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The post-war years for a local nursery

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.

Significance

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)

Hurstville Nursery

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.

Cover of Ferguson’s Nursery Trade Catalogue for 1957 trading as F Ferguson & Sons (Camden Museum Archives)

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)

Sylvania Nursery

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)

The advice page for gardeners who purchased roses from Ferguson’s Nursery for their care and maintenance of roses. Trade catalogue for F Ferguson and Sons (Camden Museum Archives)

Mittagong Nursery )

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)

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 ‘supergaradenmarket’. (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.

References

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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Camden’s purple haze

A lavender haze – jacarandas in Camden

As you walk around Camden streets you will come across the current flush of purples, mauves, lilac and lavender along Argyle Street, Broughton Street, John Street, and in Macarthur Park.

Jacaranda tree in bloom in Argyle Street Camden outside colonial Commercial Bank building (I Willis, 2020)

People are entranced by the magic of the town’s ‘sea of lavender’ as Peter Butler from Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens has described the lavender haze at the Sydney gardens.

Jacarandas cause excitement amongst locals (Macarthur Chronicle, 5 November 2013)

Blooming  jacarandas are regularly featured on  the front page of  local newspapers. (Macarthur Chronicle (Camden Edition), 5 November 2013)

Blooming jacarandas provide a purple carpet after a November shower and in 2006 caused an unholy fuss in the local press.

What is all the fuss about?

 The Camden Chamber of Commerce proposed the removal and replacement of 33 jacaranda trees in Argyle Street with Manchurian pear trees in 2006. The chamber suggested that shopkeepers ‘take responsibility for their maintenance’. (Macarthur Chronicle, 24  October 2006)

The Argyle Street jacarandas, which were planted in 1927, were showing the effects of age, pollution, compaction and other problems.

The Camden mayor Chris Patterson and Deputy Mayor David Funnell wanted to know if the community supported their replacement. He posed the question in the press: Should Camden Council replace Argyle Street’s jacaranda trees?

The answer was loud and swift.

Mayor Patterson said, ‘People stopped me on the street, rang council and my mobile phone, to give me their views’.

‘The overwhelming response has been the jacarandas should stay but people want council to give them some more love and care’.

Jacaranda blooms in Argyle Street in November (2019 I Willis)

A flood of letters

The Camden press was ‘flooded with letters’ and 90% of ‘our internet poll’ wanted to trees to stay.

Letter writer M Goodwin felt the removal of the trees was ‘frivolous and unnecessary’, and Ian Turner did approve of their removal. Bob Lester had mixed views on the matter, Mrs B Thompson said the council should attend to their health and Kylie Lyons agreed. The sentiment of many was best summarised by L Jones of Cobbitty who said, ‘The jacaranda trees are stunning in full bloom and they should not be replaced’. (Macarthur Chronicle, 31 October 2006)

Camden resident Irene Simms started a petition and council commissioned a report on the state of the trees by arborist David Potts. Maryann Strickling felt that the trees were part of town’s cultural heritage and wrote, ‘The jacarandas in Argyle Street are integral to retaining the heritage of Camden’s landscape’ (Camden Advertiser, 7 November 2006).

The letters in the local press kept coming and a letter from Elizabeth Paparo was headed ‘Purple rain is a part of our history’ and felt ‘When the bloom of the Jacaranda tree is here, Christmas time is near!’. (Macarthur Chronicle, 14 November 2006)

The Potts report was presented to council in 2007 and stated that the trees were ‘expected to live long and healthy lives’. (Camden Advertiser, 15 August 2007)

The fuss over the trees has continued on and off and in 2018 the a number of local business people organised the Jacaranda Festival that has gained considerable attention in the media.

What is the appeal of jacarandas?

The appeal of the mauve coloured jacaranda was best summarised by the 1868 correspondent for  the Sydney Morning Herald.

This most beautiful flowering tree is a native of Brazil, and no garden of any pretensions can be said to be complete without a plant of it. The specimen in the Botanic garden is well worth a journey of 50 miles to see. Its beautiful rich lavender blossoms, and its light feathery foliage, render it the gem of the season. (SMH 5 December 1868)

The jacaranda first appeared in Sydney around the mid-1860s. The Guardian newspaper has provided a quote from the Sydney Morning Herald of 1865

An account of the Prince of Wales’ birthday celebrations in the Sydney Morning Herald from 10 November 1865 describes admirers observing well-established trees: “Many enjoyed a stroll through the botanic gardens, which show the beneficial effects of the late rain; some of the most beautiful trees are now in luxuriant blossom, in particular the lilac flower of the Jacaranda mimosifolia is an object of much admiration.”

