Graduate of the Month

Burnley Graduate Profile No. 22  Rowan Berry


Years at Burnley: 2010 – 2012 (study)
2018 – Present (work)

Course studied:  Master of Urban Horticulture


Favourite subject:
I really enjoyed the Food Production in Urban Landscapes subject, where we managed our own vegetable plot in the Field Station. It’s fantastic to be working at Burnley now and supporting it from the other side.

Favourite plant:
I’m a tree person and it changes, so this week the award goes to a magnificent Red Ironbark (Eucalyptus sideroxylon) I saw while riding home. I love contrasting colours and textures, so found the almost black fissured bark against the blueish leaves and masses of pink flowers absolutely striking.

Rowan’s favourite – Eucalyptus sideroxylon

I decided to go to Burnley because:
I took a break from working in IT and spent a couple of years volunteering on farms around Victoria. During this time, I decided that working outdoors with all my senses engaged was preferable to being tethered to a machine under artificial light! I wanted to follow my passion and learn more about plants and it took little time to find out about Burnley and enrol in the Associate Degree of Environmental Horticulture.
It was the right decision, six months later I swapped over to the  Master of Urban Horticulture and the rest is history.

Since I graduated from Burnley I have:
I worked at an advanced tree nursery (Metro Trees) for a few years after completing my Masters degree and then took up a Horticultural Services Officer role at the Burnley Campus supporting teaching and research, where I’ve been for the last five years. It’s incredibly rewarding and I feel very lucky to be here.  I’m also named after a tree, so it’s a great example of nominative determinism – I feel I’m where I belong!



Burnley Graduate Profile No. 21  Gareth Holmes

Years at Burnley: 1993-1996; 1997-2000

Course(s) studied: Bachelor of Applied Science, Master of Applied Science

Favourite subject:
There were so many well-presented subjects at Burnley so it’s hard to pin it down to one. Besides the much-loved plant ID walks (and the numerous rolls of slightly-out-of-focus plant photos that we took as part of it), I really enjoyed the three semesters of Plant Science and using some of my artistic skills in Landscape Studies.

Favourite plant:
There are so many plants that I love, but I never get sick of seeing twisted and gnarled Eucalyptus pauciflora growing at the tree line in the high country.

I decided to go to Burnley because:
I grew up in country Victoria where I would regularly explore the nearby bush with my family. My parents also established a two-acre garden around our home which was an amazing playground for me – I loved watching the landscape changing with the seasons and observing biodiversity in my own backyard. I ended up helping to look after the garden and started propagating indigenous and exotic species as a hobby and trying to identify the plants in the area. I thought about becoming a chef, or an engineer, but Biology became my favourite subject in year 12, so with the combination of my love of plant cultivation, landscape management and science, studying horticulture at Burnley (then VCAH) seemed a natural choice. The small campus size and amazing gardens on site were also a big drawcard.

Since I graduated from Burnley I have:
While undertaking a Masters degree part-time in the field of plant breeding for ornamental horticulture, I worked as a gardener, a research assistant in the Centre for Urban Horticulture and at Fleming’s Nursery. After graduating, I took on a role as a Horticultural Researcher at the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria (RBGV) supporting the establishment of the Australian Garden at the Cranbourne site. A subsequent year-long stint in Europe made me realise that working in bars and biscuit factories was not a long-term option for me. After returning a few kilograms heavier (and engaged!) I commenced a PhD in the field of conservation biology with Prof. Ary Hoffman’s group at the Centre for Environmental Stress and Adaptation Research. My study (wisely guided by Liz James at the RBGV) involved a molecular phylogenetic study of the holly-leaved grevilleas followed by a pollination biology and population genetic study of the rare Creeping Grevillea, Grevillea repens (which just happens to grow in the bush around my childhood hometown).

In the years afterwards, I was fortunate to work with a range of highly talented people in an arboricultural consultancy (Homewood Consulting) and in groups based at the University of Melbourne, La Trobe University, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, and Landcare Research in New Zealand during which I’ve was able to utilise my skills in the fields of genetics and pollination biology.

More recently, I’ve become part of the furniture at the RBGV contributing to research in a broad range of plant and fungal (and even insect) studies often utilising genetic approaches such as DNA barcoding, whole genome sequencing, phylogenomics, and population genomics. I’ve been involved in several projects with the Genomics for Australian Plants (GAP) initiative ( including the generation of a reference genome sequence for our national floral emblem (Acacia pycnantha). The tools now available for genetic studies with direct implications for taxonomy, biodiversity assessment and conservation have improved incredibly during the last decade and never cease to amaze me.

I still have great memories of my studies and the people at Burnley and some of my closest friends I met way back on that first day of semester 1 in 1993! I can only hope that future generations of undergraduate and postgraduate students can have such a positive experience with their studies.

