The earliest periodicals to include significant Australian horticultural content were British monthlies such as Curtis’s Botanical Magazine (1787– ) and the Botanical Register (1815–47), in which ‘New Holland exotics’ were depicted in hand-coloured engravings and lithographs. The accompanying letterpress often transcended the scholarship of botany to address the newly emerging ‘science’ of horticulture, as well as the fast-changing world of garden-making. Some of these periodicals were published by nursery proprietors.
Of greater relevance to Australian garden journalism was the establishment in London by John Claudius Loudon of the Gardener’s Magazine (1826–44), which included much of Australian interest, including first-hand observations by local correspondents. Loudon had railed at the expense of the Horticultural Society of London’s Transactions (1807– ) and initiated a new era in Britain of relatively inexpensive, small-format, magazine-style periodicals. As the Australian colonies lurched towards stable settlement, the floricultural and horticultural magazines edited by George Glenny, and especially the Gardeners’ Chronicle (1841– ), with its redoubtable editorial combination of botanist John Lindley and garden designer Joseph Paxton, built on Loudon’s pioneering journalistic foray and achieved worldwide circulation.
In Australia, the earliest garden journalism had been confined largely to the utilitarian seasonal advice of horticulturists, a format that followed the earliest such advice in yearly almanacs (from 1803). Whereas early periodical botanical works had been painstakingly issued fascicule by fascicule, the advent of mechanised printing fostered the growth of magazines with journalistic rather than predominantly scientific content. Yet early Australian attempts at establishing specialised horticultural magazines met indifferent success, as the date spans of the Victorian Rural Magazine (1855) and Gardener’s Magazine and Journal of Rural Economy (1855–56), South Australian Horticulturist (1856), Victorian Agricultural and Horticultural Gazette (1857–61), and South Australian Farm and Garden (1858–63) attest. The Sydney-based Horticultural Magazine (1864–71) was the first Australian garden-based periodical to focus exclusively on garden-making. Newspapers provided the most scope for journalists, with gardening advice commonly published from the 1860s in the weekly newspapers such as the Australasian (1864–1946), Leader (1856–1946), Sydney Mail (1860–1938) and the Queenslander (1866–1939)—themselves offshoots of dailies such as the Argus, the Age, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Brisbane Courier—where these notes sat alongside agricultural advice for the ‘yeoman’, a conjunction apparent in contemporary periodicals such as the South Australian Garden and Field (1875–1940) and the Australian Agriculturist (1893–1925).
Garden journalism in the 19th century was replete with pseudonyms and rhetorical flourishes; many articles were reprinted (and generally credited) from other Australian and overseas sources; illustrations were few until the 1870s; much was written and edited anonymously; and major contributions were from botanic garden directors, nursery proprietors and progressive voices from the horticultural fraternity. Of overseas journals, the idiomatic voice of William Robinson’s the Garden (1876– ) found a local following, but there were relatively few distinctive Australian voices.
At Federation, Australia’s love of gardening showed no signs of abating. From inauspicious beginnings as the Austral Culturist in 1903, the Journal of Horticulture of Australasia (1906–11; Home and Garden Beautiful from 1911–16) captured the mood of the moment. Suburban houses on large blocks in burgeoning capital cities with extensive floral displays, shrubberies, vegetable gardens, and orchards were the desideratum of domestic bliss. Journalism in such magazines, including also the long-running Australian Garden Lover (1925–80) and Australian Home Beautiful (1925– ), was often by women. While not unknown in the 19th century, and still sometimes masked by a pseudonym, such female voices provided a major feature from the 1920s as the careers of Edna Walling and Olive Mellor, and a host of less-known contemporaries took off through their garden journalism.
The introduction of radio in the 1920s led to new opportunities for Australian garden journalism. Early broadcasts were mostly confined to studio talk shows, leavened by the occasional ‘actuality’ broadcast, while the role of presenter was usually placed in the hands of an ‘experienced man’, typically with a background in the nursery trade.
Magazines dispensing purely horticultural advice were soon joined by other popular titles such as Wild Life (1938–54) which, through its pioneering coverage of Australian plant gardening and stable of expert nature writers such as (Philip) Crosbie Morrison and Charles Barrett, garnered a wider audience interested in the Australian environment. National coverage for garden magazines was always hampered by a low population, dispersed centres of readership and widely differing climatic zones.
Gardening in post-war Australia took a sharp turn, with the United States becoming the dominant influence. In the media, this was seen by the promotion of a relaxed Californian modernism. Pools, decks and patios were prominent features in new homemaker magazines such as Australian House and Garden (1948– ). Increasingly, Australian plants, bush gardens and low-maintenance planting schemes sat alongside traditional showy annuals, fruit trees and vegetable growing. The advent of full-colour printing in the 1950s and 1960s meant each new floral variety was able to be illustrated in a manner once reserved for more expensive books.
With the advent of television in Australia in the late 1950s, a new mode of garden reportage emerged. Early televised broadcasts combined the radio voice with moving pictures, but increasingly the use of semi-permanent display gardens, wherein seasonal progress could be followed, and the inclusion of non-studio segments ensured that the new medium evolved into a freer and ultimately immensely popular vehicle for viewers and advertisers alike. Like radio, television was dependent on commercial cross-promotion for its lifeblood, cementing the ABC as a voice of disinterested authority. The incursion of radio and television into the traditional sphere of newspapers, magazines and journals promoted the cult of the personality. Listeners and viewers came to know and trust familiar names: from Jack (Plumridge) and Ted (Gattenby) in the 1950s, then to Kevin (Heinze) and Jane (Edmanson), and more recently Don (Burke) and Jamie (Durie).
The internet has provided additional journalistic avenues, but not outstripped conventional media. Arguably the best garden journalism now appears in Australia’s daily newspapers and specialist magazines, where the exigencies of the seasonal tip and short grab can be exchanged for greater depth and wider horizons.
REFs: R. Aitken and M. Looker (eds), The Oxford Companion to Australian Gardens (2002); H.M. Cohn, Australian Plants, the Garden and Botany in the Nineteenth Century Periodical (1995).