9 Sep 2017

Judy Horton: Australian gardening guru

From Saturday Morning, 10:07 am on 9 September 2017
Judy Horton

Judy Horton Photo: Supplied

Judy Horton is the face of gardening in Australia.

The horticulturist has been an advisor for Yates for 25 years, regularly updating their garden guide and maintaining their archives.

She also does radio shows and has written books.

Horton talks to Kim Hill about gardening challenges and fashions and her favourite garden in the world.

For 40-odd years, Horton has lived on a fairly bushy five-acre block out of Sydney.

The property has two watercourses, which were once choked with privets – an introduced flowery plant with a 'horrible herby smell' – that grew up to 10 metres tall.

30 years ago, Horton started killing them off with herbicide.

"It was like my getting my head into gear time. I'd spend maybe a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon and do that."

In recent years, the wallabies have come back to her garden and she's happy to give them a few roses.

While Horton admires orchid nuts, bromeliad nuts and others who love one type of plant, she's crazy about all sorts of plants.

She says she doesn't have enough "strength of character" to follow garden fashion.

Through the 20th century, New Zealand and Australia have largely followed England in garden fashion.

In the early 1900s, Gertrude Jekyll-inspired flower beds were all the rage, then in the 1950s, the arrival of petrol-powered motor mowers made great expanses of lawn fashionable.

The 80s saw the rise of the native, and by the end of the 20th formal gardens with Buxus hedges and standard roses were in vogue.

Laburnum Arch at Bodnant Garden in Wales

Laburnum Arch at Bodnant Garden in Wales Photo: Jaypeg / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In recent years a minimalist look with strappy leafed plants such as flaxes and cabbage trees has been in vogue, and now we're moving into a "softer time in gardening" she says.

Horton leads garden tours around the world, and one of her favourite gardens to visit is Bondant in Wales, which has an amazing Laburnum arch.

"[Laburnum] is a tree that gets these panicles – hanging down bright yellow bits – in spring. And if you grow them over an arch you can have this perfect long archway."

Like the laburnum, the early years of retirement are a golden part of life, she says.

"Even if I've got a busy day, I like to go outside in the morning, feed the birds, and I take out with me… Take a pair of secateurs with you when you step out the door."