When I visited Camden Park a few weeks ago, the birds were in full song, the yellow banksia rose was starting to bloom and the wisteria was turning into fat fluffy tails. When the house and garden open for the first time in three years this weekend, wisteria will flounce lace lilac along the base of the stone terrace behind the house, butterfly hippeastrum will bloom in the Bush and ixias will star on the slopes of Blarney.
Camden Park was the internationally renowned garden of colonial planter and gardener William MacArthur, son of John and Elizabeth. The estate remained in the family; the current owners are Edwina and John Macarthur-Stanham. Although John says, “you really have no such property; you are his guards for a while.” This philosophy has preserved many of the estate’s treasures indoors and outdoors.
Some of the most historically significant plants in Australia grow here. The small-leaved bauhinia lying under the jacaranda was grown from seed collected by Ludwig Leichhardt, a great friend of William Macarthur. Nearby is the first camellia grown in Australia, matching the warat-like flowers. There’s a bunch of Chilean vine, a super slow-growing date palm that’s nearly extinct in Chile, but has been propagated here in Camden Park and planted at the National Arboretum in Canberra. And that tree may be the oldest wild macadamia in Australia, a relict from a population decimated by Brisbane expansion and genetically distinct from cultivated macadamias.
Labor was cheap when these trees were planted, but a century and a half later, that’s no longer the case, so the volunteers who work at the Camden Park garden are vital to its maintenance. A team of about 20 volunteers and head gardener Trish Restante work hard to determine what everyone likes and dislikes — weeding, raking, pruning, changing mulch, fixing irrigation — and offers tasks and video tutorials accordingly.
For more than a decade, volunteers have contributed greatly to the garden and its history. The huge boilers that William Macarthur installed to heat his orchid houses in the 1850s have been uncovered under decades of garden waste; Recently, the history of excavated wine vessels associated with the beginnings of Australia’s wine industry has been explored and neglected garden beds brought back to vibrant life.
The benefits go both ways as volunteers talk about the joy of birdsong and the peace of the garden, the satisfaction of the work completed, the fun of teamwork and the sense of achievement in preserving part of our colonial heritage. Plants grown by volunteers from the gardens will be on sale over the weekend alongside some Camden park related crafts. There will be tours of the house as well as tours of the gardens by horticultural experts with lots of stories about the extraordinary treasures that grow here. Doors open at 10am.
Details at camdenparkhouse.com.au
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