Graduate of the Month

Burnley Graduate Profile No. 12 November 2021: Rob Boyle

Years at Burnley
1967 – 1970, including 6 months industry experience completed alone doing garden design & construction

Course Studied
Diploma of Horticultural Science

Favourite Subject
If I recall correctly, there were some years where we studied up to 25 subjects. This variety of subjects presented to us opened our eyes to the diversity and the immensity of the horticultural industry and the wonderful opportunities we had available to us for a lifetime of creative, meaningful and fruitful work.

Also, the unique combination of time in the classroom and then days of practical work in the various departments of the college was the most wonderful environment for learning and preparation for the work place.

In hindsight, I don’t think there was one particular subject that we studied that was my favourite, but rather, over the years I have appreciated that every subject studied and every day of practical work gave me the foundations, the confidence and the skills to undertake any project offered to me and my team over all of these years.

And now, 51 years later, I am very grateful for the 3 wonderful years at Burnley where I had the privilege of learning from, being inspired by and encouraged to enquire from teachers who were enthusiastic about their chosen career and cheerfully imparted their knowledge and skills, all in an exceptional garden with great facilities for creative learning.

Favourite Plant
It is with great fondness that I remember our very first plant identification class with Bill Nicholls.  He would gather plant specimens from the gardens and lay them out on the tables for us to identify and to learn.  I recall going home that night and proudly reciting my first botanical name in Latin to my mother – Rosmarinus officinalis – which opened a whole new world to me.

Five decades on I still get excited by the enormous diversity of plant species, their origins, their individual qualities, their myriad of uses and I feel as though I have only scratched the surface. I am in awe of the limitless possibilities of species that we have been given to bring health and healing, to add richness and joy to our lives and to give us beauty in abundance.

Perhaps one of the most fulfilling things to do is to prepare the ground of a barren site, to plant the site and then wait for the plants to transform it into a place of beauty. This is not only fulfilling, but a privilege to be part of the process of creation.

I decided to go to Burnley because
As a teenager I was very interested in farming and I regularly read the Weekly Times, imagined that I might study Agricultural Science or attend Dookie or Longernong and I always looked forward to visits to my uncle’s farm in the Mallee where my mother Betty grew up. It was my father Jim who made the suggestion that I consider Burnley and took me along to visit the College whilst I was in 4th form. We met Tom Kneen that day and Tom suggested I complete 5th form and apply for the first intake of students for the new Horticultural Science course to commence in 1967.

My mother and father were both passionate gardeners and as I child I would regularly help with all the garden work. When we moved home during my teen years, I helped Dad build the new garden (designed by Olive Mellor from Home Beautiful).  Our home was always filled with fresh flowers and foliage and most meals had something from the garden.  I reckoned mum always arranged the most beautiful flowers for the church at Heidelberg, with flowers and foliage from the garden, while Dad ran the Boy’s Club.

Invariably conversations around the meal table were about what was flowering, what to plant or what was ready to harvest and preserve in the Fowler’s outfit. Dad’s great love was Camellias and for many years we all got involved in getting blooms ready for the annual Camellia show.  I’m not sure how many prizes we won, but the whole process and event were a wonderful time for all the family. Another family activity was to head up to the Dandenong Ranges for a picnic in the National Park, visits to all of the hill nurseries and walks in the forest looking for lyre birds.

I am in no doubt that it was my parents’ great love, appreciation and respect for the natural world that nurtured my love for the natural world and to understand our responsibility to cherish and care for the amazing creation in whatever way we can.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson said “… leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition ..”, his words remind me of some of the values my parents lived by and passed on.

Whilst at Burnley I still had the dream to be a farmer, and so most of the term holidays were spent on the Mallee farm working with my Uncle Stan. These working holidays were the most wonderful times of learning about the land, soil, the seasons, sowing and reaping, the importance of hard work, the right time to do things to see a harvest, working with others to get the job done and making the most of machinery to make the job a lot easier.  Whilst I treasured my times with my uncle, aunty and cousins, I came to understand that the loneliness and isolation of the life of a farmer didn’t really suit this city kid.

Apart from my parents, my siblings and my extended family, I have been immensely privileged along the way to have had many people who have encouraged me, inspired and motivated me, supported me and given me wonderful opportunities to make another garden.

Since I graduated from Burnley, I have
At the completion of our 3 years full time at Burnley we were required to undertake 6 months of a work placement before we were able to graduate. I had been invited to design and build a few gardens when I finished up at Burnley and so I sought Eric Littlejohn’s approval to consider these gardens as my industry experience.  Permission was granted and George Grumont inspected all of the works and assessed my plans, documentation and written reports of the projects at the end of the 6 months.

So, I effectively started making gardens in January 1970, when I was 20 years old, and I am doing the same thing 51 years later. I have only ever been self employed, although I see every new client as an employer who gives you another opportunity to provide a service and to be creative.

It wasn’t long before I needed help with all of the work so I called Ken Elliott who had left Burnley to help Percy Moore with the new trade school at Oakleigh.  Ken said he had a very talented landscape apprentice in his classes and suggested I talk to Gary Sullivan.  And so we met and Gary started with me in 1970 and stayed for 36 years and was responsible for training several generations of skilled landscape tradesmen.  Gary also helped Ian Winston at Burnley with some of his classes in landscape construction. For most of the years I have endeavoured to have apprentices or trainees as a necessary part of our teams.  I have lost count of the number of apprentices, most finished their training and many went on to start their own landscape design and construction business. Apart from the tradesmen and apprentices, I have had a variety of graduates from Burnley, RMIT and Melbourne University Landscape Architecture and other disciplines that have worked with me to get the job done whether in the office or on site.

Not long after finishing at Burnley, Olive Mellor called and invited me to take over her work as Home Beautiful’s garden designer. This was a national garden planning service which I ran for 15 years and gave me the opportunity to learn suitable plants for the various climates and landscapes of Australia.

Towards the end of 1972, after 2 years of running my small design and construction business, I was questioning my sense of vocation. I had only one potential job left on the drawing board and I decided that, if this job was approved, that I would continue with the work and would not need to advertise.  The design and the budget was approved by the client and so most of our work over the years has come by way of referrals and has ranged from Federal, State and local government works, schools and universities, cemeteries, public parks and gardens, large country gardens to small city gardens and roof top gardens, factories, wineries, land rehabilitation and quarries.

There has always been a mix of garden styles from the natural garden through to formal manicured gardens. A number of factors influence the style including the client’s taste, architecture, climate and site variables, soils, budget, neighbourhood character, maintenance, the local landscape and sometimes even fashion.

Perhaps the greatest joy and privilege along the way has been the people we have met and worked for, the various team members, contractors and our suppliers who all contribute an essential part to the many parts required to making a garden.


Burnley Graduate Profile No. 11 October 2021: John Fitzgibbon


Years at Burnley: 1990-1994

Course studied: Bachelor of Applied Science Horticulture

Favourite subject: Plant Materials

Favourite plant: Geijera parvifolia (Australian Willow, Wilga)



I decided to go to Burnley because:
My father Ray was born and raised in the Western District in Koroit and Port Fairy, part of a large Roman Catholic family of 15 children, of which Ray was the eighth.  Ray had a 30-year career in Australia Post (originally PMG) where he attained the position of relieving Postmaster for many Gippsland towns.  In 1980, at the late age of 48, he decided he wanted a more outdoor existence and to work more with plants. He began growing cut flowers and operating a landscaping business in the Latrobe Valley. I fondly recall the days Dad and I would tend the roses, carnations and gladioli on our five-acre block located on Old Maffra Rd, Tyers.  I guess this is where I found the love of plants and the outdoors and a horticultural life was where I wanted to be.  I enrolled in 1989 at the University of Melbourne, studying applied science, but it just wasn’t the right fit.  I then enrolled in the BASH at Burnley in 1990 at 19 years of age, thinking I wanted to become a Landscape Architect, with Burnley as a prelude to Landscape Architecture at RMIT.  It soon became apparent to me that the growing and landscaping of plants was my path. I was soon to find it in the advanced tree industry.

