places for all. We see the Trust’s cemeteries as being expansive green spaces of gardens and places that anyone can visit for quiet relaxation and reflection. In the mid-19th Century, it’s interesting that the Victorian era residents of Melbourne viewed the (then new) Melbourne General Cemetery as a place where people could go on a Sunday afternoon to promenade and socialize. We got out of that way of thinking with WWI, the Great Depression, WWII, and the huge loss of lives associated with these events. As a not-for-profit government organization, SMCT is intent on demystifying cemeteries and that means encouraging people to visit cemeteries and to enjoy the recreational community facilities available. So it’s the expansive gardens, the proximity, café, children’s play areas – it’s about changing the way people regard cemeteries.

Q: Training is important for all users of OPE. Do you have any formal ties with local colleges or TAFEs?

A: We have a close working relationship with Holmesglen TAFE. We’ve worked with them for 10-15 years. All our apprentices go through Holmesglen. Also, a lot of our garden labourers who have years and years of experience in gardens and garden maintenance and landscaping, but who have no formal qualification, now have access to a Certificate III in Horticulture that we have tailor-made with Holmesglen.