What do gardeners do in the coldest months? Quite a lot, actually.
Think about the last job you accepted. How long did it take you to settle in? Three months? Six? Tim Shannon had to wait a full year – and four seasons – before he really felt comfortable.
Tim has been SkyHigh Mount Dandenong’s head gardener since November 2014. Previously, he worked down the road at Burnham Beeches for 24 years. That property is a whopping 55 acres. In contrast, SkyHigh’s bistro, hedge maze, various gardens and carparks are set on just 10, with walking trails leading off into the surrounding bushland. Despite its smaller size, the site has its own challenges.
“It’s a garden of two halves, really,” Tim says. At the back of the property, in the rambling English Garden and the secluded Secret Garden, it’s mostly decorative Asian and European species. At the front of the site, overlooking the city, there’s a fringe of hardy native plants that can tolerate the extra sunlight. They’re right at home here, but they also take up a lot of Tim’s time.
“Some of the plants, we’ve got to control their height to maintain the view,” he says. “They don’t like that – they want to get bigger.” The constant trimming causes some natives – callistemons (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Callistemon) particularly – to thicken up. Eventually, they need replacing. Tim’s busy doing that right now.
Winter is surprisingly productive, being the only time of year when the site isn’t swarming with visitors. “Winter’s the time to do your garden clean-ups,” Tim says. “You do a lot of pruning, a lot of planting, move stuff around.” In a first for SkyHigh, he’s also collaborating on a new kitchen garden with head chef Richard Johnston.
“There’s not a lot you can get going at this time of year,” he says. “I just want to be in a position where, when the weather changes in two months’ time, we’re ready to go.” Likewise for the many flower beds across the site, which he and first-year apprentice Alana have already planted out in preparation for spring, in between bouts of trimming the maze. It’s almost like preparing for battle.
“To me, the most challenging part is maintaining the garden with the amount of visitation we get,” Tim says. “This time of year, it’s not too bad. But through spring, summer and autumn, it gets a pounding.” It can be disheartening – when he returns each Monday, it’s to trampled flowers and lawns, and patchy gravel paths. “It’s not a private garden,” he concedes.
He wouldn’t want it to be, either. “When it’s a nice day and I’m working in the English Garden, and people walk through and want to talk about the garden, that’s fantastic,” he says. “They’re complementary, they ask a lot of questions. Even at the end of the day, when you walk back and take a look at what you’ve done and go, ‘Geez, that looks good. Yep, that was worth the effort.’”
26 Observatory Road
Mount Dandenong VIC 3767
03 9751 0443