John’s favourite plant: Geijera parviflora

Since I graduated from Burnley I have:
During and after Burnley, I worked for the Lawton family, who owned and operated Ronneby Tree Farm. This company in its heyday was cutting edge, with industry containerisation, using SpringRing™ (which, when improved, became RocketPots™), and provided many other field grown Root Control Bag and Ball and Burlap trees nationally. I moved from production horticulture and working with the trees into a sales support role under Tony Lizza (now Arbornet). Tony taught me a lot about the sales process, about many of the plants and about managing clients. It was a great experience working at Ronneby, I guess it provided me with a strong understanding of the tree industry.

With both parents running successful small businesses (mother Marge ran a very successful hairdressing business), it was natural for me to start my own business.  I have now been Owner /Managing Director of Metro Trees since 1998.

Metro Trees was located in the heart of Melbourne in Alphington, with a one-hectare site and now we are located in Silvan on an 8-hectare site, the reasoning behind this being  water security, location to Greater Melbourne and affordability.  We accommodate approximately 25,000 trees in 20, 35, 50 and 90L anti-spiral containers.  Lecturer James Will provided consultancy in the early period, with his horticultural writing skills and tree knowledge.  My father was also instrumental in aiding the Metro Trees start up, donating many hours of his own time when funds were limited.

Metro Trees’ markets have always been primarily local government and the commercial landscape industry, as they have a major role in new tree planting in our cities. Since the late 1960s it has been well established that the tree production environment has profound effects on the quality of woody nursery stock, and this is mirrored in my philosophy of tree growing, with much time spent on tree pruning of both roots and the shoot system.  The tree industry has changed dramatically over the last 25 years since I was at Ronneby. Where field grown ball and burlap 100L trees were once the norm in the marketplace for councils and developers, from the 1980s through to the mid-1990s, 35L containerised trees have now overtaken this sector as the predominant industry size, with pricing and OH&S issues instrumental in the change.

To complement this, where the requirements of a species dictate, Metro Trees are firm believers in using containers that have been designed to help minimise some of the common faults that are still found in container-grown trees, and to help optimise root quality. This approach adds to their production costs, but we stand by our reasoning, believing that there is no substitute for this extra attention in the nursery.

My time at Burnley was up there with some of the finest times in my life. At this time, Burnley was like a horticultural High School where you were in a group of 40 students ranging in age from 18 – 40 and you knew most of your lecturers well and on a first name basis. I simply fell in love with the place, and the following four years were a memorable and exciting time.  I had found an industry and nursery technical environment where I simply wanted to be; it still feels like home.  Ah the memories of the Burnley times are so important to me and flood back in. So many great characters among the lecturers and students.  John (Cecil) Delpratt  and Ross Hall doing their best Roy and HG repertoire in our plant propagation classes.  I remember a Plant Materials lecturer teaching aquatic plants where he would put duck waders on and present from chest deep in the Burnley Gardens Pond. Quite extraordinary.

I remember Dr Peter May and his dulcet calming tones like tree leaves rustling in the wind, and Aunty Rosemary McConnell in the library. Always a smile and a discussion to be had. Memorably she had the ability to walk a disruptive student or even lecturer out of the library like a well-oiled pub bouncer.  I salute your skills Rosemary.

There were certainly many more fascinating individuals than just listed above.  I feel a kinship with Burnley as I feel with my greater Fitzgibbon family. Enough for now and when the time is right would like to talk all things climate shift, climate ready tree selection and a future advanced tree industry state.

Burnley Graduate Profile No. 10 September 2021: Lisa Stafford

Years at Burnley: 1980, 1982-3 Dip App Sci (Hort) (Deferment 1981) 1987-88 Ba App Sci (Hort)

Course studied: Majoring in Amenity Horticulture

Favourite subject:
Tricky choice – maybe Plant I.D., Botany, Soil Science, Floristry (for a bludge, it was hard though – remember those red-hot pokers, chryssies & gladdies? Urghh) but most definitely,  Landscape Design. The veggie plots were a stand-out. So were the Sojourns! Many nick-names birthed on those trips. Great lecturers – Greg (Botany), Peter (Soil), James (Parks), John (Gardens), Ian (Nursery), Geoff C. (Irrigation), Nick (Stats), Geoff O (Flowers).

Favourite plant:
Easier to select the worst. Golden diosma? It’s all about context. Something about fast food outlets? My palate for plants is extensive.

I decided to go to Burnley because:
Actually, it was the parents’ fault. I’m from a citrus growing background and both parents studied here separately. They knew where my interests lay, unlike the posh school careers info office that I spent time in. Min Russell called me into her office in the early days to check I hadn’t been forced to attend. That was a bit inappropriate. I’d found my tribe and my vocation.

Burnley holds such a tight grip on me. We were young and into it, socializing in and out of College; the lecturers were mostly youthful, committed to their skills and with whom you could share light banter (ended up on a week long whirlwind tour with the Hitchmoughs in the UK 1989); groups were small so learning was personalized; and the gardens were at their absolute peak of maturity. Such a special environment for us all. So, so special.

Since I graduated from Burnley I have:
Fallen straight into the arms of Rick Eckersley: my second great love. (I met my first, Patrick Shaw at Burnley – don’t laugh.) Rick approached the College for a new grad. to work on Loss Assessment on gardens after the Ash Wednesday Fires took its toll on Mount Macedon. For 18 months we, then I, then I & Patrick commuted to the Mount nearly weekly making inventories of loss, then applying monetary rates of restitution while attempting to quantify Loss of amenity in values, which to today remains properly untested in Australian Courts of Law. Can you put a value on an 80-year-old Sequoia? M.C.C. manages it.

From Loss Assessment and the diminishing fall out of the drought, came a transition back into Rick’s business which focused on Landscape Design & Construction, involving both his brothers and a construction crew. Over time and with my skills added to the mix, we stopped constructing to focus on design exclusively. Rick was the public face, I drew and Ross Eckersley ran the books. We enjoyed a fruitful and loyal partnership for 23 years, first as Eco Landscape Design, then as Eckersley Stafford Design.

In that time, the design team expanded, we gained a lot of publicity, wrote material as well as books, I lectured at Burnley, and we on-sold the best landscape design materials we could lay hands on. This ultimately developed into a new, and now nationally based business, ‘Eco Outdoor’.

For more than 17 years of this time, I commuted from our farm base in the Otways. This entailed 1-2 nights per week in Melbourne, staying with Rick and other friends – some of them Burnley graduates.  Pat held the fort, working for many years for DWELP, first as a Land Protection Officer, then in Sustainability.

Since leaving the firm in 2006, my practice as a Designer has continued with commissions spread out from home base. I undertook extra work on Loss Assessment for the Horsham community following the Black Saturday fires and it’s the last I will do. It’s a dirty business, believe me!

