Gardening / Pioneers dug in for good

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Vegetables on display at a society show.

Canberra’s first gardening club is celebrating its 90th birthday and there is much to celebrate, writes gardening columnist CEDRIC BRYANT.

THIS is a momentous year for the Horticultural Society of Canberra, the city’s first gardening club now celebrating its 90th birthday.

Cedric Bryant.

The formation of the HSOC was not without drama. In 1925 an attempt to form a garden club called the Canberra Horticultural Society failed, mainly due to financial problems.

Further attempts were made in 1927 and 1928, equally without success.

Canberra in those days was a raw place and, indeed, the term bush capital was appropriate, although that name was not used until many years later.

In those days, trees and shrubs were supplied free by the government nursery.

On March 27, 1929, a meeting was called again to try to start a garden club. It was more successful this time and with assistance from the then Parks and Gardens Department, a provisional committee was formed with a change of name to the Horticultural Society of Canberra.

The first president was Mr AE Bruce, the then superintendent of Parks and Gardens. His great love was roses and he was responsible for planting the rose gardens on the median strip of Commonwealth Avenue in front of the Hotel Canberra and Albert Hall. I have a copy of the planting plan of the roses.

Mr Bruce remained president until 1932, establishing the three-year term of office as listed in the new constitution. The society flourished through the Depression and World War II. The first female president was Joyce Kavanagh, 1972-1975.

The cover of the first 1948 “Canberra Gardener”.

One of the society’s great achievements was publishing “The Canberra Gardener”, the first edition of which appeared in 1948. The latest, 10th edition was published in 2010 and is readily available through bookshops and many newsagents. It remains an invaluable guide and reference book for gardeners in the ACT. Even more importantly for those moving to Canberra from other climes such as Queensland with our range of seasons.

To celebrate these events, the Canberra Museum and Gallery in Civic will hold a display celebrating the history of “The Canberra Gardener” from August 30 to November 1. This display will include other historic gardening items.

The society meets at 7.30pm on the third Monday of every month, except for a Christmas break, at the Wesley Church Centre on National Circuit, Forrest; all are welcome. An interesting speaker is always engaged at these meetings.

In addition, the society stages spectacular flower shows. A special emphasis is placed on the participation of children.

The cover of the current “Canberra Gardener”

The society also has a demonstration garden on the corner of Battye and Purdie Streets, Bruce. This is where plants are trialled, often new varieties supplied by commercial growers from interstate to assess their suitability for Canberra.

The garden is open to the public at various times. Members are encouraged to help develop the garden through regular working bees. Some members who don’t have a garden can still enjoy gardening.

The first show this spring will be the Spring Bulb and Camellia Show on the weekend of September 14-15.

Full information on other events at

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Cedric Bryant
Trained horticulturist and garden designer with over 30 years experience in the industry.

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