Anita Rayner

Horticulturist

At Vaucluse House, you’ll find Anita in the kitchen garden fuelling her love for growing heirloom melons, curly zucchinis and enormous pumpkins.

Why did you decide to become a horticulturist?

I didn’t have any interest in gardens for a long time. My family were always gardeners and farmers, and I was more interested in music and writing. But I did horticulture through the correspondence arm of TAFE, and by that time I had developed an interest. I got my Cert III in Horticulture while working for a council as a gardener and having my own garden maintenance business on the weekends and after work. Then I stumbled upon Vaucluse House. Two weeks later a job was advertised so I applied for it and got it. I’ve been here ever since.

What’s your favourite SLM garden?

It has to be Vaucluse because that’s where I started out nine years ago. It has the kitchen garden, which is my favourite thing, but I just love everything about it. I also love Elizabeth Farm. It’s got such a warm feel about it. I could live there.

What’s your favourite plant in the SLM gardens?

It’s really hard to choose your favourite plant. That’s like being asked to choose your favourite piece of music. I look forward to the Bartlettina sordida in spring, which is the purple mist flower. It’s this big fluffy ball of purple. Then you cut it down and the wait begins: another twelve months until it happens again.

I love the fact that everything changes. You have to be patient as a gardener to wait for things to work out. 

What’s the most exciting thing you’ve ever grown?

It has to be pumpkins because my crusade is to get a bigger pumpkin every year. I love growing all the interesting things like the different kinds of rockmelons and pumpkins. They look all warty and wouldn’t have any shelf-life now, but that’s why they’re interesting.

What’s your favourite historical story from the gardens?

I love the one about Henry Browne Hayes and the melon pilferers

What have you learnt by working in the SLM gardens?

I think the best experience is the gradual learning about the history. That’s an aspect of working here that you don’t get in any other gardening job. Also, it’s great being part of the ongoing learning about the kitchen garden and having people come through and getting all excited about seeing the different vegetables. Visitors get really inspired and think they can do it themselves, which they can. I enjoy that aspect. What’s available isn’t only the things in Woolworths and Coles.

I started out as a bush regenerator so when I first started working in the pleasure garden at Vaucluse House, I was horrified because just about everything in my weed books is in there. I’ve grown a new appreciation for their historic context. They’re beautiful and when they’re together it’s a really unique palette.

What’s your earliest garden memory?

Probably my grandmother’s garden in Moss Vale. It had hydrangeas on either side of the steps, which was a very grandmother thing to do, and apples in an orchard out the back. It was very evocative.

Do you have a key gardening tip or trick?

As they say, the best thing for a garden is the gardener’s shadow. You just have to look after things. You can’t leave it alone and expect it to reward you. You have to put in the effort.

Horticulturist Anita Rayner holding a melon in the kitchen garden at Vaucluse House

Horticulturist Anita Rayner holding a jam melon in the kitchen garden at Vaucluse House. Photo © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums

...my crusade is to get a bigger pumpkin every year. I love growing all the interesting things like the different kinds of rockmelons and pumpkins. They look all warty and wouldn’t have any shelf-life now, but that’s why they’re interesting. 


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