A Day in the Life of...a Head Gardener

A Day in the Life of...a Head Gardener

Natalie Crofts

An inner-city oasis boasting over 8,500 plant species from around the world, Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne is an idyllic spot at the heart of this bustling city. Enjoy a walk under lush fern canopies, stop at a sweeping picnic lawn or take a breath by the stunning Ornamental Lake; just some of the highlights to discover. Behind the beautiful landscaped lawns, botanic collections and tropical displays is Michael McNabb, Manager Horticulture for the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, who we spoke with to find out some of the secrets behind the scenes.

Where did your interest in gardening start and how did it bring you to the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne?

Looking back to my younger years, I’ve always loved the outdoors and have positive memories of interacting with plants and the environment. I worked weekends in a retail plant nursery, and when I left school I went on to do an apprenticeship at the same nursery. After successfully completing my apprenticeship I worked for another retail nursery before going to the City of Melbourne as a gardener/leading hand for 10 years. I began work at the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria in 1996 as a Nursery Supervisor before I achieved Manager Horticulture.

At this time of year, what does a 'typical' day look like for you?

As Manager Horticulture my typical day is divided between office-based activities, walking the landscape, speaking to my teams and attending meetings.

Our readers would love to know some inside secrets, if you have a few top gardening tips you can share?

My advice would be to be patient and keep it simple. Group plants with similar watering needs together, mulch prior to warmer months, and plant tubers or seedlings rather than going for instant effect and planting advanced specimens. In the veggie garden, try to minimise spraying by using bird- and insect-attracting plants as companion plants.

What is your favourite time of year at the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne and why?

My favourite time of the year in the gardens is autumn. The weather has cooled after a long, hot summer, yet the soil is still warm enough to fertilise turf and plant out garden beds. Foliage has started to colour on many of the deciduous trees on site, and in particular the Oak Lawn is awash with colour.

Can you tell us a little more about your own garden at home?

My home garden is divided up into two categories really. Anything in the garden must be hardy, able to survive with minimal water, and be colourful. I have a range of salvia, succulents and native plants that fit the bill. The other section of my garden (and where I enjoy spending most of my time) is the vegetable garden where I have seasonal vegetables, herbs and fruit trees growing.

How big is the gardening team at the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne?

At present we have 16 qualified gardeners. To support our gardening team, we have three trainees and two seasonal interns. I’m also responsible for the small team of three qualified nursery staff.

Do you have a favourite section of the gardens?

One of the great things about working at the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne is that there are so many different aspects to the site. Vistas or environments within the gardens provide differing experiences depending on the weather conditions or season. So, whilst I don’t have one favourite section, I guess you could say I’m spoilt for choice because I enjoy them all at varying times of the year!

There are two gardens to discover at Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria: Melbourne and Cranbourne. To find out more visit www.rbg.vic.gov.au.

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