Mediterranean Garden Society

The South Australian Branch of the MGS

We are a friendly gardening community group interested in promoting climate compatible gardening using plants from the five Mediterranean regions of the world. We are affiliated to the MGS and have close links with other gardening groups in SA, notably the South Australian Open Garden Scheme and the Garden History Society. We have a lively programme of meetings and visits and publish an electronic newsletter four times per year. We support the Garden of Discovery at the Waite Historic Precinct of the University of Adelaide: having undertaken a major refurbishment of the garden, we continue to donate plants and hold working bees.

Gardening in South Australia: A Resource Guide for Climate Compatible Gardens

An achievement we are most proud of is the second edition of our book, Gardening in South Australia: A Resource Guide for Climate Compatible Gardens that we launched in December 2021. We built on and expanded the very fine first edition published in 2010. Cost of the Resource guide is A$30 + postage A$20. Contact our secretary Kerry White for further details.

Our Branch Head is Mark Barnett (Biography).

For further information go to our website and follow us on Facebook.

The photograph at the top of this page shows Leucadendron 'Jester' (Sunshine Conebush), a member of the Protea family that is well suited to low irrigation gardening in South Australia. Photograph Chris Kirby.

For older reports and articles please check out the archived (non-responsive) South Australia Branch page.

Forthcoming Events

October 2024 - Garden Tour Down Under

The South Australian Branch of the Mediterranean Garden Society invites you to join us on a Garden Tour Down Under where we will showcase South Australia at its best.

Pre Tour 9 to 13 October 2024 (5 days)
Main Tour 14 to 20 October 2024 (7 days)

We will meet and greet on the evening of Wednesday 9 October and depart Thursday morning to visit The Australian Arid Lands Botanic Gardens, located on the Upper Spencer Gulf with spectacular views to the ancient Flinders Ranges. The Garden is sited on more than 250 hectares and showcases a diverse collection of arid zone habitats, as well as a diverse population of reptiles, birds, mammals and insects. We will visit the historic mining town of Burra, in the mid North, where we will visit local gardens and experience local bush tucker food.

The Australian Arid Lands Botanic Gardens

The Main Tour will commence with a welcome evening on Monday 14 October. Our itinerary will include the historic Barossa Valley wine district, the Adelaide Hills, the Fleurieu Peninsula and the City of Adelaide. We will entertain you with a variety of private and public garden visits, a series of interesting lectures and discussions and, of course, showcase our beautiful hospitality, food and wine. We will conclude with a farewell dinner on Sunday 20 October 2024.

Boats End garden on the Fleurieu Peninsular 

Expert advice will be available for a selection of optional day tours or extended tours before or after our event. There are many different airlines and gateway ports into Australia so make sure you have enough time to see as much as you can and spend as long as you can with us.

Garden of Discovery, part of the Waite historic precinct, University of Adelaide

To assist with our forward planning could you please register your interest in attending the Tour in October 2024. This is a no-obligation commitment, just a guideline for our itinerary and accommodation planning. Please email by Wednesday 19 April 2023 to indicate if you would like to join us.

Past Events

September 2023
Member meeting
Our member’s meeting began with a brief presentation by Kate Hubmayer on building bee hotels.

Burnside Native Bee Hotel

Kate Hubmayer’s notes
There are around 300 species of native bees in SA, and most of them are solitary. To attract them to your garden, plant local native plants to provide pollen and nectar for native bees. Home-made insect hotels provide a safe place for native bees and other insects like wasps and hoverflies to lay their eggs.

Recommendations when making an insect hotel


Kate noted that Adelaide has a native bee expert, Dr Katja Hogendoorn, who has written a great plant list for attracting native bees to your garden. You can find this list online on the Burnside Council website.

This was followed by a presentation of Mark’s observations from his latest trip to the south of France and Mallorca, followed by a panel discussion. A whole range of valuable tips and tricks, ranging from: how to make your large pots lighter, to the best fast growing trees to plant in your garden.

The panel comprised garden designers Virginia Kennett and Mark Barnett together with horticulturalist and former Friends of the Botanic Gardens president Merilyn Kuchel. They are all long time members of MGS with a wealth of experience in creating and maintaining climate compatible gardens.
by Kate Chattaway and Kate Hubmayer

October 2023
Mid-north tour
Some of our members went on a reconnaissance tour to the National Arid Lands Botanic Garden and the Mid North, to trial the itinerary for next year’s SAMGS ‘Tour Down Under’, which will be held in October 2024.

