by Jack Lawrie
THE Monto Landcare Group has been working on its botanical garden for nearly two decades and there are no plans to stop any time soon.
The project was launched in 2002 with the aim to create a community botanical garden specialising in native Australian flora.
Glenn Baker was the driving force behind the plan to turn an unused patch of council land into a garden retreat.
"We went to the council and said 'can we plant a few trees over there and we'll try to maintain the park?' and we started with 13 trees, which grew as time went by,” Mr Baker said.
North Burnett Regional Council lent the group a mower to maintain the grounds and they continue to tend the plot.
The garden comprises two areas of land leased by the council; the main garden which can be accessed from Kelvin St and a wetlands area.
Since the project was launched the group has added other elements to the environment to enhance the appeal. A windmill and barbecue have been installed and they have marked out plots of land for later works and brought in an estimated 400 different species of plant, including several threatened variants.
In the early stages of the project the group employed workers to help transform the land into a workable garden but with no specific finances at its disposal, the garden is today maintained entirely by volunteers.
Mr Baker remains heavily involved in the project but is humble about both his role and his gardening ability.
"My thumbs are as brown as anything but what I've been able to do is have a vision on what this place could be and when this opportunity came along, people were prepared to participate,” he said.
"There were a lot of ideas. We thought it would be good to have a botanical garden of mostly Australian natives.”
One of the workers hired in the early stages of the project, John Schafer, stuck around as an unpaid volunteer and continues to help out at the garden two or three times a week.
"I enjoy doing it and it gets me out of the house,” he said.
Mr Schafer helped plant a tree bed with some indigenous visitors, who still make occasional trips back to the garden.
Many of Monto's green-thumbed residents have put time into the garden, either maintaining a patch to call their own or providing plants, features or expertise.
Edna Keiler is in the former category and has maintained her personal garden bed of petunias, ferns, geraniums and more for about five years.
"I've always been into gardening, I learned from my mother,” she said.
Mrs Keiler and her husband Rob are retired farmers who devote their time to check up the garden.
Mr Keiler helps out where he can, but admits his wife is the green thumb of the pair.
"I grew crops for 73 years, I sold the farm and retired a month ago,” he said.
The main section of park surrounding the Landcare hall, a former scout hut used for community function, comprises 29 hectares.
A creek runs through the land, travelling through to a section of wetlands which is maintained though not specifically planted on.
The hall itself has it's fair share of history, having been built as a scout hall in 1956.
"The hall belongs to the council but Landcare has the lease on it and we've spent a hell of a lot of money getting it up to speed,” Mr Baker said.
The project hasn't always been easy with the group clashing with the council in the past over water limitations.
During the dry period of the past year, they came dangerously close to using their maximum water allotment but recent rain has taken some of the edge off.
"That's one of the issues we have to confront all the time,” Mr Baker said.
"We use the council water and lots of negotiations go on there, but I think we're pretty right now.”
Mr Baker said the council rolled Landcare into the Parks and Gardens budget, and provided a water allotment of three megalitres.
The group has put together a program to limit the amount of water they use by using sprinklers for the low-impact areas and bigger water cannons for the high-impact areas.
Plants three years or younger need the most water to sustain growth, and as such they get priority.
Thanks to last week's rain, they'll be able to reduce the amount of water used for possibly the next two months.
The group is currently mulching the gardens.
As for other projects on the way, the greenhouse behind the hall has a lot of plants waiting to be planted but in the chaos of the past few weeks it's chock-a-block inside.
Mr Baker said a garden is always a work in progress and the bigger a garden gets, the truer that statement becomes.
Many patches of the garden are waiting to be planted in, and there are vast swathes of piled soil still to be laid.
Some bridge sleepers will be going in to make walking pylons over the creek.
"We've got other stuff that we're trying to program into getting done down the other end of the park. We have a whole area ready to be planted out,” Mr Baker said.
"We can always use volunteers, people who want to get involved in landscaping, we have plenty of work to do.”
The group has a good relationship with the Queensland Herbarium, the Brisbane, Rockhampton and Gladstone Botanical Gardens who occasionally supply plants for the garden.
The biggest development planned by the group will be the installation of a settler's hut on the grounds.
The hut will be provided by Mr Keiler's late brother's family, and the plan is to set up an information kiosk inside with details on the history of the building, as well as information on plants within the Landcare garden.
When asked what the group, many members of whom are retired or of advanced age, wanted the garden to be, they replied that they wanted it to be something that everyone could use.
"It's surprising the amount of people that use it, walking through it, walking their dogs, doing yoga,” Mr Keiler said.
"I think what we'd like to see is a garden that offers something for everyone, whether it's walking, art, wedding photos, things the bigger cities and the bigger places have,” Mr Baker said.
"There's an old proverb and it goes something like this: a healthy society starts when old men plant trees when they know they will not enjoy the shade.”