Steve Halliday

A childhood project to transform his parent’s backyard inspired Steve to preserve and care for SLM’s historical gardens. 

What’s your earliest garden memory?

I remember there was a section of garden in the corner at mum and dad’s house. I built a path through it with stepping stones and put some plants in. I would have been around ten. I was always the one mowing everything at home. I still seem to be when I go back there as well.

Why do you like working in historical gardens?

There’s a care factor and quality to the work we do. We don’t have to rush to get it done by a certain time – we take our time to do it properly and present it right. The hedges aren’t supposed to be exactly straight because they didn’t have the machinery back then, so we try to use hand tools. I’ve often thought how cool it is that I’m working somewhere where all these people from history actually lived. I’m able to work in the gardens that they made. Some of the trees are still the ones they planted. At Elizabeth Farm we have what might be the oldest olive tree in Australia. 

Why should people come and visit the gardens?

They can see plants that aren’t in their backyards. We have a lot of old and heritage plants that aren’t in fashion anymore or are classed as weeds. We still maintain them. You get to see a different world and what would have been. I think the gardens at Rose Seidler House should be more appreciated alongside the house itself. It’s a bush garden and you don’t get many of those. It’s so different – it’s all about Rose Seidler’s taste. 

Photograph of a man standing beside a garden shed

Horticulturist Steve Halliday beside the garden shed at Vaucluse House. Photo © Stuart Miller for Sydney Living Museums

There’s a care factor and quality to the work we do ... I’ve often thought how cool it is that I’m working somewhere where all these people from history actually lived. I’m able to work in the gardens that they made. 

Photo of a house surrounded by bush garden

The mid-century garden and bush setting at Rose Seidler House. Photo © Justin Mackintosh for Sydney Living Museums

Do you have a favourite season?

At Vaucluse, you’d think winter would be pretty dull but we have a lot of flowers in season. I like the bulbs because they’re not there for half of the year and then all of a sudden they pop up with flowers.

Do you have a favourite experience since working in the gardens at SLM properties?

I’ve been working here for seven years. The team used to do all the heritage work for the Endangered Houses Fund. When we started work at Exeter Farm it was just a house sunk into the ground covered in weeds. Over the years we removed the weeds and cut things back. They were just going to demolish it and put a road over the top, but the trust bought it and did it up, and now it’s a lived-in house.

I also have the opportunity to visit Longwood Gardens in the United States for a week, which is America’s biggest botanical gardens, to see how they do things there. I’m hoping to bring back great ideas.

What’s your best gardening tip?

I think if you do a little bit often instead of just letting things go it makes a difference. It takes five minutes to quickly clip something rather than waiting until it gets out of control, and then it becomes quite a large job. 


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Read more about our gardens and how we care for them on our Plant your history blog.