Farm life has been one of great horticultural endeavour. We have the most beautiful spot, spread over 100 acres, tucked quietly away along the Gellibrand River. It’s been 30 years and I can hardly believe it! A quite huge garden has evolved which began with a frame of established English oaks and Robinia, and for most of its life, I have harvested from it. The bounty provided supports its development and maintenance. To this day we supply foliage and flowers to specialist florists. We grow fruits and vegetables for the family and a commercial quantity of blueberries, thanks to Andrew ‘Jock’ ‘Charles’ MacLennan, fellow graduate and Gellibrand resident who never stops working and helping out others to stay just as industrious as he. Good stuff Jock!


Thanks to the founding influence of Burnley College and its Gardens and the people I have met through my involvement with the College, I now appreciate a very enriched life, based solidly on a love of Science-based facts, the natural environment, the production of healthy plant foods and the history and artistry of garden making.


Burnley Graduate Profile No. 9 August 2021: Paul Gibson Roy

Years at Burnley:
I started the Introduction to Hort course in the late 80s (I think) and competed a doctorate in 2003.

Course(s) studied:
Introduction to Horticulture
Advanced Certificate in Horticulture
Bachelor of Applied Science (Horticulture) Honours

Favourite subject:
Impossible to say. There were seriously too many that I loved to list and very very few that I did not enjoy.

Favourite plant:
I must be non-committal. I’ve fallen for most of the flora of native grasslands and grassy woodlands. However, I do remember (like it was yesterday) the plant I saw on my first of many many class garden tours for plant ID – which was Chinese Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis). Many years later I was lucky enough to visit some Pacific islands, and got a huge buzz out of seeing landscapes (and people) covered in those lovely and somewhat flashy flowers.

I decided to go to Burnley because:
I left high school and chose not to go to Uni, instead becoming immersed in the performance arts and music. This meant (for me at least), I had to have other work to pay the bills. In the early 90s I was (by a stroke of great luck) employed in the gardens at St Mary’s College at Melbourne University, and loving the experience of working with plants (and out playing music by night). The nuns who ran the college were amazing and generous people, and they decided that I should have some formal training in horticulture.  Luckily for me it was also a time when the Australian government required workplaces to direct proportions of payroll to staff training, so the nuns (with my best interests at heart) suggested I go to Burnley.

Getting into Burnley back then was very difficult and so I was enrolled into the part-time course Introduction to Horticulture (featuring the likes of John Patrick, Greg Moore). I absolutely loved that and so the nuns then supported me through the Advanced Certificate in Horticulture (headed by John Brereton at the time and featuring an amazing roll call of lecturers including Rod and Michelle and Geoff Olive to name a few). I had really got the bug for ‘book learning’ by then so I took the plunge to undertake the Bachelor of Applied Science Horticulture (first part time then full time) and just kept going to honours and finally through to a doctorate. Then to my great delight (although I’m not sure some of my students might agree), I was given the great privilege of becoming a staff member myself and teaching into a number of subjects and supervising graduates over several years.

This is a long-winded answer to the original question of why I decided to go to Burnley, but by the time I’d got to the end of my time there, I’d actually realised why it was so important for someone like me (a bit of a restless type) to have attended somewhere as special as Burnley –  because it had, in the way that only an institution with such an amazing culture and run by so many brilliant and understanding people (teaching and support staff alike) led me along a path to something that would drive and enthrall me for the rest of my working life – the practice of ecological restoration. I enjoyed all my time as a student and a staff member, met great people and made many lovely friends. The teaching and support staff at Burnley were of outstanding calibre – and even someone as thick as me realised that at the time. They were led by inspirational people such as Greg Moore and Peter May, but every staff member I was lucky enough to be taught by or colleagues I worked alongside had an incredible commitment to that place and for teaching horticulture. I’ve been associated with several other institutions in the years since I’ve left, and none came close to what I experienced there.

Since I graduated from Burnley I have:

Cowper Street grassland restoration

My challenge after completing a PhD was to find work in the field I’d researched (not always easy to do it turns out!). I’d chosen to study grasslands and their restoration (inspired as an undergraduate of course by John Delpratt), and this was a topic that at the time was not perceived as glamorous or high profile by the ecological community, and certainly by the broader community (perhaps that’s still the case). Anyway, this meant there were few to no job options for me in Victoria. Some of my fellow PhD graduates at the time were applying for and getting positions in other states and countries, but I wanted to stay in Victoria, as this was certainly a hot-spot of grassland loss. So I decided I had to create a job for myself, and with support from Greg Moore I wrangled a deal with the then CEO of Greening Australia (an NGO focussed mainly on Landcare-type tree and shrub plantings) which meant that if I could secure funding for a field-scale grass restoration program (with GA managing the funds) they would ‘lease’ me from Melbourne Uni (Burnley) to run it.

Luckily we were in the right spot at the right time, and secured over a million dollars in federal National Heritage Trust funding (which was a pretty big deal at the time) to initiate what was called the Grassy Groundcover Research Project or GGRP. This was set up as a partnership between Greening Australia and Melbourne Uni/Burnley, and was initiated in late 2004. The GGRP was essentially meant to take what I’d learnt at Burnley through all those years and apply it to the task of reconstructing grasslands under ‘real life’ conditions. At the time this whole idea of grassland reconstruction was very contentious, with many ecologists and conservationists firmly believing that native grassy communities could not be actively ‘restored’, and that this could or should only occur through natural processes.

Wycliffe Roadside wildflower restoration.

For several reasons this hesitation did not sit well with me. Firstly, it was known from many ecological surveys that conservation and legislative protection was not halting grassland loss (sadly still true to this day), so by that reckoning they would eventually all disappear if nothing else was tried. Secondly, through much reading and discussion I’d begun to understand the extent to which pre-European Australian grassy communities had been managed to those compositions and sustained in those states by indigenous peoples – so for me this meant there could and should be a human element to their recovery. The final reason for my determination to chart a different course came through my Burnley experience with horticulture. This had shown me that people are very much capable of working with plants and soils to create wonderful outcomes. Why could we not do the same with native grassland species? Over my years at Burnley, I’d been blessed to have done a wide range of subjects both environmental and nursery production focussed. This experience has left me adamant that by mixing ecological principles and horticultural and agronomic know-how it should be feasible to recreate grasslands in landscapes where they’d been lost.

Grassy Groundcover Research Project site, Mooralpio

So, the GGRP was about taking the learnings from my early Burnley research (and from others) out to farms, public reserves and roadsides across the state. To access land, I gave numerous public presentations across Victoria, talking about what we wanted to achieve in the project, and asking any farmers or land managers present if they would be willing to let us use one ha of their land to do that. We were overwhelmed with offers and of course GA wanted me to take up all of it (it would be excellent PR). I argued that the maximum number of sites that we could manage would be 15.  So, this is how we progressed. There were fifteen 1 ha sites spread across Victoria, from Gippsland to the Wimmera and from Corangamite to North Central. At each site we set up a complex and fully replicated experiment that investigated the issues of managing soil weed seed banks and excessive nutrient levels, both of which were huge barriers to grassland restoration. To do this we compared conventional herbicide-based approaches against soil removal (which was, and still is viewed by many as a radical approach).  We also worked to develop new seeding approaches and technologies (greatly supported by Burnley people like Ian Winston and Ross Payne). And because the seed for undertaking restoration was so rare and hard to procure (there was no commercial supply), we also focussed on understanding how to increase seed supply by other means, such as cultivated seed production. This is where Burnley again came to the fore, and working closely with John Delpratt, over time we set up numerous regionally-based seed production areas (SPAs), including one at Burnley, where we cultivated and grew rare native species as seed crops, and by those means we were able to produce seed in the quality and quantity required for our restorations.

