Tasmania has a wild side, where native vegetation flourishes. It also has a cultivated side, full of bits and pieces of a colonial past.
|A riverside scene at Nant Distillery, where very good whiskies are produced.|
Others pieces are less salubrious, despite their English look-alike gardenesque appeal.
|The formal garden at Port Arthur: no convicts allowed|
The photo above comes from one of Tasmania’s grimmest locations, the convict settlement at Port Arthur. Many of the prison guards and army officers who manned the settlement were married. This garden gave them and their wives a place to escape, visually at least, from the harsh realities they were a part of.
Signs of Tasmania’s colonial past are visible in the small towns and cities that form the island’s backbone. Entally House is a large estate, owned by a prominent family, the Reibys. The family included clergymen, politicians. The family’s matriarch was a former convict, the successful businesswoman Mary Reiby, who is pictured on the Australian twenty dollar bill.
Entally contains many features that would be part of a typical English establishment of the early to mid 1800s, a walled garden…
|A walled garden full of scented roses: typically English?|
|Entally’s conservatory was full of brightly coloured plants.|
and a parkland full of splendid trees.
|The parkland is now a public park.|
With its stone steps, ornamental urn and over-abundance of centranthus, the garden at Woodbridge on the Derwent, a colonial house that is now a fine hotel, could easily be mistaken for an English country estate.
|Centranthus ruber, or red valerian, gone wild — a spot of colour on a rainy day,
one of the few we experienced in Tasmania.
This rural garden comes from another point on the social scale. Small town gardens in Tasmania show the same fondness for climbing roses and needlessly curving paths as similar gardens in Blimey-land.
|Pretty roses and an excess of mulch.
But then, it is spring and who knows what will appear with warmer weather.
Humour takes on a different character. The small town of Railton advertises itself as the Town of Topiary. I can’t fathom why the city fathers and mothers chose an elephant to show their horticultural skills, if that’s what you would call them.
|Not sure why this elephant mother and child were here. Other topiary in Railton included
a kangaroo, a train and parents taking a child to school.
This topiary of man, dog and mower seems much more appropriate. It made me smile.
|My favourite bit of topiary in Railton: the lawn mower, with lawn mower and assistant|
The Royal Tasmanian Botanical Garden in Hobart contains a wider selection of plant materials, but there, too, the English influence is apparent, particularly in this walled garden border designed by the Friends of the Botanical Gardens. But while the plants were familiar, the light was not .No soft English haze but rather a clarity and intensity that made me feel alive.
|Foxglove in all colours, backed by roses and other perennials = a colourful border.|
Like many botanical gardens around the world, this one is using art to increase the number of visitors. An exhibition by Marcus Tatton includes some interesting pieces, including this one called Siege.
|This installation suggests that something is under siege in the Botanical Garden?
But what is it?
My favourite bit of ersatz England was at Woolmers, another historic colonial estate built by convict labour. Beyond the walled garden there, I wandered through the National Rose Collection, predictably ooh-ing and aah-ing at the expanse of roses at the glorious height of their bloom. I admired this tunnel of roses,
|These Westerland climbing roses weren’t particularly fragrant but the colour was magnificent.|
and these blooms against a brick wall, with mountains towering behind.
|I don’t remember the name of this variety.|
But my favourite piece of the colonial puzzle was inside the wall. In the formal garden there, gentlemen would retreat to a smoking house where the odour of their cigars and pipes would not offend the delicate sensibilities of their womenfolk. If their supply of grog ran low, convict servants brought more. And if nature called, relief for the gentlemen was close at hand. Built into the curving wall is Australia’s only two-seater Long Drop, an outside privy or thunderbox. (In view of your delicate sensibilities, I include only a photo of the sign.)
|The sign says it all.|
In close competition for the ersatz England Award was this house spotted near Hobart. For Christmas exuberance, antipodean style, this snowman-penguin combo is hard to beat.
|These weren’t the only Christmas decorations it this tiny roadside garden.
Santa in his sleigh was surrounded by illuminated Christmas trees tucked amongst native vegetation.
As the Australian carol says,
Dashing through the bush, in a rusty Holden ute, kicking up the dust, eskie in the boot; kelpie by my side, singing Christmas songs, it’s summer time and I am in my singlet, shorts and thongs.
Oh, Jingle bells. You never had it so good.
(For those of you who don’t speak Australian, a glossary: the bush is the outback or countryside, a ute is a pick up truck and Holden is a company that makes them. An eskie is a cooler — think Eskimo — a boot is the car’s trunk, a kelpie is a sheep dog, a singlet is an undershirt and thongs are flip flops.)