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.
Arboriculture. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
It 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:
Diploma in Applied Science
Plant Materials/Ornamental Plants
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.