Helping Hands – who are we?

Many hands make light work, or in this case the equivalent of several volunteers working together for half a day every second Wednesday on particular areas of the Melbourne Gardens, at E Gate Lodge and Eastern Lodge. These are well defined areas that benefit from regular and focused attention from the Helping Hands group of FRBG Volunteers. We enjoy the opportunity for hands-on gardening under the supervision of Gardens’ curators Therese Turner (Coordinator, Horticulture) and Don Henderson (Curator, Perennial Border).

Some general knowledge of gardening is useful, but not essential as our day’s work is set by the curators who assist, train and guide us. This may include selection of plants from the Nursery, planting, trimming, watering (strictly as required), raking, other general maintenance, and re-shaping of beds from time to time. We deliver weeds, excess fig leaves (that prevent rain reaching the soil) and prunings to the Green Waste Depot and frequently assist in the collecting of mulch and spreading it around the garden beds.

Helping Hands has been in existence since August 2007 when the idea of Irwin Newman (former Friends’ President) came into being. At E Gate Lodge we initially had eight or nine volunteers working fortnightly but now we work monthly with a smaller number who have been involved since the early days.

In 2008 at E Gate Lodge we commenced the daunting task of cleaning out unwanted plants and removing an aged Banksia Rose from a carport; worked with Andrew Laidlaw as he developed a plan for the front and back areas, relocated mature plants from other areas (Doryanthes sp.), and assisted in planting a new lawn area with lawn plugs.

The rewards of such volunteering are many such as a different garden environment where we improve our horticultural skills and learn from the significant experience of the Botanic Gardens’ staff. Equally importantly, we have access to the extensive plant and garden knowledge of our curators from whom we are continually learning. To Therese and Don we extend our grateful thanks for nurturing our skills, for without their guiding hands the experience would not be nearly so attractive.

There are also unanticipated events such as when staff working in E Gate Lodge alerted us that a turtle had laid eggs in our newly plugged lawn area. The specific area was roped off and left undisturbed for several months. When raking the weeds from the developing lawn we saw what looked like pieces of orange plastic; imagine our surprise when we discovered that these were orange stripes on the underside of three baby longnecked turtles, each not much bigger than a fifty cent piece! These were delivered and released, untouched by human hands, to the Nymphaea Lake. More recently, as I was trimming a hedge, I was literally face to face with a ringtailed possum whose slumbers I’d obviously disturbed! It soon scampered up the nearest tree fern.

We are always looking for more ‘hands’, so why not enquire about us at the Friends’ Office? You would be joining a convivial group and could enjoy the stimulation of working with qualified horticulturists and professional gardeners.

Rosemary Cotter


Plant Craft Cottage Garden Group

This Group meets on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of the month. The Group maintains the Cottage garden with advice and assistance from the staff of the Royal Botanic Gardens. Plants suitable for use by the Craft Groups can be found in the garden. To join this group please contact the Friends' office.

On the whole we have continued to be treated to good, and on some days, absolutely gorgeous weather for our gardening mornings with the exception of one morning in September when it was inclined to rain and ‘drip’ a bit, but not sufficiently to deter us completely! The rainfall over the past couple of months has been a bit spasmodic with some very good and very welcome falls, but then weeks of very little rain at all. In the final weeks of September and early October there has been a feeling of summer about and parts of the PCC garden are already looking as though a good drink would not go amiss. 

As the area at the side of the Cottage, beneath the Peppercorn Tree, is no longer being used as a dedicated area for mulch, the decision was made to convert this space into garden. Adnan Mansour, together with Angela Mitchell’s husband, has installed a retaining edge of sleepers and we have already moved some clivias and hellebores into this space. We hope that such plantings will enjoy this sheltered and shady spot.

A Sweet Pittosporum growing on the bank above the driveway entrance to the Cottage has developed what appears to be a fungal infection and is looking decidedly unwell, with yellowing foliage and peeling bark. The problem was reported to the RBGV and the arborist, and it is possible that this tree will need to be removed. This pittosporum has provided shade and shelter to the area beneath it and so if it goes the micro-climate will completely change and thus we will need to review what is planted there and move and replace things that will not thrive in a much sunnier and more exposed situation.

On our last gardening morning in September Michael McNabb (Manager, Horticulture, RGBV Melbourne) visited the group again and talked to us about planned developments in the Gardens and the thinking behind the transition planning that is necessary to prepare for the predicted warmer and drier climate of the future. Michael also suggested a tour of the RBGV nursery for the group and this has been arranged for late October.

Over the past three months the garden has been blooming brightly, with rosemary, wallflower, jonquils and daffodils, white violets, purple flags, daisies, clivias, hellebores, arcotis, Spanish Bluebells, geraniums, the Kowhai (Sophora microphylla) and Waxflower (Philotheca verrucosus, syn. Eriostemon verrucosus) amongst others, all flowering for much of this time.

Members of Helping Hands performing an assortment of tasks to keep the gardens around E Gate Lodge in peak condition.
Photos supplied by Rosemary Cotter.

E Gate Lodge Garden

Plant Craft Cottage Garden

Gate Lodge (Friends' Office)