Pride in the gardens where thousands are laid to rest

As published in Our Gardens Spring 2021 edition

As the final resting place for thousands, a memorial park needs to have a feeling of calm and tranquillity. Well-cared-for gardens are vital in achieving this.

The 87-year-old Northern Suburbs Memorial Gardens and Crematorium in Sydney’s north-western suburbs is home to about 200,000 memorials. It is the resting place of several famous Australians, including INXS singer Michael Hutchence and bush poet, Banjo Paterson.

Maintaining the gardens and grounds in the 17-hectare park is a full-time job for its team of gardeners.

Operations manager Marco Cevolani said the heritage-listed site was designed by Frank l’Anson Bloomfield with an authentic European feel and featured multiple themed gardens, art deco statues, Royal Doulton tiles, classic ironwork and other period features.

Leading hand and gardener, Clinton Paterson, describes today’s four different garden areas within Northern Suburbs: ‘We have the bushlands area, Fountain Court, South Terrace and North Terrace.’

‘The bushlands area is designed to look a little rugged and quintessentially Australian. Fountain Court is more structurally designed and has lots of rose gardens.’

‘South Terrace and North Terrace were the first memorialisation areas built when the crematorium opened in 1933. A lot of the plants in these areas were chosen by families when purchasing memorials so these sections have a beautiful and wonderful array of plants. These include clipped topiary plants, such as azaleas, Japanese box and gardenias, crepe myrtles and an array of roses.”

As for his favourite plants in the park, Clinton can’t go past the blue cypress trees. ‘We only have a couple but they look really magnificent when in full foliage,” he said.

Clinton, who has been working at Northern Suburbs for six years, said gardening had been a long-time passion. ‘I love working outdoors and I love the eclectic mix of gardens we have in the memorial park,’ he said.

‘I work with a great team here and the different seasons provide varying challenges.’

‘In winter we do most of our planting, some mulching and some topiary work. In spring we work on pruning the roses and continue the topiary maintenance. During summer, when everything grows at speed, we concentrate on weeding, mowing lawns and whipper-snipping.’

‘Summer presents our biggest challenges. If we don’t consistently water the gardens we risk losing a large number of plants. We can also get strong storms several times during the year which cause a lot of bark and leaf litter to be strewn around the park,’ he said.

However, as Clinton explains, the key to successful maintenance of the gardens relies on vigilance and good planning. ‘Every gardener has their own section in the park. It’s important we schedule our major, noisy works first thing in the morning. Once they’re completed, gardeners spend the day cleaning, weeding or mulching – work that won’t disturb mourners attending services.

‘Our goal is to ensure the gardens are always looking good. We never know when a family will come to any particular memorial site. It could be once a week or once every five years, but at that particular moment it’s important that person is comforted by their surroundings and has a sense their loved one is being cared for.’

An old Ginkgo tree carpets the ground with its better yellow leaves in Autumn

As spring approaches the Cherry Blossom is in full bloom

A fountain brings the restful sound of running water to this section of the memorial gardens

Strong lines in the garden are softened by plantings