Camden Park Gardens

Camden Park Estate is famous for the fine colonial house and the agricultural innovations that spread from the estate across Australia. But the diverse and impressive garden is also of historic significance. The youngest son of John and Elizabeth Macarthur, William Macarthur, was a keen botanist and horticulturalist and established an impressive formal garden around the house. Far from the pedigree of a merino flock or the homogeny of a wheat field, Macarthur’s garden abounded in rich botanical wonders.

Baron Charles von Hügel, amateur botanist and close friend of William, was perhaps the first to praise the garden in 1834. He claimed that he had “not seen its equal since I left my own garden” (Mills, 2006). He went on to claim that William was the only person in the colony with an interest in horticulture. Another early admirer was Ludwig Leichhardt, a German born explorer and botanist. He visited Camden Park in 1846 and complemented the Macarthurs on many aspects of the estate including praises for the garden. He asserted that “there is…no establishment equal to it in this colony” (Wrigley, 2009).

Portrait of Dr. Leichhardt, 1846, by William Romaine Govett. National Library of Australia. nla.pic-an4699386-s41

Portrait of Dr. Leichhardt, 1846, by William Romaine Govett. National Library of Australia. nla.pic-an4699386-s41

Unfortunately, the hard economic times of the 1840s meant that William was placed in the uncomfortable position to “either make the garden pay for itself or give it up” (Mills, 2006). However, this was only a small hurdle to greater botanic and economic prosperity. With word of his expertise and impressive collection spreading through the colony, William started receiving many requests for plants. He published a Catalogue of plants grown at Camden Park, which in its popularity would see four editions. The first edition went out in 1843 and in 1845 he made £150 profit just from this horticultural enterprise, which was a considerable sum in those times.

Sir William Macarthur. State Library of NSW. gpo1_12256

Sir William Macarthur. State Library of NSW. gpo1_12256

He acquired Leichhardt’s own collection, which added richly to the already impressive garden. Mills tells us that 2 specimens from that collection, a native bauhinia and a Queensland Bottle Tree, are still features of the garden. William’s interest did not just extend to breeding a variety of species, but also to hybrids, one of his most famous examples being Erythrina × bidwillii ‘Camdeni’ , a hybrid of Erythrina species. It was his botanical knowledge as displayed with his hybrids as well as the success of his nursery, that helped establish William Macarthur as one of the most active and influential horticulturalists of 19th century Australia.

A testament of skill. William Macarthur's hybrid. Erythrina × bidwillii 'Camdeni'

A testament of skill. William Macarthur’s hybrid. Erythrina × bidwillii ‘Camdeni’. Image in Public Domain.

The garden has experienced considerable interest in recent years. The tradition of growing has continued with Camden Park Nursery Group, who have taken strong measures to ensure the preservation of this historic garden. Their efforts have been recognised by NSW Government Heritage Volunteer Awards (Goldsworthy, 2012). For those whose interest in history and horticulture require less dirt under the fingernails, Hortus Camdenensis, established by Colin Mills, is a must see. The website catalogues over 3200 plants that would have been grown by William at Camden Park.

The garden at Camden Park Estate strongly establishes Camden as not only the birth place of agriculture in Australia, but as a place of horticultural and botanical influence. It reveals an eye to the beauty of the land that was held in conjunction with the agricultural progress for which it has become famous.

References:

Goldsworthy, T. (2012). Gardening Heroes. Macarthur Chronicle.

Mill, C. (2006). Macarthur’s botanical treasures. Back Then. The District Reporter.

Wrigley, J. (2009). Ludwig Leichhardt stayed at Camden Park. Back Then. The District Reporter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s