Merilyn Kuchel OAM, a member of HMA (SA) since 1997, has inspired, encouraged and shared her joy, love and passion for gardening with many over the years, including hundreds of TAFE students and her three granddaughters, says June Taylor.
“As grandparents, we have a responsibility to educate children on the importance of caring for plants and looking after the environment. Most parents of young children are too busy these days to garden with their children so that job must be taken on by grandparents,” Merilyn explains.
She believes education must reach further than just how to grow food and flowers but should include teaching children to love and treasure botanic gardens, parks and parklands and natural environment.
Merilyn grew up on a soldier settlement farm in the lower southeast of South Australia and comes from a long line of good gardeners. She began her professional career as a schoolteacher, but it was living in the UK for three years in the late 1970s that sparked her interest in garden history and cottage gardens.
Upon her return to Australia, Merilyn studied horticulture while establishing the first of two large hills gardens in Stirling in the Adelaide Hills. Eleven years later she moved to another two-acre property. This rambling romantic garden where she still lives dates to the 1890s. The site of an old apple and pear orchard, it is aptly named ‘Winterwood’ for the grove of very old silver birches that dominated the back lawn.
Merilyn says that she tries to have something in flower every month of the year however winter is the peak time for the thousands of bulbs, hellebores and camellias she grows to put on a show.
“The apple and crabapples are the show-offs in spring. Summer is predominantly green – cool, calm and quiet before the dramatic display of the deciduous trees in all of their autumn glory,” Merilyn says.
Merilyn was inspired by Edna Walling’s books when making her first Hills garden but later, Trevor Nottle’ s Gardens of the Sun (1996) persuaded her to think seriously about working with the climate and not against it.
Merilyn claims that gardeners who generously opened their gardens and demonstrated how to work with their climate, soils and limited summer rainfall also had a big influence on her attitudes to gardening and plant choices, a connection that flourished over the 35 years she has been connected with the Open Garden Scheme.
Now at 70 years of age, Merilyn has mostly retired from paid work but continues to volunteer with the Friends of the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide, the Open Gardens SA, the SA branch of the Mediterranean Garden Society and the National Trust of South Australia. She loves gardening in groups and is proud of the teams of volunteers who have helped restore the gardens at Beaumont House and Stangate House and Gardens in Adelaide.
Asked to name her favourite plant she says “it’s impossible” but she adds the persimmon tree is fabulous with its autumn colour and huge crop of fruit, and she loves the crabapples and grows seven different varieties.
I have an inkling that the birches too are among Merilyn’s favourites as they provide beauty and glory in every season especially when they have lost their leaves and stand stark and tall against the rising full moon behind them.
Merilyn was awarded the Order of Australia medal in 2018 for her services to horticultural had botanical organisations in South Australia. We fortunate to have this amazing and passionate lover of gardens, who is hell bent on preserving and protecting the historic gardens, in our midst caring for and about gardens in South Australia and as a member of HMAA.