West End Creative: A Garden Pocket

Behind this West End cottage entrance lies a botanical treasure trove.

Glenn Cooke, former Queensland Heritage Curator at the Queensland Art Gallery, has developed a delightfully quirky garden on the undulating, narrow strip behind his West End workers’ cottage. It’s only a few minutes drive to the centre of Brisbane but a world away from the hurly burly.

As a lad, Glenn was introduced to gardening by his dad, a shearer who each weekend tended the family’s vegie garden in their western Queensland town of Blackall. He and his brother vied for the opportunity to mow their patch of lawn, but soon that novelty wore off. Glenn did however take over the rest of the garden, learning how to cope with sticky clay soils (when occasionally it rained) plus the sulphur-scented bore water used in town. “At least we were blessed with unlimited supplies; you only had to look on the edge of town to see how desperately water was needed,” Glenn says.

Glenn’s Aunty Bub who also lived in town not only had a vegie garden, but an extensive collection of decorative plants as well. “I marvelled at the colour of her massed displays of annuals which had the most miraculous names: dimorphotheca, schizanthus, calendula. She also grew the ‘Tropical apple’ marketed by Langbecker’s Nursery, Bundaberg.” The first bottlebrushes to grow in Blackall came as tiny seedlings from Bub’s sister Lisle who lived in Southport. Bub then nurtured them beneath the shade of a large date palm. “Aunty Lisle was a bit of a collector and in her mind there were two categories of plants: I have one of those, or I don’t have one of those!”

Glenn’s mosaic structures adorning the garden are sometimes functional as well as aesthetic.

After a working lifetime spent mostly in galleries and museums, both in Australia and America, Glenn retired in 2013 and now has more time for pure fun in the garden. He’s produced a collection of mosaic pieces, from pots to ponds – and even a kangaroo. West End has unique character and its residents cover a wide cross section of the community, but with more creative people than average. There’s a strong neighbourly network reflected in the gates that connect each of Glenn’s neighbours. Sadly missing in many urban blocks these days.

Glenn’s planted favourites such as old-fashioned crotons, and coloured foliage plants that bring light to the understory. He’s learned not to despise plants that grow readily: blue ginger Dichorisandra Thyrsiflora, and blue sage, Eranthemum pulchellum which are scattered through the garden. Judicious weeding keeps the polka-dot-plant Hypoestes phyllostachya and Ruellia graecizans under control. Other fragrant favourites include brugmansias, frangipani, honeysuckle, and the ‘perfumeières’ jasmine, known locally as Greek jasmine.

Despite Glenn planting a jacaranda, a self-seeding interloper that grew much more vigorously is now the dominant tree. Other vertical elements include two vine-cloaked, sun-seeking Cocos palms, several native frangipanis and a northern silky oak.

Most of the plants grew from cuttings from family and friends: cream Musseanda raiateensis and mock gardenia, Tabernaemontana corymbosa come from Glenn’s parents’ Rockhampton house; crotons and firespike, Odontonema strictum, and a layered piece of the Greek jasmine are from West End gardens; and the species bauhinia, Bauhinia tomentosa, began as a seed from Wellington House, Buderim.

There’s no grass, not just because of Glenn’s childhood memories pushing the Victa; the garden is quite shady so plants have been selected to suit. *Gravel pathways blend in with *leaf-strewn paths that wend through to a raised, hidden garden at the back of the block. *Natural surfaces help retain any rain that falls.

Recycle and re-use is Glenn’s motto. The higgledy piggledy purple fence is made from palings rescued from skip bins in the neighbourhood. Green bottles, emptied and upended, form steps and edging. “I’m only responsible for emptying some of them,” Glenn says.

Colours in the mosaic reflect the hues in the surrounding stacked stone wall bordering the upper terrace.

Scrub-turkeys cause grief in many Brisbane gardens. Glenn uses several deterrents: bird netting under mulch, woven branches in the undergrowth; young plants are protected under upturned wire baskets; collars of green wire protect pot plants; and a motion-sensitive water jet occasionally hits its mark.

The collage of broken ceramics and glass decorating the entrance to the Hidden Garden were found when the area was levelled for the mosaic pond and circular gravelled area.

West End was one of several Brisbane suburbs to suffer from a severe hail storm last November (2014). Glenn lost trees, (one was repurposed as garden edging) and foliage was shredded. The garden was photographed ten weeks later after good summer rains so the new growth concealed much evidence. Only plants like bromeliads with their hard leaves show any sign of the havoc that had been caused. Apart from his delightful and eclectic garden some of Glenn’s ‘retirement’ projects include producing a catalogue raisonné of the work of our much-loved Australian still life painter, Margaret Olley (1923 -2011). He also continues to be involved in The Australian Garden History Association, and several of his publications reveal an increasing emphasis on garden history interpreted through art.

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33 replies »

  1. What a very unique garden. I do love it when a garden reflects its owner so closely – marvellous! I saw one in Sydney last week that had just that feel – am just finishing a blog post on it now in fact!

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  2. What a wonderful garden Kim! Janna is right – if you had to guess what kind of garden Glenn has, I would have imagined one just like this. I am very impressed with those glass bottle steps. That’s a reuse I’ve never seen before. I suppose you’d have to choose whether you were doing red or white wine steps as the bottles are usually different.

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  3. What a great story Kim, so Glenn does all his own mosaic work? I’ll have to sticky beak when next in West End. I do enjoy your stories n travels, cheers A

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  4. Thanks Glenn for sharing your delightful garden and Kim also for photographing and reporting it faithfully. ‘such a pleasure to see gardens with unique character and gentle beauty.

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  5. My partner and I have been lucky enough to view Glenn’s garden a number of times, and it truly is inspirational. Who would believe that such a garden is so close to the centre of the city. Thanks Glenn, always a pleasure to be in your garden

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  6. Glenn was my former neighbour for 10 years in West End. I loved sharing his passion for his garden- the stories, the re-purposing, philosophy, and humor. You have done a great job in presenting the whole Glenn package! Wonderful work both of you!

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  7. Glenn the ballroom dancer I knew about; Glenn the scourge of brush (scrub) turkeys I knew about too; but Glenn the mosaic artist – now there’s something new! And great photography of your creations to boot… Well done Glenn!

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  8. I hope you remember me, Glenn. I was your English teacher at Blackall all those years ago ! 1961 to be exact ! We saw your garden on ‘Gardening Australia’, and were mightily impressed. I had seen your name associated with the Art Gallery at odd times, but was not sure if it was the ‘right’ Glenn Cooke until tonight. The mention of Blackall was the final clue I needed!

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    • Hello Yvonne, thank you for leaving a message. We enjoyed the lovely segment on ABC Gardening Australia TV too – plus I have written an article in the September issue (out now) of ABC Gardening Australia magazine that you might like to read also.
      We’ll pass on your details to Glenn so he can reply to you personally.
      Best Wishes,
      Kim Woods Rabbidge

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