GGRP site, Laharum – Minyip

Initial funding for the GGRP went for 3 years, but such was the project’s success it continued in some shape or form until 2019. In that time many other sites were established, and at these the findings from our early experimental phase were applied or refined. By 2019 there were examples of successful grassland and grassy woodland restorations directly or indirectly related to the GGRP across Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania. Many dedicated people were involved in the project over this time, and in the end, we were able to clearly demonstrate that it is entirely feasible to reconstruct complex, species-rich grasslands and grassy woodlands. I feel this was a great achievement, because so many had thought it impossible. I’d say it was something only made possible by the contributions and expertise of many many wonderful and committed people. What was learnt over this time means that no longer do we have to watch as all these special native communities continue to disappear.  If we as a society have the will, we can arrest this decline and even reverse it. In fact, we can put back landscapes to these native systems to whatever degree and composition we see as desirable. It’s all a matter of how we balance the need for food and other products with the need or desire to preserve and live alongside other species.

For me this has been an amazing journey. I’ve spent a career immersed in something that I love and that has challenged me intellectually, physically, and emotionally. I’ve had the great honour of being able to work alongside wonderful and committed people to develop new techniques and technologies. I’ve also been lucky enough to have the opportunity to communicate what we’ve learnt in schools, lecture theatres, public forums, technical workshops and to conference floors across the country and even internationally. I’ve been privileged to travel abroad to examine what is being done in this field in other countries, and these experiences provided me with profound insights and huge motivation to return to Australia and work even harder to promote the need to care for and value our native species. Also, for someone who had decided Uni and book learning was not for them, I’ve been able to develop skills and knowledge to be able to publish much of what I’ve learnt in scientific journals and books, or to communicate this more broadly through various forms of media which I’ve always enjoyed due to my past experiences as a performer.

Herb-rich grassland in Hamilton, Victoria

I am very proud of the small part I’ve played in demonstrating that it is possible to repair and restore native grassy ecosystems. However, I’d have to say that what disappoints me greatly is that despite having achieved this understanding, and given the fact that there are now hundreds of small-scale (1-15ha) examples of such outcomes dotted across SE Australia, our Federal and State governments and their environmental and land management agencies have essentially ignored this reality, and have not begun to set up the systems, structures and incentives required to see this form of restoration occurring routinely and at scale across Australia. I know these support systems can be established and these outcomes achieved at scale – because I have seen it happen in other parts of the world. Why, we (and in this I include NGOs, conservation groups and universities) continue to resist the need to embrace restoration in tandem with conservation to save these precious native communities I am at a loss to explain.

For these reasons I’m currently working on what is likely to be my most challenging and controversial project. This is based in East Gippsland. My role is as manager of ecological restoration for a mineral resource project to oversee post-mine restoration. Mining of course is always controversial, with many people ideologically opposed, some supportive and others indifferent. What influenced my decision to join this project was the company’s aim to restore 200ha of complex grassy woodland (a nationally threated community in that region) on an area currently occupied by blue gum plantation. In this, the company (Kalbar Operations) is going well beyond what is typically expected of miners in terms of restoration – which is essentially to return landscapes to a pre-mine state. In this project, this would be to essentially restore back to grazing pasture and plantation forestry. Instead, if the project is granted a licence to operate by the Victorian government, our aim will be to restore native species across a 1,200-ha footprint. We will reseed grazing pastures but add native grasses as a component of those paddocks, we will fence off gullies from grazing and restore complex native woody forest habitat, and on realigned roadsides we’ll seed swathes of native wildflowers and low biomass grasses. Finally, we’ll also reconstruct species rich grassy woodland at a scale that’s not been undertaken before in Australia. Indeed, the project has already spent large sums of money and time setting up an SPA to grow the seed resources needed for a project of this scale, which will create an important resource for the region well beyond our project.

So, it is with some irony that coming to the back end of my career, I find myself working for a mining company, and I suspect there have been numerous raised eyebrows from others at my choice. But in truth, my frustration at our failure to take on the challenge of up-scaling our capacity to undertake grassy restoration across Australia has led me to this point. My work on this project is in some ways my last roll of the dice. I hope that if we can demonstrate that at these scales such things are possible, surely governments and others will have nowhere to hide, and will finally begin to create pathways for similar work to be done more widely. Not just on mine rehab, but on farms and roadsides and public reserves and in our urban landscapes.

This brings me back finally to Burnley.  I believe our city-scapes hold much potential for the use of our native herbaceous flora. Yes, we routinely use native trees and shrubs alongside an introduced flora from all parts of the world, but sadly our native ground flora is largely absent. In this area, I believe very strongly that Burnley can continue to play a leading role. I know the great horticultural expertise, learning and enthusiasm generated from an institution as unique as Burnley can and will continue to produce the technologies, techniques, practices, and most importantly, the people who are needed to inspire city-dwellers to embrace our native ground flora in a way that sees it become as prominent as it deserves to be.

Burnley Graduate Profile No. 8 July 2021: Rob Pelletier

Years at Burnley: 3 years full time, 1980 – 1982

Course studied: Dip App Sci. Amenity Horticulture

Favourite subject: Loved ‘em all.

Favourite plant: Nearly every day I see a towering, ancient, craggy, decrepit euc or a small prostrate acacia, a tree heavy with ripe fruit or a pretty little ground orchid: growing happily in their niche, making the moment. A new favourite for the day. Spoiled for choice.

Rob got off to an early start.

I decided to go to Burnley because:
Following school there were a couple of years studying Civil Engineering full time, then most of an Economics and Politics degree part-time, all at Monash Uni, a few years in the ATO (which cured me of large organisations and office work forever) and several years in construction, working in my dad’s civil engineering construction business.
Finally, wondering where life was taking me, I discovered Burnley Horticultural College.
After a nerve-wracking application interview, I found myself as a mature age student of 28 years, married, with a 4 year old son, fronting up at Burnley on a hot, late January day in 1980 to muck out chicken manure with a bunch of (mostly) teenagers. There were two or three other “oldies” like me and a handful in their early 20s. Still have the Felco #2s that I bought on that first day for $25.

Burnley did not disappoint. We benefitted from excellent lecturers and grounds staff. It was such a privilege to study full time after having experienced working life and I made the most of every moment.

I owe my first wife Ili an enormous debt of gratitude for supporting our family while I was at Burnley.

Since I graduated from Burnley I have:

Early 1983 was not a good time for horticulture related jobs, or any jobs for that matter. I fancied a job in the nursery sector but much of south-east Australia was in drought, the economy was in recession and before the year had barely begun Ash Wednesday transfixed the nation.

Self-employment beckoned. I began a garden renovation and horticultural maintenance service.

This went well enough and after two or three years I was able to start tendering for commercial landscape construction contracts offered by government departments and projects managed by landscape architecture firms. Having tertiary qualifications in horticulture helped me become accepted at this level.

My business grew in tandem with an extraordinarily vibrant construction industry (the 80s!) leading to larger and more complex projects, some of which included building and civil engineering components.

It was kind of nice to have a booming business, but it came with a very challenging industrial relations component – landscapers had to belong to the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) until it was deregistered and its infamous secretary Norm Gallagher convicted and jailed for corruption. Landscapers were then farmed off to the AWU which did nothing to lessen the constant demarcation complaints by shop stewards from various building trades and their threatened stoppages as we landscapers went about our multi-skilled working days.

