steals the show
Victoria State Rose Garden, located in Melbourne’s southwestern suburbs, is a hub for rose lovers from all over the world. John Power examines the management and maintenance practices underpinning this much-admired horticultural asset.
OPERATOR: Victoria State Rose Garden
REPRESENTATIVE: Adam Smith, Parks Victoria, Senior Horticulturist and Team Leader for Werribee Park
LOCATION: Melbourne, Victoria
Since its creation in the early 1980s, Victoria State Rose Garden (VSRG) has blossomed into a world-class garden featuring approximately 5,000 roses – and the number is growing all the time.
The garden attracts some 450,000 visitors throughout the year, and is part of the publicly owned ‘Werribee Park’ precinct, which comprises the historic Werribee Mansion, a Sculpture Walk, a Farm and Community Garden, as well as other attractions such as a café and restaurant.
Parks Victoria is responsible for the land management of Werribee Park; however, volunteers make fundamental contributions to the day-to-day care of both cultural and natural assets. Nowhere is this contribution more evident than in the VSRG, where volunteers’ expertise and labour are indispensable.
“The volunteers are involved primarily with pruning, dead heading and other plant cultivation,” Werribee Park’s Senior Horticulturalist and Team Leader, Adam Smith said.
“Parks Victoria staff perform mowing and edging tasks around the gardens, and help the volunteers during pruning season.”
The public-private cooperation on display at Werribee Park is a model for specialised land management, as the sheer scale and sophistication of the garden demand both government-funded and community-based inputs: nowadays there are nearly 100 volunteers, who, as members of the VSRG Supporters Group, assist a team of five Parks Victoria grounds management staff to keep the garden operational.
Fortunately, Mr Smith stressed, “there are no conflicts between rose garden supporters and Parks Victoria staff – the former are amazing in their dedication and ability to get the job done!”
A walk through the garden reveals different varietal plant zones, with peak summertime blooms almost overwhelming the senses. However, from a maintenance perspective, it is what happens at ground level that preoccupies groundskeeping staff. With 8ha (just over 20ac) of lawns and beds to maintain, staff are constantly at work tending to thousands of linear metres of edges defining pathways and beds throughout the property.
“Mechanical edgers have been a huge saving in terms of labour and time,” Mr Smith said. “We always use them.”
Principal items of equipment include Honda-powered Atom edgers, as well as smaller handheld Kawasaki edgers for more intricate applications. Borders are delineated by expertly lain clay bricks, which help prevent unwanted turf infiltration into the rose beds and paths, and also facilitate a clean edging finish. Clippings are given short shrift with STIHL blowers.
The turf itself is mainly Kikuyu, which is incredibly drought-tolerant under the prevailing conditions – Kikuyu is one of the few turf varieties capable of withstanding the high levels of pedestrian traffic and direct sunlight experienced at the garden.
The hardiness of Kikuyu calls for solid mowing equipment. Parks Victoria staff and their contractors use a variety of ride-on mowers (primarily Toro equipment) to keep the expansive lawns well manicured, mindful that the lawns are popular with picnickers and family groups. As might be expected, hedgers and sprayers are in continual use throughout the year, while a range of Kubota tractors are used for heavy-duty lifting and haulage tasks.
Despite the renowned toughness of most rose species, the plants still require significant mulching and feeding treatments. These procedures are enhanced with an on-site green waste-recycling program.
“Part of our Werribee Park depot is devoted to composting all materials removed from the gardens,” Mr Smith explained. “Rose prunings, for instance, and other more solid materials are mulched once a year using a tub grinder.”
Mulch not only preserves soil moisture, but also plays an important role in inhibiting weed growth. According to Mr Smith, weeds including mixed perennials and Galenia are tackled through a combination of hand weeding, pre-summer mulching, and spraying.
Like many public outdoor facilities with high visitor numbers, garden maintenance is a balancing act between the needs of the garden and the interests of guests. As an ornamental garden, VSRG is a place of repose and contemplation for many visitors, so noisy, fume-emitting outdoor power equipment is unwelcome.
According to Mr Smith, the grounds management team has two strategies to solve these kinds of practical dilemmas: conduct as much work as possible before 10am, thereby causing as little inconvenience as possible to patrons; and increase the use of battery-powered devices.
“Parks Victoria is switching over to battery operated equipment over time – not only to minimise noise, but also to reduce machinery weight,” Mr Smith said. “Battery-operated pruning saws and hedgers are currently a priority.”
BEHIND THE SCENES
The grounds management team is performing well with its present line-up of equipment, though Mr Smith said he and his team are always open-minded as far as acquisitions are concerned.
“We do not stick with the same brands,” he insisted. “Our mantra is to go for what has the best suitability, quality, and is available most cost-effectively.”
This approach allows for the ready adoption of innovative equipment, and also maximises productivity.
Acquisitions are formalised within an operating budget that provides for both leased and purchased equipment, which is serviced in-house as far as possible. External servicing takes place as required.
Also, when new staff are engaged, or if new items of equipment are adopted into the fleet, there are strict training protocols to make sure safety is maintained.
“All of our staff are trained on each piece of equipment and will have accreditation for machinery like chainsaws, etc.,” Mr Smith said. “Most training is done in house.”
Gardens like VSRG are rare worldwide because of their reliance on both volunteers and state-funded grounds management professionals. Such arrangements often involve challenges and hurdles along the way – and VSRG has had its fair share – but the result is a mature institution serviced by a contingent of dedicated workers, all of whom deserve recognition for the garden’s growing reputation.