The wrought iron gates that separate the Field station from the ornamental Gardens to the west are a lasting and spectacular gift to the University of Melbourne by the Friends of Burnley Gardens. These are based on a design concept suggested by Michele Adler, and illustrate the historic use of the Field Station, formerly known as the Orchard, for trialling fruit trees. The gates were officially opened by Carolyn Blackman on Friday 8th November 2013, and they were named in honour of Michele, in recognition of her wonderful contribution to the Burnley teaching program, and to the Gardens and their Friends.
Opened in 2013 as part of the 150th anniversary of the official Gardens Opening, they are the latest in a series of gates of different styles that have stood more or less in this location since the 1860s. Originally a single-opening, slightly ornate timber affair, then later a plain and functional, double-opening, chain mesh construction, the new entrance gates are now a sculptural piece of garden art.
Stepping back in time
In 1860 the land then known as the Survey Paddock was granted to the Horticultural Society for the trialling of exotic plants for the newly established Colony, on condition that a portion of the land remain open and accessible to the public. It therefore became necessary that a separate area for the proving ground be established, from which the public could be excluded. This fenced portion, at the lower east end of the area (by then re-named Richmond Park), contained numerous edible and ornamental plants, and due to the predominance of fruit trees, became known as The Orchard. A change in land use in the late 1980s from fruit tree production to horticultural research saw the area re-named The Field Station by Senior Lecturer James Hitchmough (though some still refer fondly to it as The Orchard, in memory of its historical use).
Coinciding with this name change, a new teaching facility (Landscape Shed) was constructed along the north-western boundary of the fenced, newly named, Field Station. Landscaping works after the building’s completion resulted in the double chain mesh entrance gates being moved from their original position in line with the western fence line, to a new, indented, alcove position, slightly downhill from their original location.
The original site of the gates is historically significant because of their location at the crossroad of two paths, which were part of the original, rather formal 1860 design by Alfred Lynch. These two straight axes, one the roadway that runs in an east-west direction to the bottom of the Field Station (the former orchard or proving ground) and the other the north-south pathway that runs along the fence of the Field Station, are all that remains of Lynch’s design. (Charles Bogue Luffmann, some thirty years later, altered the rest of Lynch’s design to what essentially exists today. Rather than straight paths or roadways, Luffmann redesigned them to be curved and naturalistic, constructed below the level of the surrounding lawns.)
A conservation Management Analysis undertaken in 2002 by Carmel McPhee, which investigated the heritage significance of the entire Burnley site, recommended that the gates be put back in their original position in line with the western fence line
At the time, the cost of relocation, and the landscaping involved, was felt to be of a lower priority for funding than other projects that the Gardens required. Fortunately, the Friends of Burnley Gardens (FOBG) were able to assist with funding. This came about, in part, because the entrance area to the former Orchard was a component of the historical garden tours undertaken by the FOBG and the need to reposition the gates became part of the tour story.
A new idea takes shape.
Michele Adler, a Burnley lecturer and instigator and author of Burnley Garden tours in the late 1980s, was one of only a few to understand and convey the history of the soon-to-be Heritage-listed Gardens. Michele’s close involvement with the Friends of Burnley Gardens, as a Senior Executive Committee member, among other involvements, and her enthusiasm for creating a legacy for the 150th anniversary celebrations led her to suggest that the Friends donate ornamental gates to the Gardens. She felt that the relocation of the gates provided an ideal opportunity to replace the mundane chain mesh gates with beautiful ornamental gates. This idea was endorsed by the Committee of the FOBG, and planning began.
Given the history of the former Orchard, and the past use in the Gardens of the fruit-tree pruning technique known as espalier, Michele suggested that the gates be made to represent espalier fruit trees. Andrew Smith, the Gardens co-ordinator and University liaison officer for the FOBG, inspired by the gates of English parklands, suggested that the top of the gates curve and rise up to meet in the middle, rather than being square and flat on top.
In March 2011, with the initial concept worked out, several wrought iron gate manufacturers were approached to modify their gate designs to include pieces of fruit. It soon became apparent, however, that what was really needed was a metal worker-artist, rather than a company that could modify driveway gates. A suitable gate manufacturer was found by chance while an FOBG Significant Tree bus tour was passing through Daylesford in April 2011. With most of the FOBG Committee on board, the bus passed the display shop of the Overwrought metal work and design business, and the intricate and original gate designs on show were immediately appealing as being suitable. The bus driver was asked to turn around, and the contact details of David Dawson were taken for later follow up. David was subsequently contacted in June 2011, and asked to travel down to Melbourne to meet with committee members of the FOBG and University staff in August 2011 to discuss the project.
The final design
The design ideas that came out of that initial meeting expanded on the original concept. David was able to accommodate and suggest ideas and solutions to all the creative input of those who attended the meeting. Michele made a sketch of these ideas and David was asked to quote on what was drawn and discussed. As the gate and post designs were unusual, with a high level of creative input needed, the committee agreed that no other companies would be asked to quote. David submitted the price of $10,450 plus GST in November 2011, and the Committee accepted the quote and asked him to proceed. The design sketch and notes from the August meeting were to be later expanded, but essentially were the same as what was finally installed.
The design consisted of two gates, the centre of which, when closed, would represent the trunk of a fruit tree, with each gate having horizontal “branches” bearing fruit that had been grown in the former Orchard. Grapes, apples, peaches and lemons were decided upon as the best representatives of the products of the old Orchard. Glenys Rose, an FOBG Committee member, suggested that the major bird species that frequent the gardens (magpie, rosella and cockatoo) could be shown perched on the espaliered branches.