Burnley Graduate Profile No. 20 Dr. Josquin Tibbits

Years at Burnley:  2 years, 1990-1992

Course studied: Associate Diploma in Horticulture (Arb)

Favourite subject: Hard to choose — Plant Biology

Favourite plant: Agathis robusta



I decided to go to Burnley because:
In my late teens, after skiing for a year, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I found work as a ground crew for an arborist who had graduated from Burnley in the mid-1980s.  I basically fell in love with trees and still to this day am following this passion. Going to Burnley to study arboriculture was the obvious thing to do and it certainly was a fantastic experience.  I remember in the first six months basically living off the vegetables we grew down the back of the site.  So many great memories. [the Field Station—Ed]

Since I graduated from Burnley I have:
Worked for city councils, and privately in arboriculture, gone back to university and studied a lot more – obtaining a double degree in science/forest science (Hons.) and on from there to get a PhD in forestry molecular genetics.

Since graduating I have pretty much worked in research supporting the forest and agricultural industries in delivering genomics science to breeding systems, first at The University of Melbourne and for the past eleven years at Agriculture Victoria.

I have had the honour of being able to contribute to the publication of the first complete genome assembly of a eucalypt in 2014,  which was published in Nature and more recently to the publication of the first complete genome of wheat, which was published in the journal Science in 2018.  I currently have projects that are integrating genomic data into wheat breeding, and in a world first, into forest tree breeding programs, where we are aiming to massively accelerate the rate of genetic gain*  to meet the dual challenges posed by climate change and increasing scarcity of food and wood driven by world population pressure

Burnley Graduate Profile No. 19  Ian Shears

Years at Burnley
1985 – 88; 1993 – 1996

Courses studied
Bachelor of Applied Science Horticulture
Masters of Applied Science Horticulture.

Favourite subject
There were many engaging subjects in the Bachelor Degree course, and in many ways it was the passion and knowledge of the lecturers that brought them to life. I was very fortunate to have an esteemed cohort of academics including Greg Moore, James Hitchmough, Pater May and John Patrick, to name just a few. Plant and soil science, arboriculture, landscape design and urban landscape management all resonated strongly with me and have informed many aspects of my work over the years.

Favourite Plant
It is hard for me to go past Corymbia citriodora. It’s such a majestic tree with its smooth seasonally-changing bark, graceful ascending branches and lemon-scented foliage. I fondly recall lunching under the lemon-scented gum at Burnley in the lawn next to the old tennis court and bathing in its aromatic lemon scent. I have been inspired by many wonderful specimens such as the trees in the roundabout in College Crescent, Carlton, and the glorious Fraser Avenue in Kings Park, Perth. I have generously shared my enthusiasm for this species by planting many in Melbourne so that others can enjoy their contribution to city streets and river edges-and in particular the five rows along Birdwood Avenue in Kings Domain. Along with it’s many aesthetic attributes it is a great urban tree that is tolerant of wide range of environments, soils and rainfall conditions, and its climate readiness.

I decided to go to Burnley because
I was travelling and working in Europe in my early 20s and had decided that my first career as a chef was not for me. I wanted to pursue my evolving passions for either photography or landscape design and plants, and so returned to Australia to study. I had been inspired by the magnificent landscapes of Europe, and was developing a photography practice in London but felt formal study was a better approach for me. I knew students at Burnley and also at the Photographic Studies College, and in talking to them I decided to go with horticulture as a profession and keep photography as a hobby. A ‘sliding doors’ moment that I have not regretted, and subsequently I feel blessed to be able to work in this fabulous industry.

Since graduation from Burnley I have
While I have two graduate degrees I have continually been connected to Burnley. I was privileged to embark on a range of tutoring and lecturing roles following graduation of the Bachelor Degree, and along with consulting through the Centre for Urban Horticulture that was coordinated by Nick Bailey (more fun than his statistics lectures!) I continued to gain knowledge and experience. Geoff Olive, Ian Winstone and a young John Rayner were formative to work with through this period. The part-time nature of this work also allowed me to embark on a Masters Degree, part-time supervised initially by James Hitchmough and followed by Peter May when James returned to the UK. I recall Peter reviewing an early draft of the thesis and indicated the writing was ‘verbose and tautological’. I have certainly improved since then!

I have always been interested in understanding the transference of knowledge to guide or inform on-ground outcomes, the – ‘applied’ part of horticultural science. This perspective led me to the City of Moreland for just over 12 months as a Street Landscape Officer implementing the newly approved Street Landscape Guidelines. This was an interesting role predominantly involved in streetscape upgrades and utilising a suite of indigenous trees.

In early 2000 I joined the City of Melbourne and led some of the most formative urban greening programs for 20 years, evolving my positions into leadership roles to shape the strategic directions of greening in the municipality. It is fascinating to note that the city’s planting policies since the 1890s have been influenced by the school Burnley-an influence still resonating strongly today.

Rethinking management of Melbourne’s trees
One of my most instrumental times at the City of Melbourne was during the Millennium drought (1996 – 2010) when severe water restrictions and lack of rainfall impacted heavily on the green components of the city in both the public and private realm. There were huge concerns expressed by the community about the state of the city’s major parklands, boulevards and avenues and heritage landscapes and trees. This important asset had clearly moved from being taken for granted to the forefront of people’s minds concerned with its potential loss.

