Planting Dreams: Shaping Australian gardens

Reviewed By  Janet Mawdesley       February 26, 2017


Author  Richard Aitken

Distributor:      New South Books
ISBN:                 9781742234649
Publisher:         New South Publications
Release Date:   September 2016  

Website:    http:/ 

Richard Aitken has created a book to be treasure by gardeners and historian alike, or people who simply love a good book which combines many aspects of Australian history with the beauty of gardens, large and small.

Beginning with the first European’s to make landfall in Australia, namely William Dampier, who in 1688, came ashore on the North East coast of Western Australia, collected plant specimens and stated ‘the land was dry, the soil was sandy with no water unless wells were dug, the woods were not thick and there only small trees in the area’ to the modern day when the gardening rule book was thrown away and Australian gardens began to develop their own identity.

The ‘First Fleet’ looks in depth at what commenced at Botany Bay when the first settlers arrived, then needed to grow their own produce. Governor Arthur Phillips realised that something had to be done as the produce bought with them was running low, scurvy was rife and people were dying. He decided claim the area known as Sydney Cove, setting up market gardens and grains plots for wheat, barley and other grains and so organised gardening arrived in Australia.

As the years rolled along the gardens became far more established, more and more land was farmed commercially with the overall effect on society being very positive, as many felt gardens and gardening had redemptive qualities for convicts. The creation of many of the early private and public parks and gardens benefitted greatly from the convict labour available.

Landscaping became a popular pursuit during the early 18th century with many of the Botanic Gardens we now take for granted becoming established, as the commercial side of botanic importation saw plants imported from exotic places such as India and Asia. Grapes and olives were to become popular from a commercial perspective and many of the species were trialled through the Sydney Botanic Gardens to see what would be suitable for Australian soils. The Botanic Gardens established during this time were open to the public for pleasure and enjoyment.

Gardens were to become one of the many aspects of Australian lifestyle which changed little over the years, providing peace and food during the tough years of depression and war, giving comfort to those in need of time, space and peace to heal, as well as a link to England, the land of our forefathers.

But time and environment move on with the need for better planning, water conservation, and more environmentally conscious use of gardens becoming very important. The winds of change began to blow through Australian gardens in the 1970’s, with people questioning the use of wide spread use of pesticides, chemical fertilisers, and water hungry planting in a climate that was rapidly drying out. Garden design underwent a massive change to options such as the use of permaculture, water wise planting and better use of natural products, such as mulch and compost in gardens.

Dotted prolifically throughout book are wonderful plates showing the history of more than just gardens in Australia, They show so much about the importance that has always been placed on botany by those early pioneers and explorer and the huge social benefits that have come from a wonderful and lavish is use of plants throughout history to bring not just nourishment but joy and beauty to all peoples.

A book for all times, to be enjoyed over and over again and which will become a treasured addition to the bookcase.