Botanical Gardens volunteers sought

By Simon Ruppert

Benalla's Botanical Gardens could be under threat - if new volunteers can't be found.

The Friends of the Botanical Gardens have been playing an integral role in the preservation, development and fund-raising for the gardens since 1988.

With the current friends getting on in years they are hoping a new generation of volunteers will join to ensure the gardens are in good hands long into the future.

On Friday morning the Ensign joined some current and former members for a tour of the gardens.

Friends of the Botanical Gardens Secretary Betty Lindsay said that her, and her husband John, had been volunteering since 2003.

“The friends formed back in 1988 when it was identified that there was a historic garden of some significance here,” Mrs Lindsay said.

“It really had become more of a council park at that point.

“So the friends decided to do some fund-raising so a really good conservation plan could be created.

“After that the conservation and development of the gardens was based on good landscaping and design – really making the most of what was here, which is a fantastic community asset.

“So over the years the friends' work has been a bit of a mix of fundraising... developing new garden beds and doing quite a lot to assist the council staff.

“One role we take on is maintaining the roses through the summer, deadheading them so they keep looking as fantastic as they do.

“But there’s a need for people who are happy to help out in any way they can.

“There’s no commitment. People can help out for an hour a week or 40 hours a week, it's completely up to them.”

And it's not just keen gardeners the friends are looking to recruit.

There are active and less active roles available.

“For example we need a secretary,” Mrs Lindsay said.

“Really we are seeking anyone who might be interested in overseeing the gardens and ensuring their future.

“We have had some new volunteers this year who are helping out with the roses, but we still need more.”

The Botanical Gardens, and particularly the roses have been synonymous with Benalla for decades.

From as early as 1859, two years before Benalla was proclaimed a town, land was set aside for public recreation where the gardens now stand.

Early residents cleared a small space for a cricket pitch in a flood-prone area thickly wooded with red gums.

Some time later, Melbourne-based landscape gardener Alfred Sangwell was paid £3 per week to design and develop a Botanical Gardens on the site.

He installed gracefully curved walking paths sweeping through newly planted trees and shrubs in keeping with a typical 19th century public garden.

The gardens were built around the cricket pitch, which in its time would go on to host a number of important matches including some internationals.

The rotunda was added in 1911 and a memorial to World War I in 1922.

It was the Benalla Apex Club that planted the first roses in 1959. Since then the site has continued to grow into the gardens we know today.

Whether it's families taking the kids to the rocket park, dog walkers enjoying the sun or the odd cricket fan hiding in the shade of one of the trees surrounding the oval, the gardens are used by locals on a daily basis.

And it's not just locals, with a number of tourist buses pulling up on any given day.

So to say the gardens are an integral part of the town would be an understatement.

If you would like to be a part of the story of Benalla's Botanical Gardens and would like to help shape its future and conserve its past, the Friends would love to hear from you.

You can contact John or Betty Lindsay on 5762 3210 or via email at [email protected]