Change and Renewal in the Gardens

Change and Renewal in the Gardens

Winter 2018, Living Well Magazine

by Wendy Neagle

It has a time of change and renewal in the Yarra Valley Living Centre gardens. We recently farewelled Mascha and Raelene from our gardening team, who are now settled into the next chapters of their lives. We have also welcomed in a talented new gardener, Ben, who brings a range of unique skills and passion to the gardens and grounds at our centre.

We are very fortunate to have a beautiful ornamental garden, to support and surround the programs that we offer. It is a special sanctuary that provides respite and grounding, an opportunity to connect with nature, and to experience effortless peace; and this year our focus is very much on the renewal of this space.

Thanks and acknowledgement must be made to all the previous gardeners, volunteers and caretakers for their work and vision in creating this space, which has transformed so much from bare fields 30 years ago.

All gardens age with time and a good garden design should take this into consideration. Plantings should be planned with a long-term vision in mind, and not just for instant or short-term appeal. This type of foresight has fortunately been gifted to the gardens at the Yarra Valley Living Centre, with many of the trees that were planted in the early days being mature, integral parts of what is now a well-anchored garden that feels settled and solid.

It is an interesting time, with some of those trees having now outgrown their spaces and blocking the connection to the beautiful and natural bush we are surrounded by, some are only just now coming into their strength, and some are coming to the end of their days with branches dropping.

It is time now for the next stage of planning, with a vision for the next 30 years and beyond; and it’s an exciting project to be a part of. There are many things to consider.

Where do we need big trees in the future? Deciduous or evergreen? Do garden beds need reshaping? Creating new beds? Are the paths functional? Do we need to create new ways of moving through the garden? Where can we provide seating to maximise the tranquillity and views?  How can we optimise the natural bush around us as part of our garden? Which spaces are under-utilised and how to change that? Some spaces have become very crowded – what strategic removals are needed to simplify and de-clutter an area? Other spaces are sparse, and new plantings are required. When choosing plants for spaces, we need to think about the long-term effects of their presence; things like colour, height, texture, the interaction with other plants, the interplay of light and shade, view maximising and screening to create nooks and quiet places to sit.

Some tough decisions need to be made, and making choices about the removal of trees is never easy. By seeing the garden as a whole and taking a strategic and holistic approach to restructuring and future planting, we ensure maximum benefits for the space.

We face a number of challenges specific to our location. The climate we are working within means conditions are hot and dry during summer, cold and wet over winter, severe frost at times, and all these things help to shape our plant choices. We also have an abundance of wildlife we share the space with who often like to eat what we plant. Finding plants that deer, rabbits, wombats, kangaroos and possums won’t eat is something we are also working on. This means working with a wide range of plants – both native and non-native.

We have a gorgeous water feature that has not worked for quite some time, which will be renovated and extended, to take advantage of the infrastructure lovingly created by past gardeners. It will be fantastic to have flowing water running through the garden again which will bring a dynamic energy into the space. Water flow is purifying and symbolic of renewal and life. The soothing and calming effects of flowing water contribute to emotional healing and peace for anyone spending quiet time nearby.

A creek bed will be created to connect the three current ponds, and a pump used to allow permanent flow between the ponds. If any readers have access to a truckload of river pebbles, they would be very helpful and appreciated! Please email if you can help.

This a fantastic opportunity to reimagine the future space, and as gardening team we are keen and excited to take on this long-term project. It is a blessing and a privilege to work here as caretakers of this space. All that we do here is building on the vision and work of all previous contributors, improving what is, and contributing to what will be.

Wendy Neagle

Wendy has a diploma in horticulture and has been working in many different roles within the horticulture field for 20 years. Roles include 5 years in a blueberry orchard, pest and disease management in apple orchards, and running her own organic garden maintenance business – which she continues alongside her work at the Yarra Valley Living Centre. Wendy is passionate about soil health, composting and growing organic food.