Introducing... Plant your history

Horticulturist Anita pruning the prickly pear at Vaucluse House

Horticulturist Anita Rayner prunes the prickly pear in the Vaucluse House kitchen garden Photo © Stuart Miller for Sydney Living Museums

Sydney Living Museums cares for not only 12 houses and museums, but also the historic gardens and grounds of nine of these – ranging from the extensive grounds of Vaucluse House and Rouse Hill Estate to the tiny backyards of Susannah Place.

Who are the people that care for our living collections? How do they manage our ageing tree population? And how do they use modern technology and machinery but still maintain the gardens’ historical look and feel? Ever wondered when ornamental garden plants were first introduced to Australia?

Sydney Living Museums’ gardening staff and curators would like to share with you what we observe and learn in our work in the gardens here at SLM. In this blog you’ll discover a wealth of horticultural knowledge – from basic plant information and gardening techniques and tips, to historical versus contemporary understandings of gardens, and what’s currently in bloom at our sites!

Horticulturists weeding in the Vaucluse House Kitchen Garden
Horticulturalists Stephen Goldsworthy and Steven Halliday weeding in the kitchen garden. Photo © Stuart Miller for Sydney Living Museums
Tractor slashing a paddock at Rouse Hill House and Farm
A Horticulturalist operating a tractor-pulled slasher in a paddock at Rouse Hill House & Farm. Photo © Stuart Miller for Sydney Living Museums

The SLM Gardens team consists of a Horticulture Coordinator and six Horticulturists with different experiences and backgrounds working together to display our gardens and grounds at their best year-round. This is a complex task, as our gardens are unique and sometimes challenging, particularly because the historical value of our landscapes is very high. For example, we have what we believe to be the oldest living European Olive tree (Olea europaea var. europaea) in Australia at John Macarthur’s Elizabeth Farm. All of our gardens require a high level of care to maintain the look and feel that the original occupants may have experienced. It is quite humbling to know that you play a part in maintaining and preserving such unique living history.

Our weekly schedule usually involves visiting at least four to five of our sites, depending on each location’s event and venue hire commitments, as well as the horticultural calendar. With our sites being dispersed across Sydney and beyond, we have two main bases of operation - Vaucluse House and Rouse Hill House & Farm – making visits to our other locations from these sites.

However, beyond our schedules and calendars, it takes time and patience to learn all of the little idiosyncrasies of each garden, and to understand the sometimes-odd way we need to work with these intricate, precious and delicate garden tapestries.

Over time, we will share an inside view of our gardens, our plants and our gardening practices. Come back often for the latest instalment.

About the author

Photograph of a man standing beside a garden shed

Steve Halliday


Steven is one of the horticulturists who takes care of Sydney Living Museums’ green spaces and gardens.