The Riversdale Golf Club is Melbourne’s second oldest golf club. It is also one of Melbourne’s most unique golfing experiences. Between its spectacular undulating topography, small quick greens sloping back-to-front, floristically diverse gardens, and novel assemblage of both Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere tree species, Riversdale Golf Club certainly has a great deal going for it.
I was appointed Head Horticulturist at Riversdale in mid-2015, a role that has involved extensive renovations of non-play areas, often in conjunction with course architect Paul Mogford of Crafter & Mogford Golf Strategies. Much of this work has involved strengthening pre-existing themes throughout the course whilst attempting to stay true to the clubs rich and unique floristic history. Getting the balance between visionary, forward-thinking ideas and tradition right is not always an easy endeavour. But in my view it is both a noble and worthwhile challenge.
As an Environmental Scientist and Restoration Ecologist by training (BSc. Environmental Earth Science/Botany, UNSW), I have always been interested in ecological systems, particularly those within the urban context. In addition to improving thematic continuity throughout the course, and performing ongoing maintenance tasks as is required of any horticulturist, I wanted to contribute my knowledge and experience to Riversdale in a more profound and meaningful way.
I saw a unique opportunity to employ both ecological science and landscape design principles and begin to transform what was, and largely still is, a neglected and weed-infested part of the course - the riparian zone flanking Damper Creek, into an ecologically rich and visually stimulating feature. I believe ecological restoration work of this kind produces multiple benefits: it creates a visually appealing landscape for members and guests of the club; enhances the local ecology within the course; and reduces dispersion of weed-seed and vegetative material into the surrounding environment.
Fig. 1: The weed-infested embankment adjacent to the 2nd hole; the chosen location for the restoration project. Weed species included: Blackberry (Rubus fruticosa agg.), Trad (Tradescantia fluminensis), Silver Poplar (Populus alba), Sweet Pittosporum (Pittosporum undulatum), Wild Tree Tobacco (Solanum mauritianum), Tree Lucerne (Chaemocytisus palmensis), and Montpellier Broom ( Genista monspessulana).
Fig. 2: We used an excavator to remove 200mm of weed seed infested topsoil and to create a smooth batter for jute-matting.
Close to its northern fence-line (near High Street Road), Riversdale Golf Club is bisected by Damper Creek, a tributary of the Yarra River. Ecological restoration programs both upstream and downstream of the course have turned what was a degraded and weed-infested creek line into a beautiful and floristically diverse habitat. This important work, initiated by Monash Council and The Friends of Damper Creek, benefits not only local residents, but also local wildlife, such as the endangered Southern Bell Frog (Litoria raniformis), Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua), and Musk Lorikeet (Glossopsitta concinna).
What I envision for the future, is a relatively seamless corridor of indigenous vegetation that links the riparian ecology upstream of the course with that downstream. As with any big and bold agenda, you have to do your research prior to breaking ground. For me, this involved: choosing a location, researching the local ecology, drawing-up a design and coming up with a plan.
Location: For our location, we chose an embankment adjacent to the dam beside the 2nd hole. This location featured virtually 100% weed coverage, and included labyrinthine Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus agg.) brambles up to 4m high, Trad (Tradescantia fluminensis), Tree Lucerne (Chamaecytisus palmensis), Gorse (Ulex europaeus), Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), and Silver poplar (Populus alba), amongst others.
In order to find out more information about the local ecology of the Waverley area I organised a meeting with the local Bush-care group (The Friends of Damper Creek), and two members of Monash Council’s Bush Crew, all of which were more than happy to share their knowledge, passion, and experience. I also consulted Monash Council’s ‘Monash Gardens for Wildlife’ booklet, Marilyn Bulls exhaustive ‘Flora of Melbourne’ book, the State Governments ‘Bioregions and EVC Benchmarks’ website, and read a case study on ecological restoration of the Merri Creek published by the Merri Creek Management Committee.
Design & Plan: Using my existing scientific and horticultural knowledge, in addition to that which I dug up in my research, I drew up a design for the re-vegetation of the embankment. It featured rushes, sedges, and moisture-loving grasses planted 6 to a square metre close to the waterline, smaller shrubs (up to 2m) planted at reduced densities further up the slope, taller shrubs (up to 4.5m) further uphill from the smaller shrubs, and a mixture of tall and small shrubs at the very top. I opted to go with a mixed planting at the top in order to soften the interface with a turf-grass nursery, and to ensure that it will not be heavily shaded when the plants mature. The flora used were all locally indigenous species selected from EVC (Ecological Vegetation Class) 127 – Valley Heathy Forest, a historically common vegetation community in low-lying riparian zones within the Waverley area. This was my attempt to mimic, as much as is possible within a highly altered landscape, the pre-1750 vegetation assemblage.
In terms of a plan of attack, I firstly surveyed the area for any indigenous species that might need to be moved or flagged prior to commencement of earthworks. I did not uncover even one. I then commenced a series of herbicide spraying missions of the understorey weeds using Bioactive Glyphosate - conducting a total of three runs over five weeks. I then enlisted the help of the course arborist to fell all the larger shrubs and trees, chipping the material on-site and deep-burying it at our secluded dumping site. Following this, the embankment was battered using an excavator. We scraped the top 200mm of soil to reduce weed recruitment, in the hope of saving both time and money in maintenance over the long-term. Next step was rolling out and pegging in – a highly effective geo-textile designed to both stifle weed growth and reduce erosion. The jute-matted embankment was then planted out by me and members of the ground-staff with the locally indigenous tube-stock I had chosen; species such as Gold Dust Wattle (Acacia acinacea), Silver Banksia (Banksia marginata), Tree Everlasting (Ozothamnus ferrugineus), and Austral Indigo (Indigofera australis), amongst others.
My hope, in undertaking a project like this, is to provide an example to other clubs with similarly degraded areas bursting with aesthetic and ecological potential, that with a heady cocktail of vision, enthusiasm, and research, neglected non-play areas can be transformed into spaces that not only improve the appearance of the course, but give something back to the environment upon which we all rely, and for very little cost.
Fig. 3: Course Assistant Superintendent Danny Adams and Foreman Mark Brooks assisting with the planting.
Fig. 4: Drone-footage of the project at its completion, supplied by Callum Brandt of SkyView Media.
Fig. 5: A before-and-after shot of the 2nd dam ecological restoration project.
Fig. 6: Me spot-spraying the select few weeds that have managed to penetrate the jute-matting. Mostly Onion Grass (Romulea rosea) and Wall Fumitory (Fumaria muralis) at this stage.
Many thanks to Riversdale Golf Club Superintendent Travis Scott and Assistant Superintendent Danny Adams for giving this project the green-light, and Callum Brandt of Skyview Media for providing the aerial photographs, drone-footage, and expertly produced video, which can be viewed on my website, fwlandscapes.com.au.