Abbotsford Convent Fernery Garden Bed Rejuvenation

Garden re-design proposal and materials conservation advice

Abbotsford Convent Foundation

VIC

The Abbotsford Convent Fernery garden bed is located within the former Convent of the Good Shepherd. This ex-monastic site is now owned by the Abbotsford Convent Foundation (ACF), a not-for-profit organisation that operates the Abbotsford Convent on behalf of the public. The Convent site, recognised for its heritage significance at local, state and national levels, is now a thriving arts and cultural precinct, as a well as a historic complex and cultural landscape.

The Abbotsford Convent Foundation’s 2019 Keep It Green appeal provided funding for the rejuvenation of the high-profile Fernery garden bed. Context developed a planting scheme and design based on historical research and knowledge of plants appropriate to the era, to early twentieth-century ferneries, and to prevailing site conditions. Advice on conservation works to the original hardwood columns and concrete garden edging was also provided.

The Fernery viewed from the south west.

The Fernery in c. 1920s-30s, GSA archives, courtesy of Nigel Lewis.

Garden design and planting

Context collaborated with horticulturalist Teena Crawford to develop an interpretive design for re-planting the Fernery’s garden beds using historically appropriate plant species. The planting needed to be climate appropriate, responsive to the north facing aspect and lack of shading of the site, and limited resources. A rationale for plant retention and removal was developed, with infill plant species selected to enhance and interpret the cultural heritage significance of the preceding/earlier Convent Fernery.

Close up of the western side of the Fernery garden bed viewed from within the Convent Courtyard

Materials conservation

As part of the fernery rejuvenation project, Context provided conservation advice for stabilisation of the original hardwood column bases of the pergola structure and exposed reinforcing within the concrete garden edging, in accordance with the Abbotsford Convent Conservation Management Plan.

Material deterioration identified included splitting, rot, shrinkage and embrittlement of timber, damage to painted finishes and corrosion of metal fittings and concrete steel reinforcement. Recommendations addressed both causes and symptoms of deterioration.

Wood rot and presence of fungi around base of round post caused by water ingress.

Corrosion of steel reinforcement has resulted in damage to concrete edging.

Our involvement with the Abbotsford Convent Foundation continues in stages over the next two years as we undertake works to conserve the Fernery garden bed’s structural components and implement the interpretive garden design.

The Fernery viewed from the north west.

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