Warren Worboys, Curator, Horticulture at Cranbourne Gardens, knows a little about the history of gardening in Melbourne. This year marks both the 175th anniversary of Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria and also falls on the 50th anniversary of when Warren started his apprenticeship at the Melbourne Gardens. Warren shares his reflections upon his love of plants, career highlights, and how the Gardens have evolved.
When I was at school, my mother was running a small retail nursery in the country. Over the school holidays, I gave her a hand in running the shop. I started developing quite an interest in plants, and I started looking to develop my skills more. An aunt of mine noticed the Botanic Gardens in Melbourne had advertised for apprentices, and I was lucky enough to receive a position.
After completing his apprenticeship at the Melbourne Gardens, Warren’s passion and pursuit of knowledge led him to study abroad at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. His further studies at Edinburgh informed his love for both science and making gardens accessible to the general public through landscape design and construction.
At this time, the Crown Land at Cranbourne had transitioned from the Federal Government to Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, placing Warren in the perfect position to contribute to the Cranbourne Gardens’ development.
“Some funding came through to develop the Gardens at Cranbourne on a low budget development plan. I applied for the position of Horticultural Development Officer in 1988 and have been here since. I started the planting plans for the whole garden in the old sand extraction area, which is now the Australian Garden. Originally, the landscaping used the landform of the site as a sand mine.”
“When the Australian Garden was first foreshadowed as a collection, completely changing the work which I had started, I was approached about my thoughts on pulling out all the plants in my first six years of work in the space. Upon looking at the concept plans, I knew it was absolutely worthwhile decimating every bit of work I had done previously. From seeing the first concept plans through to them coming to fruition and knowing that I had been a fairly strong influence and contributed significantly to the final landscape, the opening of the Australia Garden would have to be the best moment of my career.”
Over his long career at Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, Warren has noticed a change in the organisation’s focus and importance to both scientists and the general public. Through his three decades in the role at Cranbourne, there has been a vast shift in perspectives on Australian flora ; something, which he hopes will continue.
“When I started, exotic plants were seen as the bread and butter for retail nurseries, and native plants weren’t seen as the thing to grow. During the 1970s, people were under the impression that native plants would not need care and would maintain themselves. As the plants matured they were seen as straggly things with deadwood and so on.”
"We (the RBGV) recognised that Australian plants needed to be managed in the same way as exotic plants in that they need to be fed, watered and pruned. That change of emphasis and approach at Cranbourne Gardens has been really good in changing that ’ attitude. I think the public realise that Australian plants are really valuable and attractive in a garden landscape.”
“Generally, Cranbourne has been one of the fastest-growing residential area’s in Australia. It’s certainly been in the top three for the past 25 years. We hope that the Australian Garden provides opportunities, particularly for younger families, to see plants they can learn about and introduce into their home gardens. The Cranbourne Gardens have been effective in influencing new generations coming into horticulture.”
For those keen to embark on a career in the world of plants, Warren has some words of wisdom.
Continue learning, and don’t lose your passion. That is the beauty of being in horticulture, that I’ve never stopped learning. It’s really good. It keeps you refreshed.
Warren is the quiet face behind our Flowering Friday social media posts. He takes the image and collates the information a few days before the post goes out to ensure that the public can visit the gardens and see the specimens while they are in bloom.