Gardening is a pastime for all age groups. At Ferny Creek, in the Dandenongs near Melbourne, Don Burke visited Alf and Meg Steel, a couple in their eighties who spend their days in a garden of colour.
These keen gardeners admit that their weakness is an inability to go past a nursery without paying a visit. They have collected over 100 different rhododendrons in a variety of colours and also have a collection of maples.
The steeply sloping garden has been terraced, giving ample garden beds, winding paths and lawn in between. Clumps of daisies, pansies and other ground-hugging plants overhang the bed edges and soften the steps between terrace levels.
A thickly covered laburnum walk (Laburnum x watereri ‘Vossii’) is a strong feature of this garden. Built 20 years ago it is generously proportioned (around 3m (10′) high) so it is comfortable to walk through. Water has been included in this garden with waterfalls, fountains and sprays constantly moving and changing, which complements Alf’s attitude to gardening.
Alf and Meg Steel are a vibrant and energetic couple who are keen plant propagators. They each have a greenhouse in which they can practise their hobby; she with her seeds and he with his plant cuttings.
Alf has been a keen gardener for the past 36 years and is his current passion is growing orchids. He feels that too many elderly gardeners live in elderly gardens. Be ruthless, he says, renovate and keep your garden young and vigorous. The Steels had their opportunity to renovate three years ago after a large mountain ash fell onto the garden during a storm. This allowed them to open up the garden to more light and new plantings.
Chilcote is located at 69 School Road, Ferny Creek, VIC, 3786. It will be open to the public through Australia’s Open Garden Scheme 31 October-1 November, 1998, when the laburnum walk is at its peak. Opening times are from 10am-4.30pm. Admission: $3.50. For other gardens to visit in the area consult Australia’s Open Garden Scheme Guidebook 98/99 which will be available from the end of July, 1998.