As the gates were to be viewed from both sides, and to give a more realistic impression, the fruits and birds were designed to be three dimensional in form. David Dawson proposed that, rather than stone, the posts be made of metal, with laser cut-outs of fruit shapes on either side. Andrew put forward the idea of installing up-lights in each post, to enable the laser cut fruit shapes to be highlighted at night. Michele suggested that finials should be placed on top of each gate post, in keeping with Victorian-era gate designs. After discussion of using a fruit such as a pineapple as the finial, Michele suggested a sequoia cone be used. This had great merit, as one of the Significant trees, and some would suggest the signature tree of the Gardens, is the nearby Sequoia sempervirens. This tree, planted in 1861-2, is in direct line with the gates when viewed from the east side.
Additional design details of the grape, apple, peach and lemon leaf and fruit sizes were given to David in February 2012. Progress pictures were sent to the committee in July 2012, and a visit to the Daylesford workshop was arranged to view the gates and posts in August. At this workshop site visit, the finial sequoia cones for the posts were thought to be too open in structure, and David was asked to re-do them.
Installing the new gates
As the original quote didn’t include installation, but only manufacture and delivery, Ben Sibley was approached to install the posts and hang the gates upon completion. Ben had installed the Sugar Gum table setting outside the Herb Garden in late 2012, and his eye for detail and experience with installing large metal objects, (such as the cinema screen at the Abbotsford convent) made him an ideal choice for the gate and post installation. Ben and Andrew Smith travelled up to the Overwrought workshop in Daylesford in December 2012 to assess the suitability of the post and gate construction for installation before delivery to Burnley. Once Ben viewed the posts, he realised that burying them in concrete below ground level wouldn’t enable the gates to be hung and levelled in perfect alignment. He requested that David alter the posts by removing 700 mm from the bottom of each, and replacing it with a metal baseplate for bolt fixing. Ben also asked David to construct reinforcement cages for the concrete footings, with threaded rods that the post baseplates would be bolted onto.
Ben’s revised installation method would enable each post to be pivoted and raised or lowered in different directions on four individual bolts, to ensure that the gates would shut evenly in the middle.
The gates and posts were delivered in January 2012, but they had been slightly damaged prior to powdercoating (a dint in the bottom panel of one gate), which required a site visit by David after their installation. A delay in getting Ben Sibley registered as a University contractor, as well as his other work commitments, meant that the installation wasn’t completed until June 2013. The sums of $3200 for the installation by Ben Sibley, plus approximately $2000 for uplighting for the posts, and $3700 for fencing works to incorporate the new gates into the existing fenceline, were all paid for by the Property and Campus Services Burnley budget.
After the gates were installed, other minor faults were noticed. Gaps were visible from the front and sides when the gates were shut and the cover strip between the gates wasn’t in the right postion to hide them. This was due to the middle, upright metal sections warping during the weilding process. The pad bolt, used to secure one gate while the other could be opened separately, was glued up with paint and wouldn’t slide. There also was no loop to lock the gates, and worse still, the finial sequoia cones still weren’t right. David was very understanding, and as promised, made a site visit to repair the dent, re-weld the cover strip and take away the finials and pad bolt for re-doing.
With the gates installed, the garden beds on either side of the re-instated chain mesh fence were planted up. As the previous orchard pathway bed (prior to its removal for the construction of the new teaching facility in the early 1990s) had a green colour-theme, green flowering plants were chosen for the reinstated bed. The larger bed, on the Field Station side of the gates, was a new creation, as previously it had been the site for brick storage. A purple and orange colour theme was selected for this new bed, and three hooped strap metal balls of different sizes were installed as sculptural climber support elements.
Extensive rock edging work for each of the two new beds was installed either side of each post. These posts were aligned with the edges of the Orchard Gate Lawns on the western side of the gates and the roadway that leads down into the Field Station. The centre of the gates was aligned with the centre of the stone steps between the two lawns and the Significant sequoia behind them.
Tall “jester hat” style metal stands for growing hop vines onto were placed in the bed opposite, and due to the lowering of the fence height in front and to the right of the gates, a new open vista extended into the Field Station.
A grand opening
With the gates installed, and planting in the adjoining beds completed, a date was organised for their official opening. As the gates were to be part of the 150th anniversary celebrations to commemorate the opening of the Gardens in 1863, it was decided to have the opening ceremony near the end of the year, rather than at the Open Day in late July. Andrew Smith approached the FOBG Committee and senior staff at the Campus, proposing that the gates be named in recognition of the outstanding contribution Michele Adler has made to Burnley since 1985, as a lecturer and also as a champion and advocate for the Gardens. This was agreed, and a temporary plaque naming the gates in honour of Michele was made, to be unveiled at the opening.
Invitations were widely sent out, and Carolyn Blackman was asked to officially open the gates. Stefan Arndt, as the Burnley Campus director, was asked to introduce and welcome invited guests.
The evening Opening ceremony was a memorable occasion, with the gates’ manufacturer David Dawson, past and present staff and students, and family and friends of Michele Adler attending.
Shortly after the ceremony took place, senior management at the University contacted the Campus to clarify the University policy on the naming of University assets. Unbeknown to Burnley staff, only the University Council and the Building and Estates Committee are able to agree on and recommend a naming proposal for an outdoor space, building, facility or road. As this approval had not been granted, some of the wording on the gate plaque needed to be changed. Accordingly, the words “naming of the Gates” were altered to read “recognise the outstanding contribution of” and the name of the gates was altered to “Field Station Gates”. Although the gates were not officially named after Michele, her contribution was nevertheless honoured in the alternative wording of the plaque installed in January 2014.
The installation of these splendid gates has deepened and renewed our appreciation of the history and significance of the Burnley Gardens. They have transformed a mundane feature into a beautiful ornament to the Gardens that will be a lasting testimonial to the vision and hard work of their designers and creators, and the generosity of the Friends of Burnley Gardens.