My recollection is there was a continuous background level of small, routine corruption throughout the building and construction industry.

It came as something of a relief, as it turned out, when the Keating “recession we had to have” arrived in 1990. It was estimated that commercial landscaping work fell by more than 80%. What remained was so keenly contested that it was near impossible to not lose money on every job.

I was able to move into full time media work without too much trouble because of some good fortune a few years earlier. In 1984, through no fault of my own, I had stumbled into appearing on a weekend gardening talk-back radio show, first as an occasional guest landscaper then a weekly guest and by late 1985 a fill-in host. By late 1987 I had landed a regular position at 3AW as the weekend gardening host and later, the weekday environment commentator.

A recent TV shoot

While my landscaping business continued to grow I juggled my part-time radio gigs. It never helped me get landscaping work, but did introduce me to a whole new world of personalities and experts from around Australia and the world and provided an éntre into the media world – a whole new kettle of fish!

As the 1990s progressed I found work presenting gardening on national television, and radio continued in one form or another and there were a number of writing jobs with magazines and newspapers.

As the year 2000 approached another change of direction emerged. Companies in the gardening industry started seeking marketing and promotional advice and support. As my interest in being the “talent” began to wane a new challenge emerged in combining my business management and media presentation experiences to offer support to industry operators looking to more effectively reach media and gardening audiences.

So began what I came to recognise as my third “career” in horticulture. Like the first two, landscape contractor and media presenter, it was destined to last about a decade. And it was a good one working with clients in both Australia and New Zealand. I got to meet and work with some wonderful people and learnt so much along the way. It was a period when the internet’s functionality and influence was growing at breakneck speed throwing up incredible challenges and opportunities in communication.

After a decade or so my interests once again began to wander coinciding with fundamental changes in the trading relationships my clients were negotiating. Traditional small scale media and PR practice was losing ground to the growing power of merchandising and brand leveraging deals. Social media channels were just popping their heads above the parapet, traditional media franchises, especially print, were losing influence. It was a good time to go and grow some fruit trees.

Production rows—Rob’s fourth career.
It seemed like a good idea to propagate and sell heritage fruit trees. Above: Budded stone fruit


Rob with wife Kate Blood

My fourth career in horticulture, definitely my last, began with the sale of our first crop of trees, propagated on the farm, in 2009. It took me nearly 30 years, but I had finally found a job in the nursery industry.

Rob and Kate’s back garden

Our products are sold through our website and go to every state and territory in Australia except NT. We propagate and grow much of what we sell on our farm. It is a brilliant lifestyle, and I feel privileged every day to share our farm with Kate and live in such wonderful surroundings while making a living growing plants.


I love what I do now more than anything else I have done in horticulture, although it has all been pretty damn good. I have managed to retain, I think, some of the best parts of each career. Our farm is an accommodating canvas for small scale landscape and civil projects, I still regularly appear on radio, something I have done with hardly an interruption for over 35 years, and my marketing experience has helped the success of Heritage Fruit Trees.


Glad I stumbled on Burnley Horticultural  College in 1979.


Burnley Graduate Profile No. 7 June 2021: Jason Summers

Years at Burnley: 1991 – 1995 As student, 1996 as Arb and Landscape technician

Course studied: Bachelor of Applied Science in Horticulture

Favourite subject: Arboriculture

Favourite plant: Quercus canariensis

I decided to go to Burnley because: I wanted to know more about plants and how we can use them to improve our lives.

Graduation day.

Since I graduated from Burnley I have: studied further, doing a Graduate Diploma in Forest Science, and then upgraded that to a Masters in Forest Science by research. I was looking at ways to propagate Acacia melanoxylon (Blackwood) asexually, to clone choice trees for their timber characteristics. This could take pressure off native forest harvesting if we could grow them in agroforestry or plantations.

I then started my local government career as a Conservation Officer at Brimbank City Council for five years, working with the community to manage over 700 hectares of native vegetation. I then moved to Hume City Council as the Open Space Coordinator, managing trees and bushland areas. I also acted as the Sustainable Environment Department manager for 18 months and then became the Parks Manager, where I stayed for over 10 years.

I represented the Council on the Parks & Leisure Australia Vic/Tas board for eight years, and the Greening the West committee since its inception. I also had a five year stint on the World Urban Parks Academy Board, creating a Certified international parks professional accreditation program around the world. I have also been on Course advisory committees as a student during the VCAH transition to Melbourne University, and more recently for the Associate Degree in Horticulture as an industry leader in local government.

I have assisted in the development of various strategies, one of the most interesting of which was the Living Melbourne Strategy, a Metropolitan-wide Urban Forest strategy developed by Resilient Melbourne and industry.

I was often invited to speak to TAFE and University students about the challenges of managing public open space in a growth Council like Hume. I also presented at State and National Parks and Leisure conferences on many different topics, and at the Treenet symposium. I was awarded the Greg Maddock Memorial scholarship to attend the ISA (International Society of Arboriculture) World Congress in Toronto in Canada. I turned the trip into an intensive three week study tour of Toronto, Chicago, Washington D.C. Baltimore and New York. I visited Botanic Gardens, Arboreta and Parks departments, and learnt a lot about how things are done in America. Some of the ideas I was lucky enough to implement in Australia. Examples include using structural soil trenches with permeable pavements and passive irrigation to grow healthy trees in high pedestrian areas with great success.

One of Jason’s cool parks.

At Hume City Council tree planting was a large part of what we set out to do, and every year for over 16 years we planted over 5000 trees in streets and parks to help change the look of a whole city. I also got to try out many different horticultural treatments, such as direct seeding of roadside batters with indigenous grasses, and creating cool parks with irrigated turf and shade trees to create cool spaces to retreat to on a hot day.

 I have been lucky enough to be involved in some amazing projects over the 23 years in local government, including involvement in a lot of trials with various universities over the journey, such as trialing many new tree species for a future climate, Bio Char, “Woody Meadows” and weed control trials, to name a few.

Jasons’ logo for his consultancy.


I have recently resigned from Council and started a contracting and consulting firm called Remarkable Trees. I hope to plant many more trees in many places and share some of my learning in the industry by having apprentices and trainees working in my business and consulting to various projects and different industries that need sound horticultural advice.


You can read more at Jason’s website, including how to contact him


Burnley Graduate Profile No. 6 May 2021: Kate Blood

Kate in the far south west of Victoria, collecting weed samples for weed identification training, 2016

Years at Burnley: My 3.5 years at Burnley began in 1984 and I graduated in March 1988.

Course studied: My first year was spent studying the Diploma of Horticulture that luckily coincided with the time the Bachelor of Applied Science was being introduced. So in second year I switched to the B. App. Sc. (Horticulture) that included a bridging 6 months, hence the 3.5 years.

First year at Burnley, in the vegie plots ~1984


Favourite subject: Any subject that involved Greg Moore, James Hitchmough, ecology, plant identification and design. I still have my sketch books with disappearing avenues of lolly-pop shaped trees.



Eucalyptus near Kate and Rob’s farm at Beaufort

Favourite plant: There are so many…. In recent years I have found a deeper appreciation of eucalypts where I live, and the blue pops of colour of Brunonia australis in our grassland on the farm are still a delight in spring, even after 20 years of living here at Beaufort in western Victoria. Working in the weed area, I also have an appreciation of the tenacity of plants like freesias, Opuntioid cacti and Agapanthus species. Don’t tell anyone. I actually like agapanthus!


