Happy 50th Anniversary to the Parramatta and Hills group

By Contributors: Harry Loots and Jeff Howes

On the 24th September 2022, the Parramatta and Hills district group came together for a lunch to celebrate their 50th Anniversary.

Fifty years ago Pauline de Vana worked hard to establish a Group of the Society for Growing Australian Plants, as the Australian Plants Society was then known, in The Hills. The first meeting in August was attended by 41 people. As a result, a very enthusiastic group was formed which immediately began to organize and participate in the activities which the Group still undertakes today – garden visits, bushwalks, workshops in propagating and growing Australian plants, plant sales, trips away to see public and private native gardens and special bushland reserves, advocating for conservation of threatened and endangered species and meetings with invited speakers to learn more about Australian plants and plant communities.

The following is a report on the celebration, by Harry Loots

99 year old Ted Newman was working the room on Saturday. We were at the Golf Club in North Rocks to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Parramatta-Hills Australian Plants Society (APS) group. Today Ted had a walking stick with him but he usually walks about without it. He has a 200 metre drive from the road up to his house. He lives on a few acres with some very large trees. I don’t think that he climbs them anymore.

Pip Gibian, a plant propagator with an extraordinary fertile touch, baked two cakes for the occasion. One was a fruit cake with an icing and marzipan toping. The signage was edible.  I found out that Jean Wright did the icing. It’s a special skill. Pip also baked a gluten free almond, ricotta and lemon cake. Pip’s talents are amazing.


Ted Newman and Joan Hayes, Jean Wright and Pip Gibian cutting the cake, the amazing cake

Jennifer Ferrer and Joan Hayes organised this event with Jennifer governing the event as mistress of ceremonies. Activities ran right to schedule.

Ian Cox and Brian Roach, Merle Thompson and Mark Ferrington, Heather Miles and Jennifer Ferrer

Brian Roach, a noted raconteur, reminisced about his growing Australian plants and the people who he had met (see below). It was a long address although not as long as a two day closing address he had once given a jury. Brian made us laugh. Brian also reminded us that besides the movers and shakers in APS the bums on seats should never be discounted. Merle Thompson, the long standing APS membership officer, who knows everything and everybody helped Brian with facts. Without Merle’s knowledge we would be living in a world of romance.
The cast of personalities was greater than this and I enjoyed speaking to as many as possible. I was able to renew old friendships and initiate new ones.

The talk below was given by Brian Roach 

The Society for Growing Australian Plants (SGAP) was established in Melbourne, Victoria in March 1957 and these founding people pledged to ‘promote the establishment and breeding of Australian native plants for garden, park and farm’. How times have changed that initial aim.  Now in 2022 our mission is ‘to inspire all Australians to love, grow and conserve native plants, to create a nation where native plants are loved and protected’.  Note the change of emphasis now with a leaning to the conservation aspect as members and the public become increasingly aware of the changes in our biodiversity and the increasing impact of climate change, as Australia is apparently one of the world hot spots.

Within a year, societies had been established in six states with the Australian Capital Territory joining many years later.

The NSW Region came into being at a meeting in Martin Place in Sydney in July 1957. At the end of that year local groups existed at Epping, East Hills, Gosford, Coffs Harbour, Northern Beaches and Northside. The Northside Group was shortly later renamed to North Shore. The North Shore Group’s first meeting was held in April 1960 and has been going ever since.

A few years later the federal association, the Australian Native Plants Society (Australia) was formed to assist in integrating the States, including the ACTs activities across Australia.  NSW had a name change in the 1980s, from the Society for Growing Australian Plants NSW to the Australian Plants Society NSW. 

APS (NSW) is embracing change and now has a well-used professional web site with an ever increasing data base of plant profiles focused on the growing and propagating aspect. This web site also allows all NSW Groups to promote their group featuring, newsletters, outings, propagation days etc.

The 1980 and into the early 1990s was a period that the public showed great interest in growing our native plants and information on this topic was not readily available. Remember, this was pre Google days and the wide use of the Web. The then ‘Society for Growing Australian Plants’ was one of the few reliable sources of information at a practical and basic level. At the same time there were many nurseries formed selling a very wide range of native plants from all over Australia, and they helped spread knowledge as well.

To help the promotion of native plants local Groups organised their own flower shows. North Shore Group held their Festival of Wildflowers at Ku-ring-gai Wildflower Gardens and attracted on average 6,000 people buying plants and looking at the variety of flowers on display from all over Australia. This create a huge traffic jam with cars trying to get in out of the gardens.

However, during that period, the best show was organised by the Parramatta and Hills Group with help from all other Groups snd APS (NSW). That event was held for quite a few years in Castle Hill Show Ground. In the final year it consisted of three huge circus type tents and thousands of plants for sale.  Inside the tents, a natural landscape was created with plants of all sizes in containers sitting on all types of boxes with mulch covering the whole display to create a ‘natural’ bush landscape. In those days this presentation was creative and very effective in showing what can be achieved in a garden situation. There must have been many people undertaking the work to make these shows a success and the only two names I can remember are Gordon Brooks and Betty Rhymer, both long term members of the Parramatta and Hills group.

Grevillea baueri x rosmarinifolia nana (John Evans)

These display required so much work setting it up and taking it down that future shows were scaled down in size. A few more flower shows were held after that on Sydney’s south side and while very successful they were the last. A wonderful period to having been involved in those incredible promotions.

Since the inception of the Parramatta and Hills groups native plants have come and gone in nurseries as some just proved too hard to grow on the east coast or did not spark people’s enthusiasm to purchase and grow them. I was trying to think of a very popular plant from the 1980s that you do not see for sale today, without much success until today.  I visited a nursery, as you do, to replace a few plants that died due to my overly wet garden. The first plant I saw was Grevillea John Evans, a plant that was widely grown with success. It was a chance seedling in John’s garden with probable parents of G. bauera and G. rosmarinifolia nana. John had a great garden and he was always available for native plant enthusiasts to visit his garden, one of the first I suspect to do so. Unfortunately in his old age he sold his house and the new owners promptly levelled the whole garden, so the rumour went around at the time. Something we would not wish to see when we sell our house.

Speech written by Jeff Howes, who is a long term member of APS (NSW) who joined the North Shore Group in September 1976 and in his early days of membership led an active life at committee level, organising the Festival of Wildflowers for two years and even edited Blandfordia, the group’s newsletter.