The Millennium drought enabled a rethink and repositioning of the role of city greening, its importance to the health and wellbeing of the community, and the liveability of the city. Prior to the drought, trees were predominantly viewed from a heritage, aesthetic or amenity perspective. As the drought progressed and the decline of many trees accelerated throughout the municipality the recognition that a new ‘urban forest’ was needed, a recognition compounded and informed by the increasing community pressure and scientific validation of climate change. Not only trees but understory plantings, walls and roofs were thought of as ‘green infrastructure’, a key response to urban heat island effect, urban densification, and extreme weather events. The environmental service provision, city cooling, urban ecology, health and wellbeing, and air quality were now being recognised as the benefits of green infrastructure planning in economic, social and environmental terms and as drivers for the design of future thriving urban forests.

The Urban Forest Strategy
This transformative thinking evolved into the City of Melbourne Urban Forest Strategy 2012 – 2032. This seminal work has been recognised at state, national and international levels, and was acknowledged with many high-profile local and international awards. A major intent of the strategy was to be transferable and scalable and to provide ongoing leadership in urban forestry. This has been highly successful with cities and municipalities throughout Australia having developed and implemented urban forest strategies. In 2010 Australia’s first local government Urban Forester position was created at the City of Melbourne– there are now many. A huge highlight has been the development of the Australian School of Urban Forestry in partnership with the University of Melbourne and the initiation of a community of practice for participants. Therefore, in a very short period of time, urban forestry has become mainstream.

The strategy was awarded the Australian Institute of Landscape Architecture Victoria Medal in 2014. An excerpt from the citation is:

‘The Urban Forest Strategy and Precinct Plans provide an exemplar of how to transform policy into practice to create a distinctive and liveable city, whilst providing a common ground for sharing and building community links to place.
‘The project marks a transformational change in the way the urban forest is considered and managed in the city. By demonstrating the essential social and economic and environmental services that trees provide, the strategy clearly articulates the benefits that nature can deliver in creating liveable cities.

‘The strategy expounds the significant contribution that a Green Infrastructure design-led approach can make towards addressing social, environmental and economic issues in our urban environment whilst also contributing to climate change resilience.’

This ‘mainstreaming’ has seen green infrastructure recognised for its critical Climate Change Adaptation role in developing resilience in the urban context. One of the subsequent strategies, Resilient Melbourne’s key flagship project Living Melbourne – Metropolitan Urban Forest Strategy, inspired by the Melbourne strategy, importantly frames the role of the forest in responding to the shocks and stressors of climate change in the urban as well as regional environments.

Moving ahead in Green Infrastructure planning
By developing the Urban Forest Strategy the Urban Landscapes Branch was established at the City of Melbourne and subsequently developed a leading suite of strategies and polices informed by leaders in multiple fields that came together to help create an integrated and transdisciplinary approach.

This body of work (2010 – 2020) was developed in conjunction with a range of local partners including Melbourne University, Victorian State Government, RMIT and Monash University. Importantly it has been efficacious in securing ongoing funding for the implementation of a wide range of green infrastructure initiatives including large-scale storm water harvesting systems and green roofs, a consistently three-dimensional approach to urban greening.

Other formative projects over this period includes the Urban Forest Fund, and The City of Melbourne’s Future Urban Forest. The Urban Forest Fund leverages publicly accessible greening in the private realm through matching funding.

The importance of tree selection to address our changing climate was explored in The City of Melbourne’s Future Urban Forest, which scientifically assessed the vulnerability and adaptability of tree species currently planted to increasing urban temperatures and to identify potential new ‘climate ready’ species. This work has been furthered by the Clean Air and Urban Landscapes Hub in its subsequent publication to examine a range of cities throughout Australia in Risks to Australian Urban Forests from climate change and urban heat.

The people in the forest
Connecting with the community is one of the most essential processes in strategy development. For example, many and diverse community engagement processes were fundamental to the success of the Urban Forest Strategy. From the community engagement process the Urban Forest Visual was created, a publicly facing web site of Melbourne’s trees detailing species information, health, useful life expectancy including the ability to email a tree. From a mechanism to raise concerns about tree health or damage came an amazing outpouring of communications from people to the trees. There are now thousands of emails from around the world to the trees – many of which the trees have responded to!

While the majority of my career has focussed on trees and green infrastructure I did have the opportunity to circle back to my early Masters research into flowering meadows inspired by James Hitchmough. James often highlighted the need of being a ‘purveyor of delight’ and flowering meadows give that in spades. The meadow we created in Birrarung Marr was without doubt the horticultural intervention that drew the most positive response from the public in my time at Melbourne. The ‘Woody Meadow’ project undertaken with Melbourne University is another great collaboration between practitioners and academia.

A broader stage
The widespread recognition of the body of work throughout this period has enabled me to showcase and promote urban forestry at local, national and international forums. I am currently on the Hong Kong Urban Forest Advisory Group, the Panel of Advisors for Trees for Honolulu’s Future, and serve on several Boards and Steering Committees, as well as being an Honorary Fellow, at the School of Ecosystem and Forest Science at the University of Melbourne.