November 2023 - Littlehampton
Garden visit to Drouin
Sue and Jim Smith had a nearly blank canvas when they set out to create a series of gardens on their five acre property at Littlehampton which now has over 900 roses and 400 trees.

The trees created very necessary wind breaks - the resultant microclimates and the careful utilisation of desalinated bore, tank and town water have meant that, with consistent applications of their own blend of mulch, they need do very little weeding, apart from spraying the ubiquitous cape weed Arctotheca calendula.

Drouin (photo Chris Kirby)

During Covid they built a walled picking garden to complement a series of informal beds, mass planted with contrasting colours and surrounded by gravel paths or hedges. Two extensive lawns beneath golden elms - Ulmus glabra ‘Lutescens’- provide much appreciated summer shade.
by Lynne Stephens

Report on our July Member Meeting
Virginia Kennett reported on progress with the Mediterranean Garden in the Botanic Gardens to a packed AGM meeting in July. We hope the garden will be fully revamped by the time we welcome our international and interstate MGS guests on the 2024 garden tour.

Our guest speaker was well known landscape designer Dr Kate Cullity, founding director of the landscape architecture practice TCL (Taylor, Cullity, Leathlan) and now an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Adelaide.

TCL’s credits range from the Cranbourne Botanic Gardens in Melbourne to the Discovery Garden at Canberra’s National Arboretum. The practice has also made a significant contribution to the urban landscape in Adelaide – think of the concourse at Adelaide Airport and the redevelopment of both North Terrace and Victoria Square as well as the wetlands at the Adelaide Botanic Garden.

Wetlands at the Adelaide Botanic Gardens (Image provided by TCL)

Kate told us about the early beginnings of her practice when she and husband Kevin Taylor won the dream contract to create a new and innovative Australian Garden at Cranbourne. Their vision was inspired by their mutual love of the Australian arid landscape.

Kate’s message to MGS members was to value and incorporate the rich diversity of Australian native plants into our gardens. This can be seen in the small but beautifully composed ABG Native Garden with the use of Australian native plants and local, sustainable and recycled materials.

Report by Kate Chattaway

February 2023 - Adelaide Hills
At Home with Lynn Elzinga-Henry and Rob
We held our first ‘at home’ for the year on Saturday 4 February at Lynn Elzinga-Henry and Rob’s garden in the Adelaide Hills. A much-loved garden adjacent to Cleland Conservation Park with many beautiful old trees still gracing the property despite the horrendous Ash Wednesday fires in 1983. A very low water use garden with many interesting species of Crab Apples, in the past used as a base for wine and jam, and also many unusual native plants. In particular we came to view a range of striking Lilliums including L. ‘Black Beauty’ below, an oriental hybrid cross between L. henryi and L. speciosum. The Lilliums do receive a splash of water now and then to ensure maximum summer flowering but not too much as they can also suffer from bulb rot. Lynn is a talented textile artist and designer and takes much of her inspiration from nature.

Lynne Elzinga-Henry garden with L. ‘Black Beauty’

February 2023 - Adelaide Botanic Garden
A talk by environmental scientist Donna Fitzgerald
The first Branch member meeting for 2023 was held on Thursday February 9th at the Goodman Building, Adelaide Botanic Garden with a talk by environmental scientist Donna Fitzgerald. Donna told a packed MGS meeting about her investigation into the dieback of Stringybark eucalypt forests using all sorts of remote sensing techniques. Her studies took her to Clare and are now focused on the decline of stringybark in the Mount Lofty Ranges for her doctorate with the University of South Australia.

