When roses are red, fingers are blue…

A LOVE of roses is the driving force behind a small and dedicated group of gardening volunteers, who think nothing of getting up early in the morning to prune, weed and deadhead the flowers of the five beautifully scented and colourful rose gardens at Old Parliament House.

“We always start on whichever bed has the sun, because it’s pretty cold at 8am,” says volunteer Fred Knowler. “We tried coming later but it’s impossible to find a car park.


“We usually work from 8am-10am, then go for a tea or a coffee afterwards together at the Pork Barrel. All the volunteers have become friends; it’s pretty much the same team that’s been doing this for a while.”

Greg Cornwell, president of the new Friends of Old Parliament House Rose Garden – a 118-strong group that’s risen from the ashes of the original Friends of the Old Parliament House Gardens, which was shut down in 2007 because of the National Capital Authority’s financial restraints – says that the maintenance of the gardens would be impossible without the volunteers.

“We’re here to keep an interest in the gardens for people who love roses,” he says. “The NCA is still maintaining the gardens with the help of horticultural staff and volunteers, and many of the original ‘Friends’ have rejoined and are supporting our fundraising activities – such as publications, concerts and events.

“It’s about maintaining the connection of the Canberra community with the gardens.

“These would be the greatest collection of roses in Australia, so we have a responsibility to the rest of the nation to protect the gardens. I’m pleased to be a part of it and to be president of the organisation.”

Fred says every volunteer at the rose gardens attends a training session to begin with, with OPH Rose Gardens team leader, Graham Evans, to give practical instruction, and the rules, regulations and responsibilities of working in the garden.

“Most of the volunteers have a basic idea of gardening, and a love of roses, but we have to work together and make sure we’re all doing the same thing,” he says.

“You get the bug for this. It’s a beautiful spot to work in.”

A collection of poetry called “There’s Something About a Rose” is for sale through the Friends of the Old Parliament House Rose Gardens, for $15 plus $3 for postage. Email friendsophrosegardens@gmail.com for more information.

In 1933, Robert Broinowski (Secretary of the Joint House Department and Usher of the Black Rod) asked Dame Mary Hughes, Dame Enid Lyons and other wives of parliamentarians to support the Ladies Rose Garden. They agreed, and soon commenced gathering donations of one shilling and four pence per rose. Many women contributed roses for the garden, in particular Hybrid Tea and Floribunda roses, which were popular as cut flowers. When Parliament was in session, thousands of roses and other flowers were cut from the parliamentary gardens and used in Parliament House for floral displays. Throughout the 1930s and after World War II, Members and Senators would also take boxes of flowers cut from the gardens back to their homes, once Parliament had adjourned. The roses are arranged by colour in quadrants of white, yellow, red and pink shades. To provide a unifying effect, companion planting of perennial plants in blue shades has been placed amongst the roses. Information from www.nationalcapital.gov.au

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