I decided to go to Burnley because: I didn’t get the marks to get into vet science. I had wanted to be a vet like my Dad (apart from the years to age 10 when I apparently wanted to be a florist). One of my sisters suggested horticulture (thanks Jude) as I liked gardening and had a strong interest in nature. Both run strong in my family including generations before. In hindsight, I am very grateful that I did horticulture instead. A much better fit for me.

Since I graduated from Burnley I have: immersed myself largely in weeds, professionally. Yes, weeds! Not the smoking kind. The kind that spread into natural areas, many of them escaped garden plants.

My Mum introduced me to bird watching and wildflowers from an early age. Growing up at Werribee in western Melbourne, we spent many hours at the You Yangs and down in the coastal forests around Anglesea. I learnt about environmental weeds including Boneseed and spent many hours hand pulling them. This fuelled my interest which grew at Burnley and I ended up studying the flora of the You Yangs including its many weeds for my final Burnley project.

I had wanted to become a national park ranger after Burnley, and quickly found that horticulture was not seen as a suitable qualification at the time. Luckily that attitude quickly changed and I started with the Victorian Government in mid 1988 growing thistles in quarantine glasshouses on which to raise and test biological control agents from overseas. I have had an affection for weevils ever since.

Part of Kate and Rob’s garden at Beaufort under snow

I have been with the environment department for 34 years. Early roles were park, conservation and recreation planning, and since 1994 solely on weeds. Those early years allowed me to work in different areas of the State including Frankston, Bendigo, Yarram, Leongatha, Ballarat and Melbourne. I moved to Beaufort near Ballarat with my husband, Rob Pelletier, in 2001.

Kate in ecoprint-dyed garments using eucalyptus from the farm at Beaufort (photo by Flissy Johnson Photography)

 My weed focus since 2002 has been on early invader weeds, those weeds that are at their early stage of invasion that could become a future blackberry or Boneseed. It’s work I really enjoy and  I get to use my creativeness in my role as an enabler and educator. I write publications, teach people all over Victoria, and engage through social and other media raising awareness about these plants that have serious imp

acts on the environment. I have toyed with the idea of doing a PhD and the stars have not (yet) aligned.



Horticulture has been a big part of my life influencing where and how I live and work. We grow some of our food on the farm including many old heirloom fruits. My craft revolves around plants through eco printing fabrics and dyeing yarns with plants from where I live. I have a big interest in photography for work and personally and you can see what I get up-to on my personal social media profiles @bloodyk8 and professionally at @weedyk8. I am very grateful that I studied horticulture and wish it was valued more highly as a qualification.

PS. Kate also mentioned that she is a member of  the Weed Society of Victoria, the Horticultural Media Association Australia, and of course, the Friends of Burnley Gardens


Burnley Graduate Profile No. 5 April 2021: Helen Melville

Years at Burnley:
2 (2002 – 2003)

Course Studied:
Advanced Diploma in Horticulture

Favourite Subject:
Hard to pick a favourite but I think Plant Identification with Jill Kellow.  I have so many fond memories during this time. Walking around the gardens and learning about each plant, taking photos and samples (I don’t think we were meant to collect samples!!)  In our final year we worked in small groups and studied a particular genus.  Our group studied Eremophilas.  As we spent time together wandering around Victoria speaking to collectors and sharing our passions, we formed a long-lasting friendship.  To this day we are still great friends and are still wandering around together sharing our passions.

Favourite Plant:
Gardenia thunbergia.  I clearly remember seeing this for the first time at Burnley.  As I turned a corner, this spectacular beauty with its intoxicating fragrance took my breath away.  I did plant it in my garden many years ago but moved to a new house and didn’t get to see it in its glory.  It’s extremely slow growing but worth the wait if you don’t move to a new house!

I decided to go to Burnley because:
It was the BEST place to learn horticulture!  I went to Burnley as a mature aged student after working in Marketing.  Although it was a great job, I disliked being stuck inside the office in front of a computer most of the day.  My family were farmers and gardeners.  Although it’s in my blood, I didn’t think about doing it professionally until I had one of those ‘light bulb moments’.  Not long after hiking around Italy and immersing myself in the outdoor life, I came back to work and spoke to someone from the Landscape Industry Association who had just completed a course at Burnley and bingo … it was at that moment that was what I needed to do.  Within weeks it was the Burnley Open Day and from then on everything fell into place.

Since I graduated from Burnley I have:
Worked for a gardening business for 12 months before starting my own business.  Working for someone else straight after graduating was worth its weight in gold.  It was an education and I felt it fast tracked me into running a successful business and learning very quickly the pros and cons of running a business in the gardening world.

My business is predominantly maintenance, but I also do garden design, consulting and mentoring.  I have worked in Melbourne, the Bellarine Peninsula and now on the Mornington Peninsula.  While on the Bellarine Peninsula, I completed a Cert IV in Training and Assessment which enabled me to do some teaching.  I am passionate about using my skills to connect people to their gardens for healing.  I do this in a very informal and intuitive way.

Almost 20 years later, I still LOVE doing what I do.

Burnley Graduate Profile No. 4 March 2021: Dr Liz Denman

Years at Burnley:

Nearly 10 years as a student. 1996-1998 and much of the 2000s. Since finishing my PhD I have returned as a guest lecturer and subject co-ordinator of Tree Identification and Selection for several years.

Course(s) studied:  Bachelor of Applied Science (Horticulture); Honours; PhD

Favourite subject:
Soil science, although it is difficult to choose one subject.  We were fortunate to have many great lecturers. I enjoyed the elements of chemistry, physics and biology. Also, I appreciated that understanding the nature of soil was important for plant establishment and selection. I am keen to better understand more about our local geology and how this influences plant distribution.

Favourite plant:
Eucalyptus melliodora. Eucalyptus rubida is also a favourite with its white and reddish bark.

I decided to go to Burnley because:
From a young age I decided I wanted to study horticulture. A love of plants and gardening developed from time spent with grandparents and great aunts who were passionate gardeners. They allowed me to take cuttings and seeds from their garden each time I visited.  Burnley was a highly respected horticultural institution.

Since I graduated from Burnley I have:
Worked in private, government and education sectors of horticulture, mostly in the fields of arboriculture, landscape design and management. I enjoy interdisciplinary work having collaborated with landscape architects for much of my career, and more recently with engineers and ecologists.

My first job was with Australian Landscape Management, a consultancy firm that emerged after council amalgamations and the introduction of compulsory competitive tendering by local government. Throughout my time there I was fortunate to work with many talented horticulturalists and landscape architects producing designs for new public landscapes and landscape management and maintenance reports for existing projects.

During my PhD I explored the use of street trees in stormwater biofiltration pits, focusing specifically on, the effect different species and soil types have on nutrient removal from stormwater. I was thankful for the assistance and expertise of Drs Peter May, Greg Moore and Peter Breen throughout the project. While at Burnley I also was given the opportunity to work with the green roof research team and the smart garden watering project.

After completing my PhD at Burnley, I worked for consultant arboricultural firm, Homewood Consulting. The team’s tasks included assessing trees in an area. Trees were measured, tree-health and structure assessed, and the exact location of thousands of trees was digitally mapped. My work mates’ skill in speedily collecting accurate data and managing the software to efficiently report the results in a format suitable for each client was most impressive. I was grateful to learn much from those experiences. The collection of this data enables tree managers to effectively manage their urban forest to deliver community and environmental benefits.

