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Scent Farm at Cheltenham

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Peony roses, delphinium and liliums.

The 1890s saw the collapse of the land boom associated with wild speculation, and the financial ruin of many people when banks and land companies failed. Melbourne and the local community, struggling to recover, saw people advocating diversification of activity. Locally this resulted in converting some of the land devoted to vegetables to grazing and using some of the land to grow scent producing plants. Vegetables were in plentiful supply and the prices they brought at the market did not reflect the amount of effort needed to produce them. It was suggested that plants used in the perfume industry could be another source of income. Advocates argued there was a market for them, they could be grown in conjunction with other plants and their cultivation would not require the hiring of additional labour.

The Minister of Agriculture, Mr Traverner, who was sympathetic to the notion of diversification and the development of a perfume industry, sent an expert, Mr Knight, to Cheltenham to test the suitability of the soil. Unfortunately Knight’s report was unfavourable but local experts disputed his findings suggesting that Cheltenham met all the conditions needed for favourable growth of scent plants. The Minister decided to visit Cheltenham and see for himself.

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Cr W G Burgess, Councillor and Mayor of Moorabbin.

Travelling by train Traverner was met at the Cheltenham railway station by the President of the Shire, members of the council and others concerned to favourably impress the minister with the potential of the Cheltenham district for growing the appropriate plants. The group travelled up Charman and Chesterville roads to the property of Mr Plumridge who had twelve acres under cultivation. There they saw beds of tuberoses, dahlias, boronia and Cecil Brunner roses, and according to the newspaper report, were favourably impressed. The group then went next door to Cochrane’s garden to view his bouvardias, Erica and fairy roses. Later they travelled along Farm and Kingston roads back to the Exchange Hotel in Cheltenham to inspect cut flowers arranged by M Dixon of Heatherton. Also from Heatherton were pot plants and samples of soil supplied by W Flatman and Son. After the inspection lunch was enjoyed at the hotel.

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Exchange Hotel, Cheltenham. Courtesy Eric Longmuir.

Cr Burgess expressed the hope to Mr Travener that he would establish an experimental farm at Moorabbin. He pointed out that all new industries in the Shire had prospered. There was now a bone mill employing many hands and a creamery had begun processing local milk about twelve months earlier with results that exceeded the promoter’s expectations. He was confident that a scent plant farm would have equal success.

In his reply Mr Traverner pointed out that when a deputation from the Shire waited upon him with the proposal to set up an experimental farm he made two promises. One was to send an expert to assess the situation and report on the suitability of the soil, and the second was that he would make a personal visit. Those promises he had fulfilled. However, he also said he would not make any rash promises just then but would carefully consider the matter and any gardeners who desired to go in for the cultivation of scent or other plants could rely upon getting every assistance that it was in his power to give.

J K Blogg, a visiting expert, joined local growers in condemning the earlier report of Mr Knight, a government officer, which declared the Cheltenham soil as unsuitable for the cultivation of scented plants. Bloggs suggested the ‘poor’soil was particularly suited to growing roses and lavender, as with rich soil many varieties of roses and lavender produced an abundance of foliage and flowers, but very little scent. This was in contrast with soil such as that found at Cheltenham where the plants produced less leaves but more intense scent. Cheltenham, he judged, was eminently suited for the production of roses and these flowers had a ready sale. Buyers came from all over Europe to purchase the crops. Roses could not be over produced and they were almost worth their weight in gold. Unlike Cr Burgess he believed Moorabbin did not need an experimental farm but rather a thoroughly competent expert from overseas who could show the growers the best methods of cultivation and ways of extracting the oils.

After the conclusion of lunch and toasts at the Exchange Hotel the Minister and party resumed their inspection of several properties. The first call was to the garden of Paton and Son which was managed by Mr Parsons. There the Minister saw roses, arica, bouvardias and bulbs growing to perfection. Then followed the visit to the orchard of James Fisher. While the attention of the previous visits had been on flower growing, the Fisher property was devoted to growing fruits of the finest quality. There the visitors were surprised to see enormous crops of the Napoleon and the Williams varieties of pears.

The newspaper article reporting the visit of the Minister concluded that the visitors were “abundantly satisfied with the evidence they had seen on every side that the soil and climate of Cheltenham are admirably suited for both flower and fruit culture.”

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Graham J Whitehead


  1. Brighton Southern Cross, February 27, 1897.

Article Cat. Did You Know?
Article Ref. 282

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