Growing Friends and Plants

Words by
Sally Wilson
Images by
Sally Wilson
| June 23, 2016

The Growing Friends are hardworking people, defined by the dirt under their fingernails and their genuine love of plants. They meet every Friday at a nursery that’s tucked in behind the Tropical Glasshouse and work yards at Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens, and here they propagate rare and unusual plants. Michael Hare has been a member of the group for nearly ten years now, and their leader for seven. I visited Michael at the nursery, on his birthday, to see the Growing Friends in action and, naturally, to pick up a bromeliad and Syngonium or two!

Please tell us who you are and about how plants feature in your life.
I live in a bushy area of Warrandyte with my wife Mary, a biologist. We have a largish, non-specific garden, which has been developed over many years. During this time, we’ve grown many types of plants both in the ground and in pots. As a result, plants, both indigenous and those we have planted, have been an important part of our lives and together with the care of our land have taken a significant proportion of our time and efforts.

With this background it was natural that, following my retirement as an engineer, I would choose an activity which allowed me to further my interests in horticulture. So I joined, as it was then, the Friends of Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne and immediately registered my interest in becoming a Growing Friend.

What community group do you work with, where is it based, how many people are involved and what is the focus of the work you do there?
We’re called the Growing Friends, which is a group within the Melbourne Friends of Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. The Growing Friends, who number about 35, operate a nursery to grow plants which are sold to the public at the sales in Autumn and Spring each year. The money raised is passed to Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, Melbourne for various projects.

The plants are grown from cuttings and occasionally seeds, which are predominately obtained from the plants in Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, Melbourne. They are repotted, pruned, fertilized and cared for as necessary until they are of saleable size and quality.

The Growing Friends perform the whole of the propagation process so that, in addition to the regular favorites, we are able to offer plants which are seldom seen in retail nurseries.”

Small teams within our group each focus on the care of specific plants – namely shrubs, perennials, natives, bulbs and succulents, together with a number of small specialist groups caring for camellias, rhizomes, trees and bromeliads etcetera. To ensure the smooth operation of the nursery there’s also a number of specialised, non-horticultural tasks such as the plant database and maintenance of the nursery’s infrastructure i.e. trolleys, shade coverings and the monitoring of the nursery watering system. These tasks are undertaken by members in addition to caring for their section of plants.

The Growing Friends are a fairly hardy group. We need to be at the nursery regularly each Friday – rain, hail or shine – for at least 4 hours as well as attend for the two weekends of public plant sales. By its nature most of the work in the nursery is physical.

Whilst horticultural knowledge is not essential to become a Growing Friend as it’s acquired over time from other members of the group, a liking for plants (or at least one type of plant) and for growing them, is.

Why did you join the group and when did you join?
The activities of the Growing Friends fit well with my interests. I joined in March 2007 and became Convener (Leader) in August 2009.

What’s special about the place where your group is based?
Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, Melbourne. Need I say more?

Inside the shade house at the Friends' Nursery, Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne.
Inside the shade house at the Friends' Nursery, Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne.

Please describe an event that your group has coming up.
Our major events are the twice yearly public plant sales which are quite large and complex (for our organisation) and require careful planning, up to 3 months in advance.

The coming Spring Plant Sale will be even larger this year as we are participating in the Botanic and Rare Plant Fair in October. This is a joint event organised by Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, The Diggers Club and the Melbourne Friends of Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria.

Who makes the best morning tea or snacks in your group?

Definitely June Cherry, who has just celebrated her 90th birthday! She makes a fantastic meringue and chocolate roll.

What lessons have you learnt since joining the group?
I’ve learned that a dedicated group can achieve great things. All members have the interest of the group at heart, so in any discussion people will always put forward ideas they believe will achieve a better outcome.

What philosophy or message does your group hope to promote?
Probably the same as Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria: “Life is enriched by plants”.

How does being part of this group enrich your life?
I’ve gained 35 friends!

It is an inspiring group of enthusiastic people who encourage and support each other, not only in their appreciation of plants but in many other aspects of life.

How do you think individuals make a difference?
Each and every person has their particular knowledge and experiences they contribute to the group.

How can others get involved?
We are restricted by the size of the nursery so 35 is about the maximum number of people we can accommodate. There are always a number of the Friends who wish to join the Growing Friends, so we have a waiting list. But we love visits from Friends and on the first Friday of each month we open the nursery for a members-only plant sale. There are always some exquisite plants on offer!

For more information about becoming a member of Melbourne Friends of Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria you can visit their website and Facebook. The Growing Friends host monthly, members-only plant sales, which are certainly worth a look!

Also save the date for the Botanic and Rare Plant Fair presented by Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria with Friends of Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne and The Diggers Club on Saturday, 22 October and Sunday, 23 October 2016.

Propagating plants with the Growing Friends.
Propagating plants with the Growing Friends.
A misty morning at the Friends' Nursery, Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne.
A misty morning at the Friends' Nursery, Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne.

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