There have been many highlights in presenting at conferences in places as diverse as Japan, South Korea, Canada, UK, USA, Italy, Hong Kong and Honolulu. A highlight for me has been the opportunity to see very positive developments and outcomes in city transformations in these cities. Most notably the Highline in New York and Cheonggyecheon Stream in Seoul. Perhaps the most surreal moment was having lunch among many colleagues at the White House with John Kerry (then Secretary of State under Barak Obama) and Michael Bloomberg.

Where to now
After 20 years at the City of Melbourne I now enjoy consulting and teaching and have been privileged to work on wide ranging projects with more inspiring people. Some international projects such as urban greening in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania with the World Bank, and in Phnom Penh, Cambodia with the UN have been fascinating as well as for local governments within Melbourne, regionally and interstate. Recently I helped to deliver a course in Tree ID and Selection at Burnley which was very fulfilling.

And as I recognise that I have more of my career behind me rather than in front, I still love being connected to Burnley, love learning and realise that I am not young enough to know everything.


Burnley Graduate Profile No. 18: Sascha Andrusiak

Dear Friends, this Graduate Profile marks one of the most significant events in the Gardens for quite some years—the appointment of a new manager/curator, Sascha Andrusiak. Sascha tells us:

Years at Burnley: (1999-Present)

Course studied: Diploma of Applied Science Horticulture (1999-2001), Batchelor of Applied Science Horticulture (2001-2003) Honours (2009).

Favourite subject:  Ecology, Plant Propagation, Plant Science, Plant Identification.
Coming from a background of humanities at high school, and thoroughly intending to become the next Shakespeare (or at least a literature teacher) imagine my surprise when I decided that I wanted to be a horticultural scientist. Having avoided all science and maths at school, I went on to complete my courses here with Deans Honours. It was a lot of hard work, and many long nights of study, motivated in large part by the wonderful teaching specialists we had here at Burnley. They were my idols – I only ever dreamed I could be as amazing as they were!

Favourite plant:
Oh, that’s like asking me to choose a favourite child…impossible!  I’m prone to go through phases of adoration (read ‘obsession’) with a particular plant, or plant family, or plant grouping, absorbing everything I can about it and then moving on to the next obsession. I have a particular thing for rare orchids, wild roses, poppies, foxgloves, Brugmansias and Euphorbias. Now I have a thing for Philodendrons (aroid types) and Alocasias … next month I may have moved on to the next plant, but I always remember what I’ve learned and stay fond of each plant I’ve ever loved!

Sascha’s favourite brugsmansia

I decided to go to Burnley because:
Plants and gardens had always been a way of life for me in my family, with my mother being an avid gardener. She bought me my first plant to care for at about age 3 (a Hypoestes with pink spotty leaves). It was a normal weekend to visit Ian Nichols in Cheltenham, (a young) Stephen Ryan in Macedon and many of the amazing growers and nurseries, many of whom are no longer around.   My careers advice at High School was to become a childcare worker… so I enrolled in university and by the end of the first year I realised that if I looked after other people’s children all day, every day, I would never have my own! (Bless early childhood educators!)

Not long after, I was living in a complex in Brunswick and the owners had allowed me to have free reign to create a garden in the courtyard. I spent every spare moment outside of work tending to my urban jungle and working very unenthusiastically in tele sales. One day they asked if I had ever considered horticulture as a career rather than just a hobby– I laughed and said, ‘Surely no one will pay me to do what I love the most!’ they told me that there was a whole university devoted to plants and gardens.  I lost my mind – I had never even considered it. They bundled me into the car and drove me down to Burnley. I was in awe. I had found my tribe and then remembered, while standing in the field station, that I had been here before! At about age 12, my mum brought me to a garden show (Thank you Mum) I still remember being fascinated as I learned about worm farms and helping to save the environment. I remember buying seeds to sow and guides for companion planting on that day.  I felt so excited and hopeful! It proves that Burnley can have a profound effect on those who experience all it has to offer the community!

Caladenia tentaculata

Since I graduated from Burnley I have:
I have had a few outside jobs including running my own garden design business, but I always found myself drawn back to Burnley. It was clear I had found my Village. I continued to work casually in the Burnley Nursery during my studies and after.  I made wonderful friends there with all the Nursery Staff including Nick, Alex, Jeremy, and Vince. Soon Alex suggested I work as a research assistant for Paul Gibson Roy and John Delpratt on their grassland seed production area and other great projects. After that I began working as a research assistant for a project on preservation of the rare terrestrial orchid Caladenia tentaculata and demonstrating for Magali Wright in Plant science. I was also a tutor for Stu Burns’ Plant Identification class.

Eventually I applied for a secure job as Nursery technician in 2011, and for 10 years I cared for the nursery and our coursework teaching and research needs. I just left that role for my new role as the Burnley Gardens and Operations Officer, and I am loving it! What an honour, all these years later, to be charged with the care of this beautiful place that helped inspired me to love horticulture as a child.



