Australian Plant Society South East tours Horse Island

Last month our group met at Horse Island, the beautiful garden home of member Christina Kennedy and her husband Trevor, located on Tuross Lake near Bodalla.  

Their garden is a showcase of native Australian plants used in a formal and informal setting. 

“There is only one non-native plant on the property,” Christina said, while pointing at a magnificent magnolia.

The focus of the day was a pruning demonstration by Ray Brown who is the long-time curator of the Illawarra Grevillea Gardens at Bulli.

Such is Ray’s renown and Horse Island’s reputation that numbers had to be limited on a first come, first served basis and 58 passionate native plant lovers turned up.

Ray started the demonstration with a hedge trimmer and within a few minutes had whittled a bank of grevillea into a uniformly cut hedge.  After tidying up with his secateurs, he assured the audience the hedge would grow back and flower better after the experience.

“Hybrids will generally recover from whatever pruning they are given even back into hard wood but grafted and indigenous grevilleas need greater care,” Ray said.

Hedge trimmer in hand Ray then demonstrated his version of 'gentle' pruning of a grevillea hedge in a different section of the garden. Accompanied by many gasps from the audience he removed about 60% off the height of the bushes.  

After the slaughter, everyone felt the need for a break and during a picnic lunch in the grounds we examined the calendar produced by the Friends of Eurobodalla Regional Botanic Gardens. 

We also made a presentation to Christina of some grafted plants by a member, Phil Trickett, who is gaining an enviable reputation for his success in grafting a range of difficult to grow Australian plants.

Once again energised Ray started to prune an overgrown grevillea but this time with a chainsaw on an extendable arm.  

This allowed him to reach under the plant (about 2 metres high and 3 metres wide) that had not been pruned for many years. He cut through the major branches and trunk so that all foliage could be dragged aside leaving just the stump. 

“It is vital that any plant that is pruned must receive an additional ration of water until it recovers from the shock,” Ray said.

After giving three other large plants the same treatment, he moved around to the steps of the “Old House” where two magnificent ‘standard’ grevilleas were growing on either side (these were G. ‘Royal Mantle’, normally a groundcover, grafted to G. robusta, a large tree which develops a strong trunk). 

These plants had not received any pruning attention since Christina had planted them 20 years earlier. After tying back the lush outer surface Ray was able to remove several trailer loads of accumulated dead growth.  He was ably assisted by Julian, a gardener at Horse Island.

For many of the group who are used to more sedate pruning with clippers and secateurs the day was an eyepopping experience.  Many comments reflected how educational and entertaining the visit had been. 

If you wish to know more about Horse Island there are a number of websites and Christina’s book entitled “Horse Island” is an impressive publication presenting her thoughts on gardening and in particular her innovative use of Australian plants.

The book is available for purchase from local bookstores.  What a terrific gift for anyone interested in gardening.

The day finished with a stroll around the rest of the 10-hectare garden. We appreciated that Ray shared his knowledge with us and many thanks to Christina for allowing us access to her wonderful property.