Sunday, October 08, 2006

Brothers preserve garden oasis

One of the five dams on the property provides water and scenic views

GREENTHUMBS Harry and Noela Duncanson couldn't bear the thought of a
developer bulldozing their botanic garden and nursery business when they put it up for sale early this year.

Harry and Noela Duncanson with one of the new owners of Burnside, Mick Lohman.

The pair had spent the past 23 years turning the 5ha property at Nambour, in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, into a nature lovers' oasis. "To see that cleared for houses would have been really sad," 68-year-old Harry said.

Happily for the Duncansons, the new owners shared their vision for the future of Burnside Gardens, which encompasses Nambour Nursery.

Brothers Mick, 45, and Paul Lohman, 38, who live in nearby Kiamba and Mapleton, are opening the garden to visitors next weekend through Australia's Open Garden Scheme.

"What Harry and Noela (63) have created is a legacy that should be open to the community – not turned into brick veneer," Mick said.

The property, on the fertile slopes of the Blackall Range, changed hands in August. The Lohman brothers, who had no horticultural experience, knew they would be up to their armpits in flowers and fertiliser.

"We were a bit overwhelmed and stunned at first," Mick said.
"They have many years of hard work and knowledge between them so we are doing some crash-course learning."

The Duncansons, avid collectors, will live on at the gardens for six months to teach Mick and Paul all they can about the grounds.

And the Lohmans had better pull on their gardening gloves because there's something to learn in every corner of the undulating grounds.

In the south-facing front garden, a rich tapestry of colour, shape and textures covers 4000sq m.

Harry, who wants to start a new garden at nearby Woombye on 2000sq m while he still has the energy, says he'll miss Burnside's 30 varieties of conifers.

"There are ground covers and pyramid shapes and conifers with a gold, purple or silver look – and they look nice grouped," he said.

Bird of paradise, purple passion (like wisteria), hippeastrums and bougainvillea provide brilliant colour to contrast with foliage plants such as grass trees, ferns and tricolour groundcover.

Standing guard over these hundreds of specimens is a mature red cedar, whose leaves make perfect mulch.

"We planted that before the house was here and we grow all the shade-loving plants underneath it," said Harry, who played host to 1400 visitors when Burnside last opened to the public.

Other mature trees include an endangered bottle tree prized for its unique shape and a Leichhardt tree – home to two possums.

Birds, such as lorikeets and king parrots, are attracted to the native garden on the east side of the home that features grevillias.

Perhaps the rarest specimen of the collection is the amherstia nobilis. The Burmese tree hasn't yet flowered (it can take 10 years to do so), but it will be spectacular when it does, bright crimson flowers hanging from a long flower stalk.

"It needs to be among a forest of trees," Harry said.

A fine selection of tropical plants is showcased in the north-facing back garden. Yellow Fraser Island vine, golden chain tree, and yellow saraca, to name a few.
A brilliant jade vine grows up a trellis. "The flowers are so unusual, nature's wonderful the way it has combined the mauves and blues," Harry said.

"The only thing is they like their roots to be cool with plenty of light for the flowers."

Harry has planted a brownea grandicep that flowers from August to October. "It's beautiful – it has these huge clusters of orange flowers."

Water for the informal gardens comes from five dams surrounded by more plantings.

"There's very little that needs to be done to maintain the gardens once they get to maturity," Harry said.
"The density of its plants keeps out the weeds."

• Burnside Gardens, 171 Burnside Rd, Nambour, opens to visitors October 14 and 15.

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