Man For All Seasons
STORY AND IMAGES BY RICHARD CORNISH
So you’re a gardener?” we ask Simon Rickard as we wander past established trees, trimmed hedges and herbaceous borders of his Trentham property. “I was,” he says with a laugh. “But my back isn’t what it was, so I have given up digging holes in the ground and let my brain do the work now.” The garden designer and consultant worked for Diggers at Heronswood at McCrae on the Mornington Peninsula from 2001 for eight years until he moved to their Blackwood property Garden of St Erth where he stayed until became a consultant, helping private clients in the region design or reinvigorate their gardens.
“When you say ‘region’ we should think three regions and smaller micro climates,” says Simon. “It’s cold and dry in Ballarat region. It’s cold and damp in Central Highlands particularly where there is altitude, and when you move towards Castlemaine it gets drier and hotter,” he explains. “But that is all changing further with global warming.”
He gained his first insights into gardening at his Grandmother’s side growing up in Canberra. She was a Dig for Victory gardener, mixing fruit trees with vegetables and flowering plants. As a boy he became interested in orchids, so his father built him a greenhouse to protect his collection from the capital’s chill. He toyed with botany but found his calling as young man came not from plants but from music from the distant past. He spent four years at the Canberra School of Music before moving to The Hague to complete a post graduate degree in music of the Renaissance. While touring Europe he fell in love with gardens again and in England he came across Sissinghurst, the garden of writer Vita Sackville-West. “The love of plant husbandry and the high degree of value people put in their public gardens in Europe truly struck me.”
Now working in the territory of Lost Magazine, he comes across common problems people have with gardening in these ‘regions’. “When people start a garden,” he says, “They tend to bite off more that they can chew.” He explains that many people, instead of having a master plan, start working a new garden around the house and then radiating. “Having an overall view of where the garden will be in years to come will help eliminate this situation,” says Simon. He also sees people, particularly those new to the area, not really understanding the climate they are in. “People come here (to Trentham) and plant tomatoes and expect fruit in summer,” he says. “But we can have frosts well into the start of summer, so without a greenhouse you can kiss most Solanaceae (tomatoes, capsicum etc.) goodbye. Except potatoes of course.” He adds that on the other hand brassicas, such as cabbage and Brussels sprouts, really benefit from the cold and develop sweeter flavours as the starch in the leaves turns to sugars to protect the cells from frost damage.
He suggests people look to similar climates around the world and see what is growing and doing well there. He also suggests people living in the Daylesford Trentham area look to the sub alpine areas of the Mediterranean such as the Pyreness and North Africa around the Atlas Mountains. Simon lists pencil pines, evergreen oak species such as cork oak and holm oak, palmettos and euphorbias as plants for consideration. “Take cyclamen, for example,” he says, “they live in the dry, cold mountains, but we bring them indoors where it is warm and humid and kill them. They are a great plant for garden beds.” He says to look at the botanic gardens around the region and learn from them what is doing well in each town. “Put away the books on English gardens and read books about what is doing well in the Californian climate,” he says. “When it comes to gardening you need to cut your coat according to your cloth.”