Ferguson’s Nursery at Hurstville, Mittagong and Sylvania
During the post-war years, Ferguson’s Nurseries continued to be located on Sydney’s urban fringe as the metropolitan area expanded into the rural surrounds.
Hurstville nursery prospered then closed, another opened on the urban fringe at Sylvania while a cold-climate nursery opened at Mittagong and the Camden nursery closed.
In the mid-1960s, the family had sold the business to new owners who continued to use the Ferguson nurseries as a trading name.
The importance of the colonial legacy of Francis Ferguson is emphasised in July McMaugh’s Living Horticulture. She only lists four New South Wales 19th colonial horticulturalists of significance, one of whom is Ferguson.
The Camden nursery site remains quite significant in the history of the Australian nursery industry. Morris and Britton maintain that the site is
A rare remnant of an important and influential colonial nursery from the late 1850s and includes a collection of 19th century plantings and is a landmark in the local area. (Morris and Britton 2000)
Camden Nursery site
The Camden nursery on the Nepean River stopped operating in the immediate post-war years, and the nursery headquarters re-located to Hurstville.
In 1937 Camden Municipal Council rejected an offer from Ferguson’s nurseries of 100 rose bushes for planting out in Macarthur Park. The council did not want the nursery to take cuttings from the park’s rose bushes. (Camden News, 13 May 1937)
In the 1930s, the Camden press reported that Ferguson’s nurseries had purchased the property of W Moore between the Old Southern Road and the Hume Highway (Camden News, 11 April 1935). This was in the vicinity of Little Street. (Cole, CHS, 1989) This is likely the 1937 outlet fronting the Hume Highway in Camden and still operating in 1944. (Camden News, 18 February 1937, 17 February 1944)
The Camden nursery outlet had stopped trading by 1946. The Camden press reported an application to connect to the electricity supply to RB Ferguson’s property at the ‘the Old Nursery’. (Camden News, 19 December 1946, 27 November 1947)
By the mid-1950s, the nursery was trading as F Ferguson & Son, headquartered at Hurstville with branches at Sylvania and Mittagong. (Sun Herald, 13 September 1953)
Operations for the Ferguson’s Nurseries were centralised at the Hurstville nursery in the post-war years, and the area around the nursery became known as Kingsgrove.
There was growth in the area following the opening of Kingsgrove Railway Station in 1931. Sydney’s residential development followed the development of suburban railway lines.
There was increased growth in the Hurstville area in the post-war years with increased housing in the area and rising land values.
The NSW Housing Commission built over 200 homes on what was called the Ferguson Nursery Estate at Kingsgrove. (St George Call (Kogarah) 21 September 1945)
The state government purchased the site of Ferguson’s nursery in 1958 and established Kingsgrove High School. (SRNSW)
In the 1957 Plant Catalogue, the nursery indicates that the business had a Kingsgrove address and had branches at Sylvania and Mittagong (Ferguson Nursery 1957)
1957 Plant Catalogue
In the 1957 Plant Catalogue of 54 pages, the nursery listed a Kingsgrove address and branches at Sylvania and Mittagong (Ferguson Nursery 1957). The catalogue listed plant stock for sale with advice for the gardener to achieve the best results.
The catalogue listed for sale: fruit trees; Australian trees and shrubs; flowering plants including roses, camellias (51 varieties), azaleas, hibiscus; conifers; ornamental trees; palms and cycads (varieties from California, Canary Islands, Siam, South America, India, China and Japan).
Amongst the fruit trees, the catalogue listed apples, apricots, citrus (cumquats, oranges, lemons, mandarins, grapefruit), nectarines, passionfruit, peaches, pears, plums (English, Japanese), prunes, quinces, as well as almonds and walnuts.
Roses were a speciality and included novelty roses for 1957, standard roses and others. The catalogue provided advice for gardeners to achieve the best results with roses, particularly care about planting and pruning. (Ferguson Nursery 1957)
Under Australian trees and shrubs, the catalogue stated:
Australia is endowed with of indigenous Trees and Shrubs that are entirely different and considered by many far superior to anything else in the world. Nothing is more useful for Parks, School Grounds, etc, that some of out Native Flora, and certainly nothing is more hardy or topical. (Ferguson Nursery 1957)
Fergusons offered a landscaping service to
assist and advise you in the correct formation and setting-out of Lawns, Drives, Shrubberies, also in the correct selection of suitable Shrubs, Roses, and all kinds of Flowering Plants, so that the ultimate results will be charming. (Ferguson Nursery 1957) (Ferguson 1957)
111 Port Hacking Road, Sylvania
Ferguson’s made a business decision post-war to follow Sydney’s urban fringe and establish a new nursery to the south of Hurstville in the Sutherland Shire at Sylvania.