Currently I work for the Department of Transport (formerly Vic Roads) in the Environment Sustainability and Urban Design Team as a green infrastructure specialist. Big roadside landscape projects are now designed and constructed by other delivery authorities. Part of my work involves setting client requirements to ensure that while these teams are designing new road projects full consideration is given to the existing natural landscape ensuring minimal impact and that the landscape and urban design response is of high quality and sensitive to the context.  We are also writing guidance to ensure that when completed the landscape can be efficiently and cost effectively managed and maintained. For example, on freeway landscapes we aim to see the designs adequately provide for large vehicle access with sufficient space to safely load and unload broad scale maintenance machinery.

With some small projects our team will take the responsibility of producing landscape and architecture design drawings or reviewing the work of private consultants. As with larger projects the design, establishment and management of successful landscapes in the long term, with minimal maintenance inputs and constrained budgets, is a challenging feature of my work that I enjoy.

Since university days I’ve enjoyed and valued working with many inspiring Burnley graduates in landscape design and management, arboriculture and green roof research. I am grateful for the invitation to return as guest lecturer and meet with current students. It is also exciting to see the current research being undertaken at the University. I really appreciate Burnley for the mentors and life-long friendships it has given me.

Over the years my passion for horticulture has been enhanced through studying best practice in landscape management. I am excited about creating landscapes that are environmentally sustainable and appealing to local communities. As I look around it is heartening to see the development of urban forest movements and the growing community acceptance of the value of trees and their importance in our physical and social environment.

Burnley Graduate Profile No. 3 February 2021: Chris Findlay












Years at Burnley:  2 years as a student. 1988-1990;  2 years as an employee (Grounds Staff). 1998-2000

Course studied: Associate Diploma of Applied Science in Horticulture.
I never liked school, so I found the prospect of studying a tertiary course at the age of 25 daunting. I remember orientation day at Burnley, feeling stressed and overwhelmed, being surrounded by so many kids fresh out of school and wondering what the hell I had got myself into. Then in the Great Hall, Greg Moore in his introduction said something unremarkable but for me unforgettable. He said, “If you love plants you have come to the right place”. I felt like this place would change my life for the better and it did. My two years at Burnley were challenging but magical. To study at Burnley is to study not only in the classroom, but in the fantastic gardens. Like so many ex-Burnley students, my memories of studying there are as if through rose-coloured glasses. Being surrounded by magnificent gardens and people who all had a love of plants seemed positively surreal to me.

I learned so much in the Diploma that has been useful in the environmental contracting industry. Although many people in this industry studied Natural Resource Management, Environmental Science or ecology-based courses, the bottom line is that we work with plants and I think that there is no better place to learn about them than Burnley.

Favourite subject:
. I was attracted to arboriculture in the first semester when we had a quick introduction to tree climbing. I loved the totally practical nature of the job and it was completely new to me. Although I only worked in the arboriculture industry for a short time, I do not regret studying it at Burnley.

Chris Findlay’s favourite: Brunonia australis

Favourite plant:
Brunonia australis
, the Blue Pincushion Flower. It is a small perennial wildflower found throughout Australia, and my favourite because of its rare colour in the world of flowers, ranging through various shades of sky blue.

I decided to go to Burnley because:
I loved plants but was not sure what sort of career I wanted. The main theme of my horticultural interests has always been ornamental flowering plants, especially of the herbaceous variety. Burnley introduced me to many other aspects of horticulture including arboriculture, and to some influential people who have inspired me in my journey with plants. James Hitchmough was a lecturer at Burnley when I was a student and I heard him speak enthusiastically about grasslands. He returned to Burnley when I worked in the gardens and showed us some of the amazing work he had done sowing wildflower meadows in England. John Delpratt inspired me as a student in an almost subliminal way, to be reinforced when I went back to Burnley to work. I remembered in my student days how he had told stories of disturbed ground in weedy grasslands where indigenous grasses and wildflowers had returned.  Years later John was a great help with my work in the indigenous garden, allowing me to use plants left over from his students’ research on grassland wildflowers. His inspiration has surely been the reason for a lot of research into grassland restoration and grassland species at Burnley, and he is a driving force behind many cutting-edge grassland restoration projects. John was also mentor and supervisor for the ground-breaking research done by another Burnley graduate, Dr Paul Gibson-Roy.

The grassland garden at Burnley in Chris’s time on the Gardens staff

Since I graduated from Burnley I have:
After choosing the arboriculture stream in the Diploma at Burnley, I started an arboriculture business with two fellow graduates, but we were hit by the 1990’s recession and went our separate ways. Although I enjoyed the novelty of climbing trees with a chainsaw, it was something I was never very good at and I was soon back on the ground looking after much smaller plants.
In 1998 I scored the job of my lifetime, as a member of the grounds staff in the Burnley Gardens. This where I realised the direction I wanted for my career. When I started working in the gardens at Burnley I was assigned to the maintenance of the herbaceous border, the native and the indigenous gardens. My boss, Phil Tulk, who was the gardens manager at the time was very supportive, but it soon became apparent that the design of the herbaceous boarder was his domain (fair enough), so I turned my attention to another passion of mine, indigenous wildflowers. Over the next two years I did my best to create a stunning display of wildflowers in the indigenous garden. This was one of the most satisfying periods of my horticultural career and I remember weekends, especially in Spring where I just wanted it to be Monday so I could be back at work in the indigenous garden.

Grassland Garden for Jason Summers at Brimbank

I became obsessed with the concept of indigenous wildflower display gardens and started a business called Flora Victoria with Sabine Koolen, a colleague who worked in the Burnley Nursery. Together we developed two flowering grassland gardens for Jason Summers (another Burnley graduate) at Brimbank City Council. My passions now included restoring the natural environment, and for three years Flora Victoria established itself in the environmental contracting industry before Sabine and I decided on a tree change in north eastern Victoria. Before moving I remember taking classes for Michele Adler on native grasses and their establishment, which gave me a taste for my next job as a trainer and assessor at the Goulburn Ovens TAFE, covering subjects in Horticulture and Conservation and Land Management.

Flora Victoria’s seed production area.

My interest in environmental works found me back in Melbourne working for a company called Native Seeds as “Head of Revegetation Operations”, where I carried out direct seeding projects and provided support and advice to native grass seed growers. Working at Native Seeds was a great introduction to the potential of direct seeding for revegetation and ecological restoration. Two years later I started up Flora Victoria again; our first big purchase being a native grass seed harvester, and by about 2012 Flora Victoria had created the largest native grass seed production area in Australia to supply seed for our revegetation projects across the North and West of Melbourne.


Wildflower seed production

Promoting large scale direct seeding to an industry that often talks about it but rarely does it successfully has been a challenge for Flora Victoria, but there has been a small core of clients that have had faith in us and helped to slowly increase its acceptance. One of my goals for Flora Victoria is to re-create the beauty of Victoria’s flowering grasslands and grassy woodlands in public spaces, to inspire and educate people about the natural environment and its links to our cultural heritage.  After growing and sowing native grass seed for the past 12 years Flora Victoria is now focusing on indigenous wildflower seed production for our direct seeding projects and for the retail market.

Direct seeding project, Mickelham.




Even after 31 years, I am proud to be a graduate of Burnley Horticultural College, and I am also proud of the ground-breaking research done there in the field of ecological restoration of grassy ecosystems and indigenous seed production. That Burnley has produced both staff and students that have contributed so much to this area alone is a testament to its relevance in areas other than ornamental horticulture.





Burnley Graduate Profile No. 2 January 2021: John Fordham 

Years at Burnley:
1981 –

Course(s) studied:
see below!

