Wowed by weeds in shady cemetery

A few weeks ago garden historian Helen Page took my family for a walk through Boroondara General Cemetery, in Kew (Melbourne). My son and daughter-in-law were visiting from Sydney and we thought this might be a quintessential Melburnian outing - well, we'd done the coffee joints and restaurants.

Helen has been part of a revival of this first garden cemetery in Australia. Until she got there the number of trees was dropping each year, as they died or were removed. Tree numbers have now more than stablised and the 'garden' is taking over from the 'cemetery'. Soon there will be no new burials - even now it's just family plots and ashes associated with the mausoleum and rows of roses.

While the trees are impressive, including lots of mature and unusual cypresses (one being this only specimen of the Golden Funeral Cypress - Chamaecyparis funebris 'Aurea' - in Victoria), I was diverted by the weeds.

Fields of South African Gazanias and Poppies were looking good, as was Rosemary rampant over decaying tombstones and tombs. I was falling in love with the flecks of Fumary (Fumaria) flowers, and the occasional eruptions of Peruvian Bluebell (Scilla peruviana; including an occasional white-flowered variant). Helen is OK with Gazania, and the big bricks walls should contain it's spread a little, but would like to clip and contain the Rosemary. For the Peruvian Bluebell (below), she has little time.

Incidentally, I mentioned this species back in August, explained it apparently inexplicable name, given it is native to the Mediterranean, in a recent post. However I failed to mention then that it is an occasional weed of native bushland in western Victoria (persisting from old properties and spreading locally).

Apart from the misleadingly named bluebell, Helen recognises the appeal of this ragbag collection of the world's tenacious species, and if she has her way some will remain as a colourful and respectful ground cover while specific areas are returned to native grasses and others to more formal plantings.

Boroondara Public Cemetery was apparently the first garden cemetery in Australia. The first grave was dug and filled in 12 March 1859 - 13 years to the month after the Botanic Gardens began in Melbourne. In fact the Director of the Botanic Gardens, William Guilfoyle, had a hand in a small part of its landscaping.

In 1907 Dr John Springthorpe finished building the above memorial and garden to the memory of his wife Annie, who died during the birth of their fourth child. The building was designed by Harold Desbrowe Annear assisted by Springthorpe but the original landscape around it was design by Guilfoyle. That landscape has changed over time and now is little more than a few trees of mixed health. For more on the memorial and garden see this post by Janine Rizzetti.

As Rizzetti points out, Dr Springthorpe doesn't actually name his wife on the memorial but does wish us all to note that she was born on 26 January 1867, married on 26 January 1887 and buried 26 January 1897. Australia Day, or Anniversary Day as it was known at the time, defined and disrupted Annie Springthorpe's life.

Her memorial was described by the The Age (in 1933) as 'one of the most beautiful and most costly in the commonwealth'. It took ten years to build and cost between £4,500 and £10,000.

There are other noteworthy graves, gravestones, memorials ... and trees. River Red Gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) seeded from remnants outside the wall were some of the first trees to feature in this 12.5 hectare garden cemetery, named (as is the local Council area) after the local Aboriginal word for 'a place of shade', boroondara.


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