She told us about her journey from gardener to PhD candidate and how she had been inspired by studying her own home garden in Summertown, in the Adelaide Hills. When she and her husband first bought their home, Donna was a novice gardener who was very impressed with the stringybark trees in her garden but the rest of it was covered in ivy. Over the years she eradicated the ivy and developed a mid and under-story of native plants and shrubs. She realised that improving her soil was the key to success and now has a thriving garden full of interest and home to a vast array of insects and birds, some quite rare. She is particularly proud of the native South Australian orchids, which have emerged, and the range of fungi in the garden beneath the stringybarks. We are planning an At Home visit to Donna’s garden later in the year to see what she has achieved.
Robyn Powell from Tupelo Grove Nursery at Mylor gave us her view of the season so far and said that the spring was abnormally cold, wet and prolonged and that this had set back most plants by several weeks. As usual she brought along half a dozen plants to recommend to members. One message from Robyn was that although we could enjoy a whole range of Mediterranean plants from around the world, we were sometimes neglectful of our own native plants. Robyn said that there were now many excellent cultivars of our native plants, which were particularly suited to our gardens. A case in point was “Narrow Nessie”. This is a variation of the Melaleuca nesophila or Honey Myrtle. Whereas M. nesophila grows to be a very large shrub, “Narrow Nessie” is more suited to domestic gardens growing to 3 metres high but just one metre wide. This is a good screening plant with purple pom pom flowers in spring and summer but without the need to cut it back too much to keep it in shape.

Review of 2022 Past Events
2022 was a busy year for our branch including our meetings with guest speakers, ‘At Homes’ where we visit member’s gardens, working bees at the Garden of Discovery at The Waite as well as the production of a quarterly 20-page member newsletter.

Our November highlight was the celebration of our branches 21st birthday. We formed in April 2000 after Trevor Nottle, invited the then President of the International MGS, Heidi Gildermeister, to South Australia to speak. A meeting was subsequently held of like-minded individuals who were keen to form the SA Branch. Since then this branch has gone from strength to strength through visionary Branch Heads, active committees, and a very engaged membership. Indeed we held the 2012 International MGS Conference in Adelaide and are in the throes of planning the 2024 International Conference.

Our 21st celebration was held at the Ukaria Cultural Centre in the Adelaide Hills, first opened in 2015 and which has a most enviable reputation as a performing arts venue. It was chosen for its unique location, perched on the hillside of the property, Ngeringa, at Mount Barker Springs and for its most beautiful low water use garden with a focus on perennials, native grasses, hardy shrubs and roses in a truly unique setting.

Ukaria Garden (photo Adam Hancock)

We had two guest speakers to mark the occasion as well as the esteemed Trevor Nottle who toasted our 21st and provided background about how the society was first formed in Adelaide. The first, Adam Hancock, young gun Adelaide gardener who is the creator & curator of the Ukaria garden. This garden, situated in an agricultural region of the Adelaide Hills, has been developed over the past seven years and Adam led us through the planting rationale, concept plan design and management plan, particularly as the climate changes. Adams finished his presentation with his key messages including that of gardeners needing to be as adaptable as possible, to discard practices and plantings that don’t work and to focus on those that do. Also the critical importance of caring for soils, valuable insect life, to grow a diversity of plants and follow the best organic practices.

Adam Hancock

Our second speaker, Michael McCoy, a leading garden designer, writer & host of the TV series Dream Gardens and masterclass tour leader, focus was on how to garden with less water. He led us on his more than 30-year horticultural journey through the lens of appropriate soil preparation. From his early practices of loading up soil with manure and compost in his own garden, which, of course, ensured explosive growth to when he visited Beth Chattos, gravel garden. A game changer with regards soil management practices as well as revisiting the reliance on herbaceous perennials over woody perennials.

He discussed one of the most significant worldwide practice changes is to accept the soil conditions/climatic conditions and plant accordingly: 'to create much less nutrient dependent gardens thereby creating more resilience in a changing climate.’

Michael McCoy

Finally Michael reflected on the thinking most recently by planting designers to provide ‘hungry’ conditions for plants in the form of sand or deep layers of builders rubble. This enables perfect drainage and low nutrient conditions which thereby slow growth and optimises resilience.

In September nine SA members participated in the Moroccan trip that was organised so ably by Angela Durnford, head of the Italian branch of the MGS. Besides the excellent garden-visiting itinerary they had a wonderful time reconnecting with old friends & making new ones. Some of those attending had our Resource Guides (more further on) packed away in their luggage with the view to sharing them with International members from a raft of countries. Happily we came back with none.

A small group presented the Morocco highlights as well as key reflections at a branch meeting on the 3 November. These included:

(Adapted from an article by James Hayter in the SA Branch of the MGS Summer 22/23 edition (91) and presentation at the November 5 meeting of the SA MGS.)

In July, a key force behind the International MGS & one of the founders of the SA MGS Branch, Trevor Nottle, was awarded the Horticultural Media Association of Australia Gold Laurel Award for his vast services to Horticulture, including as a highly esteemed author & journalist. It is the highest award offered by the HMA and richly deserved.