Burnley Graduate Profile No. 17: Teena Crawford

Years at Burnley:
I studied full time for three years 1980 – 1982.

Course studied:
Diploma of Applied Science in Nursery Production and Management

Studying at Burnley College, part of Department of Agriculture. The three-year course, the best offered at the time, with classes commencing late January and finishing mid-December. There were more than 35 contact hours a week of lectures and practical classes. In addition, we all had a plot which we tended, growing vegetables, and flowers, with a written report due at the end of each semester.

Favourite subject:
We studied all sorts of subjects from surveying and engineering to botany and soil science. I enjoyed all the subjects for different reasons. Some because of the lecturers such as Greg Moore, who was knowledgeable and entertaining, making plant physiology fun.

Other subjects such as irrigation and engineering fascinated me. I had a strong interest in Business management, loving everything to do with profit, loss, accounts, and P&L statements.

It was probably plant ID I found the most challenging and fascinating. The Latin names did not make any sense to me initially but after studying for a while I began to master them. Even today I find them challenging at times to pronounce.

Favourite plant: Plants are my passion so I struggle to answer this question. It fascinates me how diverse the plant kingdom is. How plants are able to adapt to the most unusual places to grow. Plants are integral to humans on so many layers – food, shelter, enjoyment, cleaning our air, etc.  It is a particularly good day when I learn about a new plant or see a plant used well in the landscape. …..I do have a fond spot for Luculia grandiflora……..

I decided to go to Burnley because:
My parents and grandparents had a nursery called Huntingdale Nursery. We lived at the back of the nursery and my grandparents lived at the front, with the nursery in between. My earliest memories are being among the plants and flowers, with my parents, grandparents, and the wonderful Italian gentlemen that used to help in the nursery after working in the factory all week. The nursery was a wholesale specialist ‘Azalea’ grower supplying both the retail and landscape industries. Being a family business and seasonal crop, as young children we worked in the nursery, particularly during the busy times.

At high school I had aspirations of being a Statistician or Actuary but after doing work experience in an office in Melbourne CBD it became evident my passion was for a career in plants, gardens, horticulture, and small business.

Since I graduated from Burnley I have:
For the first five years after Burnley I worked in the family business growing Azaleas. Mono cropping meant all aspects of growing – growing media, environment, fertigation, pest and disease control was critical. If something was wrong the whole crop could be affected. Although I had spent most of my life working in the nursery during weekends and school holidays this gave me the opportunity to ‘hone’ my growing skills.

In addition, the many hours spent learning botany was invaluable to be able to ID every Azalea variety by foliage alone, no flowers needed.

Following the closure of Huntingdale Nursery, I landed my dream job – Manager of Smith and Gordon Nursery. At the time I did not realise what I had stumbled into, but it was the start of an extraordinary learning journey for more than 32 years.

Smith and Gordon Nursery at NGIV Trade Day

Smith and Gordon Nursery was owned by two brothers, Rick and Ross Eckersley.  Both allowed me to run the nursery, while supporting and mentoring me along the way.

Rick exposed me to a greater world of landscape design, environmental issues, and life in general.

Ross was the business mentor, often we would have long conversations about business issues such as finance, capital works, and HR.

At Smith and Gordon, I was privileged to grow plants for the best Australian garden designers who created beautiful landscapes with our plants. Often, I would discuss with the designers’ plant solutions for their projects, sometimes even meeting the designers onsite.   This was invaluable to the evolution of Smith and Gordon’s growing list of plants. I was lucky to see the most amazing gardens and landscapes.

The other major part of the business was with retail nurseries. We grew for some of the best retail nurseries in Australia. All this added to the challenge of business and growing plants but in return I learnt a lot, and made many lifetime friends.

I have been fortunate to enjoy a long and varied horticultural career. My major part has been working in the wholesale nursery but along the way I got to experience and learn in many other areas.

I enjoyed some part time work in retail nurseries, where I could enjoy conversing, helping, and inspiring home gardeners. In between serving customers there was the opportunity to brush up on my plant knowledge such as understanding  the intricacies between the numerous camellia varieties, learn about the latest tomato varieties, and the best plants for difficult garden areas such as water-logged soils, coastal exposure, or windy balconies.

A long stint co-hosting ‘Smart Gardening’ on 3AW radio on Saturday mornings with Rick Eckersley. The two-hour show was great fun, and we spent the time inspiring the listeners to garden, and respect and look after the environment. Plus answered many gardening questions on all manner of topics. From the radio gig I had the opportunity to do some writing with various publications, including The Age and Your Garden magazine. The radio work also led to a few other promotional opportunities.

With my long tenure in the Industry, I spent four years on the NGIV Board which gave me a greater insight to the Horticultural Industry and the invaluable role plants and gardens, including private, public and the natural landscape, make to society and make our cities liveable.

