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Meet: Geoff Duggan, landscape planning officer, The Australian Botanic Garden

Photo - The Australian Botanic Garden, Mt Annan

A discussion with Geoff Duggan about his work creating native daisy meadows at the Australian Botanic Garden in Mount Annan.

How did you choose to be a horticulturist?

After I left school I became an apprentice fitter and machinist at the Port Kembla steelworks. It was a dirty, smelly environment and it ‘turned me green’! So when I was later retrenched I retrained as a horticulturist. I started at The Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan 24 years ago, when it was not much more than dusty paddocks. It’s really evolved in that time. And now that it’s free to visit we have many more people in the gardens. As well, the mountain bike trail and other facilities are bringing new people to discover the gardens.


The spring and summer flower displays of natives are real crowd-pleasers. How do you set up the displays?

We prepare the beds using a free-draining, coarse sand mix that is low in phosphorus. Most of our seed comes from Western Australia, and is mixed with sand to obtain a thick, even spread. For the spring display we choose known performers such as Brachyscomes and several species of paper daisy. We sow in May, aiming for a peak display on Father’s Day. For summer our best-performing annuals are Ptilotus and Isotoma, as well as more Brachyscomes.


Swathes of brightly coloured paper daisies. Photo - The Australian Botanic Garden, Mt Annan

Tell us a bit about the perennials you use.

There are several perennials that flower for a long period of the year, providing a showy backdrop for the annual beds. These include kangaroo paw as well as billy buttons (Chrysocephalum) and scaevola.


It doesn’t sound like low-maintenance gardening.

We spend time weeding, liquid feeding and deadheading to keep the display looking wonderful. We’ve saved time and effort by edging all our beds with paths, so we have no longer have problems with grass growing into the flowers.


Photo - The Australian Botanic Garden, Mt Annan

What are the main hazards?

The ducks. They love to peck at the seeds, so we are forced to net the beds when we plant, until they germinate. Humidity is the main problem with summer annuals, as most of them come from arid regions of Australia.


Have you tried any other ideas for floral displays?

We tried planting flowers in drifts on a few hillsides one year – they looked very natural, but didn’t have enough visual impact.

Another time we grew different species of desert pea, which looked wonderful, but they grew so well we were worried that they might become invasive.


Ptilotus, commonly called mulla mulla, creates a mauve vista. Photo - The Australian Botanic Garden, Mt Annan


Do you ever grow Sturt desert peas?

Yes, we often use large boulders to define level changes in the gardens, and Sturt desert peas look amazing when we drape them over the boulders. Growing them that way also gives them the dry heat they need. They are definitely a crowd pleaser, but are generally short-lived in Sydney.


Do you have a garden at home?

Oh yes! With my wife, Genevieve, who also works at the Australian Botanic Garden, and our two teenagers, I enjoy gardening in my spare time at home. We have dry stone walls everywhere - I studied dry stone walling in Great Britain in 1995, on a scholarship from Friends of the Gardens - with a native garden as well as a thriving vegetable patch, fruit trees and chickens.



Photos - The Australian Botanic Garden, Mt Annan
Text: Libby Cameron 

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Author: Libby Cameron