Trevor Nottle with the Award
Gold Laurel Award close-up

Our July AGM was notable with our Guest speaker Merilyn Kuchel OAM, a former Branch Head and current horticultural advisor to the National Trust, presenting a compelling talk on "Planting the seeds of change: gardening as a revolutionary act." Merlyn discussed the mood for change, politically, socially and horticulturally. It is timely and imperative that the SAMGS, with its more than twenty years of successfully experimenting with new gardening styles, practices and policies takes the lead in communicating their climate compatible messages to the wider public, to state politicians and local council authorities and hold them to their stated intentions to combat climate change.

In her call to action presentation Merilyn summarised some of the ways the SAMGS has been a positive influence on the gardening practices in SA and encouraged members to use this influence into the future. The talk was illustrated with a slideshow featuring some of the inspiring Mediterranean landscapes and gardens she has visited over four decades of teaching and practicing gardening.

Our April meeting featured James Hayter, Principal Landscape Architect Oxigen, who presented “The Californian Garden and the Influence of Thomas Church”, a most interesting 20th century pioneer of modernism in landscape design, known as the ‘Californian Style’. Notably, Church, after graduate study in city planning and landscape architecture at Harvard in 1926, spent 6 months at the American Academy in Rome. There he was able to study Italian Renaissance gardens as well as Moorish and Spanish gardens and realised their applicability to the Mediterranean climate of California. A key point – that is most relevant to us all is that these med gardens offered possible design solutions for Californian gardeners - the opportunity to live out of doors while also needing shade and to conserve water: fundamental principles of good med design.
(Summarised from the talk by James and subsequent article in the SA MGS newsletter by Kate Chattaway).

The ‘at homes’ visits have become a great way to see what owners are up to in their gardens and are a convivial way to meet other members. We held several during the year including Maureen and Chris Highetts garden, Highcroft, at Harrogate, a two acre garden that has been largely rebuilt post a bush fire three years ago.

Highcroft garden
Highcroft Garden (image from Mark Barnett)

This garden relies on dam water for irrigation and has been beautifully conceived against a backdrop of the Australian bush and the Bremer Ranges.

Resource Guide
An achievement we are most proud of is the second edition of our book, Gardening in South Australia: A Resource Guide for Climate Compatible Gardens that we launched at our Christmas Celebration in the gardens of the National Trust property, Beaumont House, in December 2021. We built on and expanded on the very fine first edition that was launched in 2010 at our 10th birthday celebration at Urrbrae House. Details on how to order a copy are given at the top of this page.

February 2019
Elizabeth Ganguly: Caught on camera - the usual Mediterranean suspects and culprits in Mediterranean gardens

Elizabeth recently returned from a trip to Israel in order to attend the centenary commemoration if the famous WW1 Light Horse charge at Beersheba. She also visited the Greek Isles with the Australian garden writer, Trisha Dixon including Sparoza. In this talk held at the Adelaide Botanic Gardens she referenced many plants from the Mediterranean including the national flowers of Israel (anemone, formerly cyclamen), France (Iris), Italy (white Lilium), Jordan (Black Iris), Spain (Carnation) and Greece (Acanthus).

February 2019
Janelle Peterson on her 2018 scholarship stay at Sparoza, Greece

Janelle was the worthy winner of the SA MGS SA’s second scholarship which enabled her to spend time working and gardening in the garden of Sparoza under the guidance of Sally Razelou. Janelle refers to her time in Sparoza as ‘life changing’ which is indeed wonderful to hear. The scholarship was made possible through the SA MGS Branch and generous sponsors, James Hayter, Director of Oxigen Architecture and Landscape Design and several contributing members of the MGS SA Branch.

Mark Barnett, Branch Head of the South Australian Mediterranean Garden Society, lives in the Adelaide hills, within a 3000sq/m ‘rambly’ garden. He has worked in horticulture since leaving school, first at an Australian native plant nursery while undertaking formal training, then in a partnership designing, constructing and maintaining quality gardens. Now running a small business with outside help, and after more than 40 years experience, Mark is respected within the industry and sees himself as unofficial mentor to those working with him. 

Mark Barnett

Being a long-time member of our energetic committee, Mark has a deeper understanding of the people and places in South Australia from a climate compatible gardening point of view. Keen on travel to similar climate zones, and to be always observing and learning, he enjoys the company of like-minded members on MGS trips. 

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