Another role I stumbled upon, but love doing, is working as a botanical guide on garden tours. Working for Botanica World Discoveries, I have been able to share my passion for plants, gardens, and the environment with guests on tours both in Australia and overseas.

Writing this in March, it is just prior to returning, after several years, as a show garden judge for Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show, a voluntary position giving me the opportunity to support the Horticultural Industry which has been a huge part of my life. MIFGS is the ‘standout’ event showcasing our wonderful Industry. The judging process is fascinating and challenging but equally rewarding.

Smith and Gordon Nursery closed in 2019, after its Dingley production nursery was compulsorily acquired by Vic Roads to build the Mordialloc freeway. Since the closure I have worked as a horticultural consultant in my own business, Teena Crawford Horticulture. This enables me to utilise the knowledge and experience I have gained over the journey, and continue to gain, while inspiring my clients about plants, gardens, and the environment.

When not working professionally, I am absorbed in gardening at home (my last two home gardens)

My one regret working professionally is that after graduating from Burnley 40 years ago I still have so much to learn…..


Burnley Graduate Profile No. 16 : Sandi Pullman

As many of the  achievements  Andrew Smith listed in the later years of his long career (see Newsletter no 76) were supported by the Friends of Burnley Gardens, it seemed appropriate that our Graduate of the Month for this Newsletter should be the founder of the Friends!

 Years at Burnley:
9 years, 1991-1994 1995-1998, 2003-2006

Course studied:
Advanced Certificate in Horticulture; Diploma of Applied Science Horticulture and Bachelor of Applied Science Horticulture (Honours)

I was very lucky, as when I applied to do horticulture through TAFE.  Burnley was the closest institution to Clifton Hill where I lived at the time, and my application went there.

Favourite subject:
Plant Identification

Favourite plant: Corymbia ficifolia syn. Eucalyptus ficifolia 

I decided to go to Burnley because:
I was a bit lost, didn’t know what I wanted to do (was in my late 20s) or what I was good at. I wanted to have a job outside, working with nature, and that was something I considered valuable.  Little did I know that Burnley would give me much much more.  At the time, in the 1990s, Burnley offered articulation from the TAFE courses to the Diploma or Degrees. Very clever.

I was able to give back to Burnley by initiating the Friends of Burnley gardens (the idea came from a Parks and Gardens lecture by Geoff Olive,),  and by nominating Burnley to the Victorian Heritage register.

Since I graduated from Burnley I have:
I have developed my interest in garden history, especially the early staff and students of Burnley.  I completed a Master of Architecture (Research) at Deakin University, on the successful horticultural lobbyist Ina Higgins who lobbied twice to have women admitted as formal student t o Burnley in 1899 and then again in 1911.

Am at present doing a PhD in Architecture at Deakin University on Charles Bogue Luffman’s (Burnley’s first Principal 1897 to 1908) contribution to horticultural education at Burnley and in Victoria at the turn of the twentieth century.

Employment Highlights have been: 

Research assistant for Dr. J. Zeunert (UNSW) book on Foodscapes of Sydney
Volunteer Research assistant for former Burnley lecturer Michele Adler, who is writing a new book on Burnley entitled: Burnley Gardens: their design and the people who loved them. I contributed information on Ina Higgins, Charles Bogue Luffman and the other early women students.

Ina Higgins
Charles Bogue Luffman








Government House – Maintaining the Governor’s Kitchen Garden

Lend-A-Hand, Supervisor for Work for the Dole – Completed a new Community Vegetable Garden

Winning the Victorian Community History Awards 2014 Historical Interpretation Award for the Garden at La Trobe’s Cottage

Gardening Australia, ABC TV – Program Assistant – Horticultural adviser answering TV’s emails.  It was a fantastic way to learn more about other plants in Australia.

Invited to contribute to The Oxford Companion to Australian Gardens – Olive Mellor

Horticultural Journalism Highlights have been:

Contributed many articles, mainly on students and staff of Burnley to the Australian Garden History Society (AGHS) journal since 2010

Invited by the AGHS to review the book: Wonder 175 Years of Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria

Contributed vegetable articles to Vasili’s Garden to Kitchen Garden Magazine since 2010

Contributed articles to The Age Saturday Extra – Gardening Section on heritage parks and gardens.


Burnley Graduate Profile No. 15 : Kerry Reber

Years at Burnley: 1996-1999

Course Studied: Bachelor of Applied Science (Horticulture)

Favourite Subject:
My favourite subject was Landscape Design. This was before CAD designing, meaning I had to get creative with visualizing plant textures and colours and representing them graphically onto paper. I had studied Fine Art previously to Horticulture, so combining my love of plants with design was a natural fit. I enjoyed learning about design theory and the beautiful gardens around the world. I’ve since been fortunate to visit and be inspired by many of these iconic gardens.

Combining certain subjects (such as Landscape Design, Landscape Construction, and Plant Materials in the degree course) provided the foundational learning to starting up my own landscape design and construction company, which I operated for twelve years.

Favourite Plant:
I have so many favourites that it’s hard to choose just one. I have an equal love for both natives and exotics and my home garden is a blend of both.