Favourite subject:
Well, it would have to be Arboriculture, but the last course introduced me to so much more, as Plant Selection and Establishment also features well, along with Green Walls and Roofs, Sustainable Landscapes, and Plants in the Urban Environment further opened my eyes, to mention a few.

Favourite Plant:
A constantly moving target that one.  Do like the Erythrina vespertilio that I gave the seed of to Melbourne City Council.  It’s now growing down at the Morrell Bridge, worth a look if you’re down there. They need a little work to remove the bifurcations, however it is the only native species of Erythrina Australia has, the Bat Winged Erythrina. The Mexican Hand Tree or Devils Hand Tree Chiranthodendron pentadactylon should also get a mention.  It tends to be trees!

I decided to go to Burnley because:
t was the place where I could learn the most about what I love, and nothing has changed since 1981 when I first stepped onto the campus. It continues to grow and evolve which as gardeners that’s what we are all about.

I first got involved in horticulture in the late 70’s at the then trade school known as Oakleigh Technical School. I did my training essentially at night along with about 15 – 20 others. Many of you will be familiar with Jane Edmanson who was also a student in my class. In those days we had the lecturers Leesa Abbinger, Kevin Heinze, Alan Gardener, and Lex Hodge to name just a few. During this period, I was working for the Shire of Eltham, and my boss at the time was Bob Grant a great guy who had spent 9 years working for Ellis Stones. So, the Shire of Eltham was in good hands with his stewardship. He taught me how to lay rocks the Ellis Stones way. Of course, being in that part of the world you got to know Peter and Cecile Glass, Gordon and Gwen Ford, Alister Knox and out at Kangaroo Ground Neil Douglas. All were some sort of influence along with Bill Molyneux and Sue Forrester at what was then the nursery Austraflora in Montrose.

Concurrently with my trade certificate was a course running at Burnley in 1981: a Certificate of Landscape Design. Geoff Sanderson, who had a practise Gerner Sanderson Faggeter and Cheeseman was running it. It was an insight to aspects of design that helped further galvanise my love for what I was doing.

Later in about 1983 I left the Shire of Eltham to and take on the Diploma of Horticulture as it was known in those days at Burnley. That year I failed to “cut the mustard” as they say and went to be a gardener at The University of Melbourne. Perhaps it was the fact that I may have been a little young for the commitment required but I learnt a thing or two about commitment that I think has stood me in good stead ever since.

After a couple of years having worked under another great horticulturalist in Ron Lycette at the University of Melbourne, I came back to Burnley to take on the Advanced Certificate of Arboriculture. The likes of Phil Kenyon and then Mr Greg Moore in those days Peter May and others were to also have a profound influence, and still do!

I can’t recall when I started the course but it must have been about 1987 or there abouts as we were the first intake for the course I believe as I graduated in 1990. It was during this time that I started to really get to know the Burnley Gardens whilst enjoying the interaction with the lecturers.

Never satisfied with a thirst for knowledge I once again took on the Diploma of (then) Applied Science, and completed that in 2004. Most enjoyable, taking the commitment to yet another level along with the knowledge that comes with it.

Since I graduated from Burnley I have: (Almost) never left! In summary:

a) The University of Melbourne gardening days. Working at The University of California Berkeley botanical gardens for a couple of weeks in 1985.
b) The National Trust Register of Significant Trees
c) Working for the Mint Inc (now called Working Heritage) under Dr Jan Penney, renovations to the Old Mint Building, Carome the first flour Mill in Mernda, Farm Vigano Mietta O’Donnells grand parents’ property that used to supply fruit and vegetable to the restaurant trade from back in the 40’s.

By 1991 I believe I had my own practice in horticultural consultancy and tree reports, having joined the National Trust’s Register of Significant Trees in about 1993 after leaving Melbourne University Gardens Department. It was an absolute joy, and I believe I was the last funded project officer for the register and being so involved with Burnley at this time was such a great combination. I recall Jill Kellow at one point saying “I want your job”! It took me to private properties all around the state seeing the finest trees the state had to offer, and meeting some interesting folk along the way.

Moving along to 2010 and another course was in the offing. This time it was a Graduate Certificate in Garden Design with Andrew Laidlaw at the helm. A great bunch of folk were doing the course from all different walks of life, with some like Emma Laurie having a horticultural background. It was great getting to know Andrew Laidlaw and occasionally we catch up. Having graduated in 2011 the offer from the University was that we will credit you with 4 subjects having done the Graduate Certificate towards a Master Degree. I took this up in 2011 with as much gusto as I could summon!

It was during this time my association started with Friends of Burnley Gardens, becoming their President, a time I very much enjoyed. This was curtailed in about February 2014 when my wife was diagnosed with GBM, a form of brain cancer.

It was always hard when working for oneself and studying at the same time, however I seemed to be getting by and enjoying it. Put my toe in the water with Anne Vale’s Garden History subject. 2012 saw me continuing until my wife became ill in 2014. After my wife had died was a short time in the wilderness but I realised that I must continue to finish this course so in 2017 it was a case of “getting back on the horse”

Finally my graduation in 2019 saw what I believe is the end of any academic pursuits. It is however the enquiring mind that is never satisfied, and as many of us know, horticulture is the most wonderful engaging drug if you like, and “being satisfied” but being satisfied is something that I can never be satisfied with! I would have to say (and nothing has changed) that all the lecturers I have encountered have been most engaging and professional in their approach to both the subject matter and students alike. Burnley is constantly getting better and better all the time.

The fire in the belly is still there in our changing climatic world as it is “change” that is such a great driver to meet. There is probably so much more ……
It has been a wonderful ride at Burnley and it continues………………John Fordham


Burnley Graduate Profile No. 1  November 2020: Andrew Smith




Years at Burnley:

Course studied:
Diploma in Applied Science

Favourite subject:
Plant Materials/Ornamental Plants

Favourite plant:
That’s like asking, who is your favourite child! Favourite Genus would be Grevillea, favourite plant if pushed would be Wahlenbergia capillaris, as it flowers for 9 months of the year and just needs an annual cut down to the ground, cant get better value than that!

I decided to go to Burnley because:
It was one of the two (the other being Ryde in Sydney) best horticultural institutions in Australia and since my fiancé got a job in Melbourne, Burnley was the logical choice.

Since I graduated from Burnley I have:
never left! I completed 3 courses at Burnley, the Horticultural certificate, closely followed  by the Advanced Certificate (completed in 1989) and then it took me a further 9 years to complete the Associate Diploma (graduating in  2000), as I was doing it part time while working as a Gardener (under Gardens Manager, Phil Tulk) at Burnley.

When Phil left in January 2001, the other full time Gardener (Tricia Mooney) and I job shared the Acting Garden Manager role, until Tricia left at the end of 2001, when I took on the responsibility.

The early part of the 2000s at Burnley were quite challenging, due to the combination of drought water restrictions and  a stale-mate on the funding and staffing responsibility of the Gardens between the School/Campus  and the University Property and Campus  Services department, which resulted in the Gardens looking their worst in living memory. The annual $16,000 operational budget of the Gardens in the early 2000s and restriction of less than two FTE gardener positions by the School/Campus forced me to rely on the Friends of Burnley Gardens for volunteer labour and funding of capital replacement for the Gardens. Basic items like upgrading of irrigation controllers and replacing of fallen down pergolas were denied funding by the School/Campus, thankfully the Friends stepped up and agreed to fund them.