Walking in Burnley Gardens

John Dwyer reviews Burnley Gardens: Their Design and the People who loved them, by Michele Adler, winner of the 2024 Book Laurel, Horticultural Media Association of Australia Inc.

From their inception in 1860 by the Victorian Horticultural Society, Burnley Gardens have been a place to explore and understand introduced plants in a garden setting. Michele Adler’s book Burnley Gardens: Their Design and the people who loved them shows how their history has resulted in gardens of great beauty that are based on significant trees and other carefully selected plants. Through her studies of the people involved in the Gardens, as well as her use of maps and other images, Adler explores the Gardens’ evolution over the decades. They are now included in the Victorian Heritage Register, with three buildings and seven trees specified as significant. A further three trees are listed in the National Trust’s Register of Significant Trees.

Adler was a lecturer in Horticulture at Burnley from 1985 to 2015. Part of her teaching − as I recall fondly from my time at Burnley in the 1990s − involved taking her students through the gardens, identifying plants and explaining their history and significance. This approach inspired the unusual structure of the book, which sets out two walks: “The historic core of the Gardens” and “The historic perimeter of the Gardens”.  Thus the reader has a handbook (vade mecum for those who remember their Latin) guide them on walks through the gardens. Or, when read in the comfort of an armchair, they are transported into the gardens, with frequent stops to consider the trees and other plants in different sections of the gardens and admire the beauty of their settings.

The result is an excellent introduction to the gardens. It is enhanced by biographical essays about the people who started Burnley, and the designers, curators, gardeners and principals who have made Burnley Gardens what they are today and who are preparing to meet the challenges of the future.

As the former Principal of Burnley College, Dr Greg Moore OAM, writes in the foreword:

This book is a wonderful and beautifully illustrated record of our Burnley Gardens and the people who have shaped and been shaped by them.