As a current favourite I’d choose Gingko biloba (Maidenhair Tree) for its delicate branches and leaves. It dominates and provides structure to the rest of my cottage-style garden and the leaves turn the most glorious yellow in autumn.  Gingko biloba also has a fascinating history, dating back to Jurassic times, and is often referred to as a living fossil.

I decided to go to Burnley because:
I believe it was my love of David Attenborough documentaries that got me hooked on the natural world. I’ve always loved gardening, camping and being in nature so decided to study the Advanced Certificate in Horticulture at TAFE. I loved this course, and decided to further my studies by studying the Bachelor of Applied Science, Horticulture at Burnley. This multi-faceted course appealed as I wasn’t yet decided on a stream and after attending the first open day, I fell in love with the Burnley campus and knew that it was the right course for me.

Since I graduated from Burnley I have:
I was fortunate to land my first job out of university working as a horticultural technician at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne. Working at this expansive public garden grew my skills as a horticulturist. I was the curator of the Californian collection and with the help of my team, grew it into a first-class botanical collection.

I went on to work as an agricultural and horticultural consultant for over five years, researching and conducting farm management plans for private shareholders, on significant tree studies for local government and conducting horticultural trials for private companies.

This work led to a more business-focused career path, working as a Category manager, managing the procurement of plants and garden-care ranges for merchandising into the company’s chain of national hardware and retail nurseries.

One of Kerry’s recent gardens

It was at this period that I decided to branch out (pun intended) and start up my own residential landscape design and construction company. For twelve years, my team and I worked on many interesting garden projects around Melbourne. This work expanded my abilities as a designer to create a diverse series of gardens; including themed gardens, edible and vertical gardens, soft and hard landscapes to suit each style of house.
Due to the pandemic (& a progressively aching back), I decided to pack up the tools and commence work as a business development and marketing manager for a commercial and residential landscaping company.

After twenty-seven years of working within the horticultural industry, I continue to love working in this continually expanding and progressive field. The experiences I’ve gained and the people I’ve met working in horticulture continue to shape my own personal growth; after all these years I still love getting my hands dirty!

Burnley Graduate Profile No. 14 : Phil Johnson

Years at Burnley: 1994-1998

Course studied: Bachelor of Applied Science Horticulture

Favourite Subject:
 Landscape Design – my lecturer was Ruth Beilin who was absolutely incredible.  I came to Burnley with very much an artistic background: my father is an artist and had inspired me in design.

When I started at Burnley the studies were all very much science based subjects, soil science etc.., which was really challenging for an artistic minded person like myself. I hadn’t realized or been diagnosed at this stage but I have dyslexia, and found academia really challenging at times. So the creative side all came through Landscape Design.

Other subjects I loved were Arboriculture with Dr. Greg Moore, he was really inspirational.  I loved my plant ID that was another area that piqued my creativity.  As it was before digital cameras and I hand drew every plant that I was learning the name of.  I found that drawing the detail of the plant was the best way for me to learn and to remember the names. Having said all that I did learn to love Soil Science in time, I found it fascinating. So, answering the question: I love Landscape Design and Arboriculture.

Xanthorrhoea sp.- one of Phil’s favourites, in one of his gardens, this one in the Strathbogies.

Favourite plant:
I have so many favourites, and an extensive plant pallette it’s really hard to put down one plant. I love the versatility of Brachychiton rupestris (Queensland Bottle Tree), this tree can grow and adapt in many extreme environments. Eucalyptus regnans (Mountain Ash) is another favourite, my Design studio in Olinda is just surrounded by these incredible giants. Xanthorrhoea glauca, a seed grown xanthorrhoea that is wonderfully adaptable.  I also love the architectural plant Acacia aphylla and a small eucalypt, E. victrix.

I decided to go to Burnley because:
Burnley gave me this opportunity with their multi-faceted degree in Applied Science (Horticulture), this degree covered so many different areas of Horticulture and gave a diverse understanding of running and setting up a landscape business.

Since I graduated from Burnley I have:
Started up my own landscape Design and Construction company. Won Best in Show and Gold medal at the most prestigious flower show in the world, the Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show, and at this venue have had the honour to meet her Majesty the Queen twice.

Winning designer Phil with sponsor Wes Fleming and the team.

This same garden is now about to be built in the Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden in Olinda.  It was originally in Olinda that the vision and development of the design for this garden started at my office there.  It has taken almost 9 years to get this garden built in Australia, but we are almost there and in 2022 this will be open to the public.

Phil meets Her Majesty

My whole mantra is to ‘reconnect people back nature’, and when I left Burnley, English gardens were very popular; my Dad loves English gardens (we did live over in the UK for a number of years, Dad thinks he’s English!) and wanted me to only create English gardens.  It wasn’t until I won Best in Show at Melbourne International Flower Show in 2009 that he saw and understood that I wanted to connect people to nature through Australian gardens and create sustainable gardens.