Sutherland Shire was growing in the late mid-20th century. McDowells opened a department store at Caringbah in 1961, Miranda Fair Shopping Centre opened in 1964, the new Sutherland District Hospital opened in 1958, and the Sutherland Daily Leader was launched with its first edition on 29 June 1960. (Sutherland Shire Library)
The first mention of the Sylvania nursery in the Sydney press was in 1955 when Fergusons placed an advertisement for contractors to provide a quote to build a fibro cottage on the nursery site at 111 Port Hacking Road. (SMH, 1 October 1955)
The nursery opened for trading in 1961. A story in the Sutherland press about the history of the Ferguson nursery group. (Sutherland Daily Leader, 26 April 1961)
Nurseryman Rex Jurd conducted the management of the Sylvania nursery. (McMaugh 2005:252) (McMaugh 2005)
Nurseryman Jurd recalled that Francis Ferguson’s granddaughter, Nancy, and husband lived on the site. He said, ‘It seemed to Rex that they had little interest in the business’.
‘It was run down and he spent two years there fixing it up, and replacing all the plant material’, wrote Judy McMaugh.
The Sylvania nursery extended from Port Hacking Road to the waterfront on Gwawley Bay (now Sylvania Waters) (McMaugh 2005: 252-253). According to Jurd, the nursery was not clearly visible to on-coming traffic and was on the low side of the road and suffered from ‘few customers’.
Jurd, a fellow student with well-known Sydney nurseryman Valerie Swain at Ryde School of Horticulture, left Fergusons in 1959 and started working for Smart’s Nurseries at Gordon. (McMaugh 2005: 252-253)
The Sylvania nursery was sold to the Pike family in 1966 and it became part of Ferguson Garden Centre Pty Ltd. The new business retained the Ferguson name as part of the sale. (Sutherland Daily Leader, 16 May 1966)
Hume Highway (then Old Hume Highway, then Ferguson Cres) Mittagong
Ferguson’s Nurseries developed a cold-climate nursery at Mittagong in 1939 and developed under the management of nurseryman Arthur Carroll.
According to nurseryman Bill Starke, Arthur Carroll ‘was equipped with a draught horse, a cross-cut saw, and an axe, and he basically cleared the property by hand’. (McMaugh 2005: 105)
Mr Carroll was away on active during the Second World War and returned in 1946 as manager of the nursery which traded as F Ferguson and Son. (Southern Mail, 10 May 1946)
Bruce Ferguson sold the Mittagong nursery to the Pike family in 1970. (McMaugh 2005:363)
New ownership and the Ferguson name continues
Bruce Ferguson sold the Sylvania nursery in 1966. (Reeve 2017)
The new owners were Jack Pike of Pikes Nurseries Rydalmere and Arch and Alan Newport of Newport Nurseries Winmalee (Springwood). (McMaugh 2005: 320) The new ownership arrangement was incorporated in 1966 as Ferguson’s Garden Centres Pty Ltd. (Sydney Morning Herald, 15 October 1967).
The Pikes were innovative businessmen, and the Sydney press ran a story in 1967 that promoted the nursery as Sydney’s new ‘supergardenmarket’. (Sydney Morning Herald, 15 October 1967).
In 1970 the business purchased the Baulkham Hills Garden Centre and re-named it Ferguson’s Baulkham Hills Garden Centre. By 1973 the Newports had sold out to the Pike family interests. (McMaugh 2005:320, 366)
In 1974 outlets opened at Narrabeen and Warringah Mall, and the Sydney CBD. (McMaugh2005:365-366)
By the 1980s, there were many centres across the Sydney metropolitan area, including Baulkham Hills, Sylvania, Bonnyrigg, Narrabeen, Guilford, Mittagong in the Southern Highlands, in Victoria the Mornington Peninsular and on the far-north coast at Alstonville. (McMaugh 2005:366)
The Baulkham Hills Centre traded as Ferguson’s Garden Centres Holdings Pty Ltd and was incorporated in 1981. The nursery had ceased trading in 2018 and the site was developed for residential units in 2019.
Ferguson, F. (1957). Ferguson’s Nursery Catalogue. Hurstville, F Ferguson & Sons.
McMaugh, J. (2005). Living Horticulture, The lives of men and women in the New South Wales nursery industry. Sydney NSW, Nursery and Garden Industry NSW & ACT.
Morris, C. and G. Britton (2000). Colonial landscapes of the Cumberland Plain and Camden, NSW : A survey of selected pre – 1860 cultural landscapes from Wollondilly to Hawkesbury LGAs. Sydney NSW, National Trust of Australia (NSW). 1 & 2.
Reeve, T. M. (2017). “‘Rawson’, Condamine Street, Campbelltown, a private residence, formerly known as ‘Marlesford’.” Grist Mills 30(2): 25-32.
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