Meet Justin Buckley, Gardens manager, National Trust Victoria05 March 2020 Robin Powell
Rippon Lea’s fernery is a rare gem of 19th century Australian gardening, and a favourite spot for the Gardens Manager of the National Trust Victoria.
Interview and pictures: Robin Powell
You started working as a gardener here at Rippon Lea 20 years ago. What’s special about this place?
What’s significant is that almost the entire ornamental garden developed in the 19th century is still attached to the house. It has been subdivided - we have 14 acres now of the original 45 - but the main ornamental garden - the lawns, the lake, the mound of succulents, the fernery, herbaceous borders and the orchard are almost entirely intact. We’re quite proud of that.
Frederick Sargood was an early adopter of new technologies. How is that reflected in the garden?
There’s a good example with the irrigation system and the water supply. Sargood wanted this huge green oasis on land that is naturally sandy and scrubby. So he needed plenty of water. He was able to harness water that was being drained as this area was being developed, and create the ornamental lake, which supplied water for the garden. Come the 20th century and that’s all old-hat. The new owner, Benjamin Nathan, with his unlimited wealth, put the garden onto mains water supply irrigation.
When I started here in 1999, drought had forced the National Trust to resurrect Sargood’s system, in a completely manual way - 50 hoses with a sprinkler on the end that were moved around the garden every day. Over the past 20years, we’ve managed to upgrade that and it’s now automatic - and it all comes out of Sargood’s lake.
Sargood’s other passion was for ferns and the fernery is still here.
For me it’s the crowning glory of Rippon Lea, to have a fernery of that scale. Most of the 19th century ferneries were wooden and once the wood rotted they were let go. The framework here is steel. It’s my favourite part of the garden. Not just because I like ferns, but also for the structure itself. And it’s so rare! The fernery personifies the highpoint of our Golden Age of Gardening. People are never going to those lengths again really.
What is your favourite time in the garden?
There's not really any downtime at Ripponlea, and it’s not really a flower garden as such, but autumn is when we put resources into flowers. It’s peak season for our dahlia display and herbaceous borders. And the 120 heritage apple and pear varieties in the orchard are fruiting. Also, autumn is the best time for the weather in Melbourne!
Rippon Lea is open every day except Good Friday and Christmas Day. Check www.ripponleaestate.com.au for details.