I love gardens, loved the environment and the beautiful gardens at Burnley. I loved the environment, loved being in amongst nature and wanted to design an environment that replicated nature for people to immerse themselves in and live their lives within, in a sustainable way. I spent many lunch-times by the Billabong at Burnley, this really did inspire the vision for my future business. I used to tell my friends how lucky I felt to spend every day in this beautiful botanical garden. If I hadn’t gone to Burnley I wouldn’t be on this drive to push sustainability and to promote Australian Gardens.

The journey at Burnley was pivotal for my professional career and my success. I thank all the staff and the lecturers that helped and supported me through my struggle to get a pass. This degree of Applied Science (Horticulture) is such an important course, and should be reborn, especially with our current situation of climate change.

Horticulture really is the best industry in the world.

Burnley Graduate Profile No. 13: Melanie Kinsey

Melanie calls this image “Melanie Kinsey and friend”


Years at Burnley:
I commenced at Burnley in 1980 – the year the intake jumped from about 30 to over 60. I was 17½ when I walked through the door that 40° day in late January. I think I was the youngest student there and immediately I felt I was in the right place. I graduated in December 1982 when Jim Davis was principal.

Course studied:
I commenced the 3-year Diploma of Horticultural Science course, but at the end of my second year this was changed to the Diploma of Applied Science in Horticulture – and I chose the Amenity Horticulture stream. It was the highest horticultural qualification in Australia at the time.


Favourite subject:
I actually really enjoyed every subject – apart from Horticultural Business Management. Anything taught by Geoff Olive, Peter May or Greg Moore held my attention. I wonder if Greg remembers the class we substituted slides of topless models into his slideshow in Plant Science! John Patrick arrived in my second year and made landscape design interesting although he gave me a D for my dissertation. Either Geoff or John said my trees looked like woolly sheep!

Favourite plant:
I am a plant collector and my garden has become a bit of a collection of unusual things. I know this is not very good from a design element (never my strong point) but life is too short to plant multiples – I need one of everything! And I live way too close to Dicksonia Rare Plants! Having said that, I chose flannel flowers for my wedding bouquet as I love them so much.

Melanie graduates.

I decided to go to Burnley because:
My interest in gardening began with an afternoon’s instruction on the anatomy of a flower given to me by my native plant loving aunt when I was about 10, at Maranoa Gardens in Balwyn. I was going to follow in my mother’s, my aunt’s and my grandmother’s footsteps and become a kindergarten teacher, but I changed my mind part way into my HSC year. Thank goodness my parents knew about Burnley because I had no idea how to become a gardener let alone a horticulturist. In the interview Minette Russell-Young thought I was bit too young and that I should wait a year. I did not take her advice!

Since I graduated from Burnley I have:
My first job was as the gardener at the Victorian College of the Arts on St Kilda Rd. Then followed stints as a coach tour guide/cook and 12 months overseas. When I returned, I applied for a job at the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, and was offered an interview by Michael Looker, but at the same time I was offered a job as head gardener at a private girls’ school, which I took. How my life would have been different if I had taken the job at the RBG!

I then moved on to become a foreman at the City of Camberwell, in charge of all the roundabout plantings. I worked for James Orange, another Burnley graduate. By this stage my new husband and I had moved to Riddells Creek and I took the job of Superintendent of Parks and Gardens for the Shire of Gisborne. In charge of a crew of 5, I stayed there until Local Coluncil amalgamations. Then when 4 shires merged into one, they decided they didn’t need 4 superintendents of parks and gardens. The writing was on the wall when I was placed on the dunny cleaning run, so I decided the time had come to set up my own business. I did however remain committed to the Gisborne Botanic Gardens and started the Friends group with Stephen Ryan and a few others


The next chapter of my life saw me combining motherhood with garden design (the less said the better) and freelance horticultural photojournalism which, if I do say so myself, I was pretty good at. I am especially good at ending a sentence in a preposition. I spent many happy years writing about gardens, garden maintenance, nurseries, plants etc. I also became a selector for Australia’s Open Garden Scheme and opened my garden 4 times in the early 2000’s. But then the magazines began to fold and copyright became an issue, and I returned to ‘real’ work. I worked for a time at a retail nursery and at our local primary school as the handyperson, where I also organised all the working bees to keep the school buildings and grounds in good shape.

Then when my kids were both at secondary school, I started at the Shire (now City) of Melton as the Team Leader of Open Space Improvement. I then moved on from there to the City of Melbourne where I am today. My substantive role is as an Asset Improvement Officer in the Parks and City Greening department. My years of being involved mainly in the area of garden maintenance has stood me in good stead; as I was one of the team that goes into the parks every day to assess the quality of maintenance of the open space and tree contractors. At the moment however I am working in the Open Space Planning and Green Infrastructure team. I also look after playground maintenance, and this reminds me of a lecture at Burnley about where play fits in Maslow’s hierarchy of children’s needs.




With retirement looming, planning a new forever home and garden is at the forefront, although community horticultural projects beckon.


Burnley Graduate Profile No. 12: 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: 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: 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: 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:  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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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.