Every Australian knows that Flemington Racecourse is home to the Melbourne Cup ‘the race that stops the nation’. But what many don’t know is that it is also home the largest (and many would argue the most beautiful) rose garden in the Southern Hemisphere.
Boasting over 16 000 rose bushes, the Flemington Race Course Rose Garden is a vibrant and fragrant masterpiece and is home to a variety of different roses such as ‘Graham Thomas’, ‘Manou Meillard’ and Rosa ‘Crepuscule’. When in full bloom it also provides the magnificent backdrop to the Victorian Spring Racing Carnival. The roses are meticulously cultivated and cared for by Terry Freeman, The Keeper of the Roses – a man who has tended to the garden for over 40 years.
When Freeman began working as an apprentice at Flemington back in 1976 there were 6000 roses but today as the 2018 Spring Carnival and Melbourne Cup Day approaches the Rose Garden has grown exponentially in size and in beauty. “It astounds me that we are now the biggest public rose garden in the Southern Hemisphere,” says Freeman.
But the Rose Garden was never originally designed to be the showstopper that it is today. “Roses haven’t always been grown in such large numbers as they are today at Flemington,” explains Freeman. “They weren’t planted until the early 60s and they were really planted as a cost cutting measure and no one knew at the time that they would become such an iconic part of the cup carnival”.
Today the garden is the jewel in the crown of the Victorian Spring Racing Carnival and provides the glorious setting to some of the world’s most popular racing events – on show for the entire world to see. Looking after and maintaining a garden of this magnitude is no small feat. A team of 18 full time staff work tirelessly throughout the year to ensure that the garden is in full bloom come the spring carnival. “Basically we start our spring carnival preparation at the end of May which is when we start pruning the roses and that’s a 15 or 16 week process,” explains Freeman.
Winter is when the hard work happens at Flemington with the devoted team of gardens working long hours pruning back the roses in the race to get the garden in full bloom in time for the Spring Carnival. “Winter is an intriguing time of the year at Flemington. The whole place is much quieter it can be almost eerie at times,” says Freeman. “All the fanfare and excitement of the spring carnival is a long way off but this is when the hard work really starts”.
After such a long time in the business, Freeman has a well-tuned plan when it comes to caring for his roses. A standard schedule comprises of one pruning and two trimming per year for each of the 16, 000 Rose plants as well as a solid feed of fertiliser three times a year in September, late November and late January.
The humorous part is that the Keeper of The Roses was not always a rose lover. Freeman confesses that he has not always been the greatest fan of roses, admitting that in in his early days at Flemington he would go as far as to sneakily plant annuals when the headgardener at the time was on holidays. But over time the allure of the roses has grown on Terry.
“Over the years roses sort of took hold of me. I realised that the more effort and the more work you put into roses the more they produce,” says Freeman. “Now I have ended up dedicating my whole working life to them”. And anyonewho has seen the Flemington Racecourses will be grateful that he did!