Shirley brings an open mind to gardens

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Open Gardens Canberra convenor Shirley Pipitone... “When I first heard that Open Gardens Australia was closing, I felt really upset.” Photo by Andrew Finch
Open Gardens Canberra convenor Shirley Pipitone… “When I first heard that Open Gardens Australia was closing, I felt really upset.” Photo by Andrew Finch
THE legacy of Open Gardens Australia looks set to live on in Canberra, with garden selector Shirley Pipitone hard at work bringing the all-new scheme Open Gardens Canberra to life.

“When I first heard that Open Gardens Australia was closing, I felt really upset,” says Shirley, who was a volunteer garden selector for eight years.

“It was almost a state of grief for me. By August last year, the sun was beginning to shine and I automatically started looking left and right at all the lovely gardens – then I’d remember, I can’t do this any more.”

Shirley says she put up with feeling miserable about not being able to select gardens for a month or so, then decided to get serious.

“I started sounding out people to see if anyone was interested in carrying the work on, but although people were supportive of the idea, there was no one prepared to actually do it,” she says. “I decided it would have to be me.”

Open Gardens Australia ran for 27 years and is closing at the end of June, but Shirley says she is determined not to let the spirit of the scheme die out.

“I’ve had a great response to Open Gardens Canberra so far, and already have an email list of more than 400 people,” she says.

Some of the gardens in the upcoming schedule, which will start in August/September, will be familiar to regular garden-goers, but Shirley says there will also be some that have never opened before.

“My goal is to have 10 gardens opening in the first year, and it’s looking good so far with seven already confirmed,” she says.

“I have five experienced selectors who all have a very different eye, and I know we will have a wonderful and varied selection of open gardens of all sizes – for example, one of our selectors has an interest in courtyard gardens, which will be inspiring for those with a smaller block.”

As a landscape architect, Shirley has designed private urban and rural gardens, but says she has a personal fondness for natives.

“I love all gardens but I fall in love extra hard with native gardens,” she says.

“This is where we live, and this is a difficult country to grow in, with poor soil, and water is a problem. I feel we should grow things that are at home in this environment.”

Shirley says that for Open Gardens Canberra, she is on the lookout for gardens that are located close together, so visitors can view more than one in a day.

“At the moment I’m focusing on the inner-Canberra region, but it will increase and grow in time,” she says. “In the future I would like to have at least one garden open every weekend.”

With the aid of a “small but passionate and skilled” committee, Shirley says she is thrilled to be taking on Open Gardens Canberra, despite the “hectic” workload.

“I’m excited; having the committee and gardens getting booked in makes it real,” she says.

“I’m just so passionate about this, and that passion will drive it and people will pick up on the passion from me.”

At this stage, Shirley plans to announce each garden as the season goes along, through a website and social media. Visiting the gardens will cost $8; the same as under Open Gardens Australia.


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Kathryn Vukovljak
Kathryn Vukovljak is a "CityNews" journalist with a particular interest in homes and gardens.

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