Jacaranda trees in bloom in Macarthur Park (I Willis 2017)

Sydney’s love of Jacaranda mimosifolia

Sydney Living Museum curator Helen Curran writes that the specimens of Jacaranda mimosifolia, the most common variety in Sydney,

was collected and returned to the Royal Gardens at Kew, England, in about 1818. One early source gives the credit to plant hunter Allan Cunningham, who was sent on from Rio de Janiero to NSW, where he would later serve, briefly, as colonial botanist.

Sydney Living Museum curator Helen Curran writes that the popular of the jacaranda in the Sydney area owes much to the success of landscape designer Michael Guilfoyle ‘solved the problem of propagation’. He gave a paper at the Horticultural Society in 1868 and outlined the lengths he went to solve the problems around growing the trees in Sydney. Guilfoyle’s Exotic Nursery at Double Bay supplied jacarandas to the ‘city’s most fashionable gardens’ and ‘many gardens in the Eastern Suburbs’. The trees became particularly popular by the Interwar period and were flourishing in harbourside gardens across Sydney.

The hospital matron

Curator Helen Curran says that the tree’s popularity is partly explained by Sydney Living Museums

One story credits November’s purple haze to the efforts of a hospital matron who sent each newborn home with a jacaranda seedling. A less romantic explanation lies in the fact the trees were a popular civic planting in the beautification programs of the early 20th century and interwar years, right up to the 1950s and 1960s. 

There are a host of Sydney Living Museum properties that feature a purple and lilac haze in November and they include Vaucluse House, Elizabeth Farm and at Nowra, Meroogal.

Parts of Sydney attract considerable numbers of visitors when the local jacarandas are in bloom.

The Guardian claims that Australia’s love of the jacaranda was an unlikely affair. The ultimate expression of love for the jacaranda is in Grafton NSW and the annual Jacaranda Festival.  

Australia’s first jacarandas

The first jacarandas planted in Australia were grown in Brisbane. Dale Arvidsson from the Brisbane Botanic Garden’s states

the first jacaranda was planted in the city gardens in 1864 by Walter Hill. He says, ‘Plants grown from seeds [or] seedlings from this tree were later sent to Rockhampton and Maryborough Botanic Gardens (Queens Park).  

Jacaranda trees in bloom in Menangle Road Camden (I Willis 2017)

Cultivation

Cultivation of the jacaranda is relatively easy in the climate of Eastern Australia. Wikipedia states

Jacaranda can be propagated from grafting, cuttings and seeds, though plants grown from seeds take a long time to bloom. Jacaranda grows in well-drained soil and tolerates drought and brief spells of frost and freeze.

This genus thrives in full sun and sandy soils, which explains their abundance in warmer climates. Mature plants can survive in colder climates down to −7 °C (19 °F); however, they may not bloom as profusely. Younger plants are more fragile and may not survive in colder climates when temperatures drop below freezing.

Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens states:

Jacarandas (Jacaranda mimosifolia) species is native to Argentina and Bolivia but can survive and perform well in most temperate parts of Australia. Jacarandas are readily grown from freshly fallen seed and can be considered weedy in some areas.

Not so friendly

Yet a word of warning about the lovely and popular purple tree.

In Queensland the jacaranda can escape into the bush and become a weed. It out-competes local native plants and forms thickets below planted species.

Brisbane City Council has listed Jacaranda mimosifolia as one of the top 200 weeds in the city area. In Queensland it was considered naturalised in 1987 escaping domestic gardens.

The species Jacaranda mimosifolia  is considered a weed in many part of New South Wales and is hard to eradicate once established in an area.

The future of the Jacaranda

University of Melbourne botanist Gregory Moore argues that the Jacaranda has a rosy bluey, or maybe indigo, or just purple future in urban Australia. Jacaranda mimosifolia is likely to do particularly under the influence of climate change as it gets ‘warmer and drier in place’. He just urges a little caution in rural areas where they have the potential to become ‘weedy’.

Updated 2 December 2020