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Village green, station gardens revisited

At a recent APA Heritage event in the local library, several people asked me about plantings around the Artarmon Railway Station. In early articles in 2001 I wrote about plantings in our area, around the station, along our streets and vegetation in Artarmon Reserve. With our editor’s agreement I hope to update that information over three issues. First, the station gardens.

In 1926, the first Artarmon street beautification committee was formed. Then, in 1929, a local resident, Charles Wickham, headed up a garden committee that canvassed local residences door to door for financial support. As a result, they were able to employ a gardener two days a week to keep the station gardens in order. The committee, which by this time had 700 subscribers, reported to the Artarmon Progress Association they had planted 1000 bulbs, 200 roses, 30 shrubs and many other herbaceous plants.

By 1932, Charles Wickham and the station gardens were famous and the gardens covered two acres. He was responsible for the building of the stone terracing which still exists on the west side. By 1934, more than 400 trees and shrubs had been planted in and around the area. The gardens were mentioned in newspapers as far afield as Melbourne and Adelaide.

Wickham died in 1935, by which time there were 825 residents subscribing to the gardens. The little memorial to him, which still exists in the station gardens, is dated 1938.  The rosemary hedge that once surrounded it is now looking the worse for wear because it is competing with tree roots that are also seeking water and nourishment.

One of the questions I was asked was about was the avenue of mature conifers at the far southern end of the gardens, near the underpass. There are twenty-two providing a densely shaded walkway with deep soft mulch under foot. I have found no record of their planting but I believe they may be from the late twenties when the Royal Botanic Gardens still provided trees to the committee free of charge.

The gardens’ management was taken over by Willoughby Council during the World War II because of a lack of subscribers and, one assumes, voluntary manpower.

The next major planting was in 1951 when the APA organized a tree planting ceremony by local associations to celebrate the Federation jubilee. I believe the line of conifers, at the edge of the gardens, each one a different species, must date from then.

In 1968, three flowering cherry trees were planted on the northern end of the village green in memory of the districts’ pioneers. Only two survived in 2001 and those two are still with us. The historic railway lantern, erected on the green to honour Theodore Wesley Francis for his work in helping to improve the suburb, is still there. Several years ago, the council planted two ash trees (Fraxinus) on either side of the main subway entrance. These have both survived but the little hedge of Sasanqua camellias has gone. We have acquired three new bike stands and a new large Notice Board on the northern end of the green.

The biggest changes in recent years have been to the plantings in Wilkes Plaza. Sadly, one of the two old pepper trees had to be removed but a replacement has been planted in one of the raised beds. It will be many years before it reaches the gnarled magnificence of its predecessor. Three new crepe myrtle trees, planted when the plaza was upgraded in 2005, are thriving in their mosaic edged plots.

by Mollie Shelley

Courtesy of Gazette May 2011
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Drawing by Wendy Bishop





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