Rain clouds were still hanging around the hills of the Gloucester valley when members of the Gloucester Garden Club and visitors gathered in Gloucester District Park to celebrate National Gardening Week on Saturday, October 14.
The first substantial rain for many months freshened up the vegetation and the participants were in the mood for gardening.
An educational walk through the park was guided by MidCoast Council horticulturalist, Ian Jackson. He provided us with history of various sections of the huge park and pointed out many of the significant trees and shrubs – some long-term natives and others planted over the past 100 years. It is a parkland setting of approximately 20 hectares with expansive lawns, specimen trees, garden beds, picnic areas and waling tracks. Much of the area is within the floodplain of the Gloucester River and hence has billabongs and remnant river swales.
The history of the park starts with the Australian Agricultural Company that was granted the land in the early 1800s. The company granted the parkland to the council as a common for all to use. After a short period of private ownership the land was bought by Gloucester Shire Council and declared as a park in 1915. Over subsequent years other land has been added and even some attempts to dispose of the asset.
As we walked from the oval (with turf cricket pitch) we passed through banks of Camelia Sasanqua that have been planted on raised beds to provide better drainage. These are spectacular when flowering but well finished now but there was a lilac in flower to perfume our walk. Then we went past and discussed trees like Red Ash, Cork Oak, Pecan, Manchurian Pear and a strangler fig in a very large gum tree. There is one remaining Lombard Poplar from an avenue planted for the 50th Anniversary of the park.
Towards the northern end, we came to an area added in 1990 when council purchased vacant land that had been a market garden. There is a “human sundial” where people can tell the time by standing on a spot appropriate to the month of the year. The White Cedars were flowering well after the very dry weather but a mountain form of Banksia integrifolia (from the Barrington Tops) was a bit stressed.
In this area the GGC president, Shirley Hazell and Ian Jackson planted a blue flowering Paulownia tormentosa to commemorate National Gardening Week. A native tree to China, this tree grows well in gardens around Gloucester but its trials for commercial forestry in the district were not successful due to storm damage. The site chosen is a sheltered spot with good sun exposure and deep alluvial soil.
Minimah Garden, within the park, contains plants of cultural and food significance to local Aboriginals. The Red Ash or Soap Tree (Alphitonia excelsa) contain an anti-inflammatory chemical (Saponin) which has a history of aboriginal usage ranging from soap; to curing insect bites, tooth ache and muscle ache; to catching fish by de-oxygenating water holes. It is an attractive tree that grows quickly in the Gloucester and Manning valleys, can be used as plant for colonizing regeneration areas, and has good woodworking attributes for tools, barrels and furniture.
The Gloucester River forms the western and northern boundaries of the park and as it erodes substantially during floods, the exact boundary has changed over time. This has led to unsuccessful attempts to control the banks with engineering structures and even to “straighten” it in the 1950s. The legacy of this is continued bank erosion, loss of River Oak trees (Casuarina cunninghamiana), and the sedimentation of an area of river that was a popular swimming spot with its own change rooms for ‘bathers’. Council and the Gloucester Environment Group are continuing to work on river bank regeneration and the removal of weeds.
Back near the oval (and an hour and a half of delightful walking) we came to a Bunya Pine that had been planted early in the park’s development. The bunya-bunya has great culturally and culinary significance to Aboriginals in south east Queensland. While it was often planted near houses by early European settlers, most natural area were felled for timber or to allow for pasture development.
To mark Australia’s bi-centenary, Gloucester constructed a Pioneer Memorial Garden in 1988. This area has a wisteria pergola, rose beds, shrubs, and an area of low maintenance meadow flowers. This was established a few years ago by planting flower plant that self-seed: cornflowers, larkspur, nigella, Flanders poppy, Queen-Anne lace, wall flowers. Although it is now late Spring, the beds are still a mass of colour and the rose blooms are beautiful.
An enjoyable and educational walk was had in this park that is a fantastic asset for Gloucester.
The next meeting of Gloucester Garden club will be on Wednesday, October 25 at Judy Caldwell’s home, “Makeny”, 1060 Thunderbolts Way, Bowman Farm.
To get there, travel north from town, through Barrington and then turn right in Thunderbolts Way. Travel a further 2.6km and you will find “Makeny” on the right hand side.
If it’s wet the meeting will be in Barrington Hall, last time we were to go to Judy’s it was too wet so hopefully this time it will be a lovely day to enjoy her lovely relaxed spring garden
Don’t forget your chair, mug and morning tea to share, something for the flower and vegetable competition.