Open Gardens Australia last display in Canberra

Open Gardens Australia last display in Canberra

When frost rolls into the Tuggeranong valley this winter horticulturist Jackie Warburton knows she won't be the only accomplished gardener to lose a plant or two.

Mrs Warburton will not only accept the loss, but will revel in the opportunity it opens. "It is vacating room to put something else in, gardens are always evolving," she said.

Jackie Warburton in her cactus garden at her home in Oxley.

Jackie Warburton in her cactus garden at her home in Oxley. Credit:Graham Tidy

Mrs Warburton's acceptance of regeneration is amplified by the Open Gardens Australia scheme which is closing at the end of June after 27 years, the opening of 20,000 gardens and raising of $6 million for charity. Chief executive Liz White says like many small businesses the scheme is not immune to the economic downturn, increasing costs and falling revenue.

In Canberra Mrs Warburton's succulent -packed Oxley garden and one in Gowrie will be the ACT's last to open on the weekend of May 2 and 3. As one scheme dies, dozens more are sprouting like seedlings, following the original scheme's model for success.


While making space on an outdoor table for geraniums she's been given from a friend at Deakin, Mrs Warburton says gardening is about sharing. "I don't need to grow produce, I'm always coming home with a bucketful of potatoes, or feijoa. I'll make bread out of it, or a cake and take some back to the friend who gave me the produce, that's what gardening is all about."

When looking after the heritage-listed Huntly's three-acre garden on the Uriarra Road, Mrs Warburton, who runs a garden consultancy and maintenance business with her husband Bret, helped open it to the public as a fund-raiser for children's medical research. "I have also helped customers open their gardens for Red Cross," she said.

Most of her plants have been given to her, including a spiky fat cactus, sometimes called mother-in-law's cushion, from the Canberra Institute of Technology at Weston when it relocated to the Bruce campus in 2009.

""One of the great advantages of my job is that I am given plants all the time," she says. "Even the seed heads of plants destined for green waste sometimes come home and I lay these down towards the back of the garden beds and wait for new volunteer plants to grow."

The Warburtons' 831 square metre block has a native garden, rose garden, orchard, cottage and herb gardens and shade houses. A hydroponic garden provides vegetables and salad greens while dwarf and slow-growing conifers fill a new section of the busy garden. The L-shaped cactus and succulent garden is the show-stopper.

Some of the fragile plants will be wrapped in cloth or bubble wrap to keep out frosts, and the entire garden will be sprayed with a product to protect them against extremes.

John Thistleton is a reporter for The Canberra Times.

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