JOHN Le Messurier’s progress to the 2018 Gardener of the Year title began at the age of eight when he went with his railway fettler father as he camped in a tent and pumped a muscle-powered trike up and down the tracks west of Dubbo.
On Friday the 78-year-old Redhead resident’s award was announced on ABC Television’s Gardening Australia program.
The award recognises his 42 years spent transforming the 6.2-hectare barren, degraded former coal-mining site at Glenrock Lagoon Scout Camp into a native garden showplace within the 534-hectare Glenrock State Conservation Area.
It is an achievement Le Messurier believes had its genesis in those trips with his Dad when he explored the bush and developed a fascination for native plants. Of special interest are the multi-trunked mallee trees in the Maryula area east of Cobar. It’s something that remains with him today as he has established one thriving mallee tree at Glenrock and has another almost ready for planting
At his early boyhood home in Dubbo he delighted in tending the family vegetable garden and being made responsible for tree planting and maintenance at primary school.
His green-fingered progress was boosted by collecting monkey nut seeds given him by the superintendent of Dubbo’s Victoria Park and by time spent living with his uncle and aunt in the Blue Mountains, where his uncle was the resident gardener and caretaker at the Marcus Clark department store family’s grand Sefton Hall mansion and gardens at Mount Wilson.
In Dubbo he moved at the age of 12 from Cubs to Scouts and two years later transferred to Cardiff Scout Troop when his family shifted to Lake Macquarie.
As a Scout, Le Messurier was a regular visitor to Glenrock and from 1956 he did monthly volunteer stints on camp maintenance.
After school he yearned to become a forester but that was denied him by the costs of Sydney University and Canberra Forestry School courses and at the age of 19 he joined Newcastle City Council as a trainee health inspector. It was a stint that was to last 40 years and saw him retire in 1999 as the council’s deputy director of environmental management.
Outside work Le Messurier has indulged his passion for bushwalking and he and his wife Pam have developed a beautiful mixed garden at their Redhead Bluff home. From there came a passion for greening Glenrock, ignited in 1976 when he initiated a Newcastle Apex Club Earth Week tree planting project at the lagoon.
Told “you’ll never get anything to grow at Glenrock”, he began combatting the salty winds, infestations of blackberry, saltbush and bitou bush, coal chitter dumps and rock-hard clay soil to plant many thousands of native trees and shrubs.
He recalls how donated plants provided the first plantings and still figure in his creation of 26 gardens designed to serve as a “cradle of life for possums, lizards, birds, butterflies and pollinating insects”. An undergrowth of native raspberry and other spiky plants serve as safe havens for wrens and other small birds.
With help from Scouts and other Glenrock volunteers, he continuously mulches the gardens and nutrients are provided from the site’s own worm farm set up in old bath tubs. Before taps were installed in the grounds, plants and trees were laboriously watered by hand-carried buckets.
Now Le Messurier promises that, as Australian Gardener of the Year, he will continue to be entranced by the beauty, flora and fauna, peace, tranquillity and challenges of Glenrock. Besides caring for the gardens he has created he has begun putting in signs giving the names of the various plantings. And he’ll be continuing his work as a 20-year member of National Parks and Wildlife regional advisory committees and Lake Macquarie Landcare.
“Glenrock will continue to be a way of life for me,” he declares.
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