Women of Plants: Amanda Woodhams

Words by
Lucy Munro
| September 7, 2018

Amanda Woodhams is what you might describe as a tree nerd. When she isn’t gardening at Cruden Farm, one of Australia’s most outstanding large gardens, or experimenting with obscure dahlia and daffodil combinations in her own back yard, you’ll find her swinging from the tree tops of hundred-year-old river gums (truly!).  With ambitions to one day run a large Australian garden open for community benefit, Amanda is a very serious, very passionate, woman of plants.

Amanda Woodhams

How would you describe your relationship with plants? Let’s see, for the past five years I’ve been involved in horticulture and working as a gardener. I just finished my apprenticeship in arboriculture so now I’m a certified tree climber. I want a consulting arborists level of knowledge so I’ve begun a Diploma of Arboriculture.

At the same time, I’m completing an Associate Degree in Urban Horticulture at the University of Melbourne’s historic Burnley College to round out my plant knowledge with an underpinning understanding of ecology, soil, biology, water management and plant propagation.

In my own backyard, I’m trialing unusual dahlia and daffodil cultivars. Indoors, I grow a lot of plants. My ambition is for every visitor to leave with a houseplant tailored to their skill level. I’m traveling at the moment and am photographing the UK’s great gardens. Geez, working with plants is a pretty big part of my life huh?

The Walled Garden at Cruden Farm in the soft light of autumn. Image by Amanda Woodhams
'I love the way an exuberant flower border can make me giddy'. Image by Amanda Woodhams

What draws you to plants? Being rocketed into the present. When I’m struck by the exuberant beauty of a flower border or am humbled by climbing in the canopy of a 200-year-old River Red Gum I’m well and truly in the moment.

What began your plant obsession? Volunteering at a community garden on the weekends. Turning the compost with newly made friends, planting veg seeds and sharing potluck lunches together-is there a quicker way to fall in love with working with plants?

From there I started studying horticulture part time for personal interest.

It was like getting a shot of electricity the first time I recognised a plant I’d learnt the botanical Latin for around town. I was riding my bike yelling out ‘Miscanthus sinensis!'”

From there, my world opened up and it was like a living game of Where’s Wally. It’s an addictive thing to recognise plants and add to your understanding of them wherever you go.

What are three reasons why everyone should visit Cruden Farm? Firstly, in early spring you can take in the height of romance and promise in the garden. The first flush of the roses, foxgloves and aquilegias in the picking garden will break your heart.

Secondly, in mid autumn, in the softer light of this time of year you can watch the oaks, elms, ginkgos and nyssas turn their buttery yellow, copper and scarlet tones.

Finally, in late winter visit to escape the winter blues. The outer garden is lit up in great sweeps of daffodils, jonquils and snowdrops. At the same time the wattles pipe up with their profuse yellow blossoms across the property. All this builds to a cheering picture just when you need it.

Yes, this means you’ll have to visit the garden three times. At least.

You are studying to be a consulting arborist. Why does this field in particular appeal to you? What does the process of becoming an arborist entail? My ambition is to become the head gardener of a significant, mature, Australian garden that’s open to the public for community benefit. Tree management in public parks and gardens is critical to both public safety and the enduring value of any dynamic landscape. Gaining the skill set of a certified climbing arborist through completing an apprenticeship was an essential step towards my long term goals. Climbing deepens my understanding of tree structure and health.

I undertook my apprenticeship at Melbourne Polytechnic. The training required the mental resolve of working at great heights whilst constantly problem solving. Tree climbing entails developing an athletic level of fitness, strength, balance and technique. I was building my skill-set from scratch. It was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. Every week at training I’d learn a new aspect of tree climbing and then practise for hours on the weekends to ensure I had the skills to pass. At times I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to surmount the physical challenge (or, more accurately, my self doubt). The trainers noticed how hard I was on myself and enabled me to get a realistic view of my weekly progress. This empowerment was key to me pushing through every physical and mental barrier. The process changed my life.

When, week after week, you prove to yourself you’re more physically & mentally capable than you believed you could be it changes the way you regard yourself.”

I’m now undertaking a Diploma of Arboriculture to deepen my tree species knowledge. This will enable me to assess tree hazards to mitigate risks to the public, manage veteran trees so they can be kept in the landscape for longer and plan for the successional planting of trees species that will thrive in our changing climate.

'One of my favourite new cultivars from the dahlia trial patch in my front yard. Her name is "Sharon"!' Image by Amanda Woodhams.

What are some of your favourite gardens/plant places around the world?

Gardens

Gärten der Welt, Berlin, Germany. Exquisitely executed gardens of the world. You will feel like you’ve visited 30 countries in one day. But in a tranquil way.

ARTIS, Amsterdam, Netherlands. A joyful use of plants. I saw a flower border made entirely of different cultivars of sunflowers.

Eden Project, Cornwall, UK The best educational garden I’ve yet visited. World class greenhouses transport you to the jungle.

Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall, UK The most beautiful, mysterious and heartfelt garden I’ve ever visited. A life must.

RHS Wisley, Woking, UK. The ultimate Kitchen Garden. Vegetables, berry cages and aspelier fruit heaven.

Country Farm Dahlias, Victoria, Australia. 2,250 different varieties of dahlias. Do not miss Australia’s largest collection in full flight. Open for a few weeks around easter.

Roraima Nursery, Victoria, Australia. One man’s unique, topsy-turvy vision brilliantly realised. Cactus and succulent paradise.

Kings Park, Western Australia. This all West Australian native garden strikes the rare balance between being a fascinating botanical collection of rare plants that’s also a cohesively designed stunner of a landscape.

Plant Places

The Swiss Alps, St Moritz, Switzerland. Sit back on the Glacier Express and watch it unfold.

Wilson’s Promontory, Victoria, Australia. An enormous national park full of wombats and wallabies. Lush green terrain that offers opportunity for hiking at any level fitness. Go in winter time to avoid humans.

Yosemite National Park, California, USA -Walking through the tallest trees on the planet, is a colossal and moving experience.

Spring wildflowers in the hills of Perth, Western Australia. Walk down dirt tracks in the bush and witness nature’s brightest colour scheme. All your problems will melt away.

Who are your favourite insta plant people?

@arthurparkinson_ A hands on gardener who posts about planting punchy jewel toned blooms in small spaces. I want him to visit Australia so we can be friends and I can show him gardens.

@samhalgo Stunning garden photography and quality plant based puns.

@samanthadennisonartist I feel such an affinity for the way she renders plants. I’m lucky enough to have two of her glorious paintings. I want a third.

@bretthoran Great garden photography from a plant obsessed chap.

@beckycrowley_  A practical gardener who shares her romantic, flower filled aesthetic through her work at Chatsworth in the UK.

If you were a plant, what would you be? Easy. I’d be a three-hundred-year-old River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) perched by a creek.

PS. Amanda just won the Victorian Trainee of the Year award! She’s a go-getter, this woman of plants.

'I look forward to the seasonal shifts, like the misty mornings and soft light that begin in autumn.' Image by Amanda Woodhams
'It's details in the garden like this that stop me in my tracks and rocket me in to the moment.' Image by Amanda Woodhams.

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