Frank Walker: Seedsman and florist, he immigrated from England in the late 1800’s with his wife Anne and in 1876 established a plant nursery in Launceston. He purchased the Lalla property in 1902 as part of his new apple and pear orchards. William Alexander George (WAG), their fourth child, was born in 1889 and began working for his father at Lalla soon after 1902 and in 1908 they sent their first shipment of apples to England and Germany. The Flower Farm was initially involved with the propagation of fruit trees for the planting of early Tasmanian orchards, and for export to the mainland, New Zealand and Argentina. William worked hard to improve the quality of his apples and one of his selections in the 1920s produced the famous Lalla Red Delicious Apple variety, which has been extensively grown throughout Australia, the United States, Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand.
WAG Walker : William introduced many new varieties of fruit, vegetables and flowers into Tasmania, and produced pears, peaches, plums, strawberries, cherries and tomatoes for sale. He propagated and sold garden plants: ericas, rhododendrons, azaleas, roses, Japanese maples and other ornamental trees. He married and had 4 sons and 2 daughters and created the pear arch over the driveway to their new family home at Lalla (now known as The Pear Walk), which has been a well-known horticultural landmark for tourists and garden enthusiasts for many decades.
After WW1 the nurseries expanded into the cut flower trade for the Melbourne market, and mass propagation of rhododendrons, azaleas, trees and shrubs. The nursery pioneered the innovative “mist” propagation technique for rhododendrons and azaleas.
WAG Walker left the nursery at Lalla in 1925 to help run the family’s florist business in Launceston but continued to supervise activity at the orchards.
Successful at fruit shows, he won (1936) a silver medal presented by the Royal Horticultural Society, London for an exhibit of apples packed for market. He was a director of Ash Plantations Ltd (1933) and the nursery supplied the young English ash trees for the company’s plantation at Hollybank, Underwood, for the manufacture of tennis rackets at Launceston. (There are still remnant ash trees on The Flower Farm near the house and in Cadby’s Gully). In 1935 F. Walker & Sons donated 8,500 young trees for planting along the Midlands Highway to commemorate Tasmanian Pioneeers.
Around 1937 WAG Walker was instrumental in pioneering transport by air of fresh strawberries to the mainland as well as to South East Asian markets. He profitably exported cymbidium orchids to the USA.
An authority on rhododendrons, he was a founding member and benefactor of the Tasmanian Rhododendron Trust, which developed the gardens at the Punch Bowl Reserve, Launceston, in 1962.
Harold Walker: The nursery was a major source of trees and shrubs within Tasmania, supplying parks, gardens and councils in Tasmania. The nursery came under the management of Harold Walker after WW2 and was, until relatively recently, the home of the largest collection of rhododendrons in the southern hemisphere. The nursery operation moved to Launceston in 1965 but the Walkers retained the Lalla site, and sourced much of their propagation material from the growing stock left behind, as well as cut flowers. However after 1965 much of the property became overgrown with native species, particularly on the higher slopes.
In 1982, the property was leased to the Tasmanian Government for the purpose of establishing a public reserve, to celebrate and commemorate the pioneering horticultural contribution of the Walker family, in particular WAG Walker. The WAG Walker Rhododendron Reserve operated until 2007. During its early life as a public reserve, as many as 17,000 people per year would visit the property during spring and autumn. The Tasmanian Government oversaw the establishment of new roads, carparks and toilets, as well as establishing many wood fired BBQ’s across the lower slopes.
The Parks and Wildlife department oversaw the management of the Reserve and Andrew Napier led the team who developed the property, transitioning it from commercial nursery to public park, incorporating many interpretative signs. Although a comprehensive management plan had been agreed between the Walker family and the Land’s Department, much of this plan was never implemented due to lack of funds, particularly over the areas beyond the main garden area.
When the lease expired in 2007 the property was put up for sale by tender. The current owners, Chris and Margy Dockray, bought the property with intent to restore the gardens and retain some public access in spring and autumn.
Having lived in the district for twenty years they were familiar with the Reserve, visiting with their children many times. “We thought we knew the property well, and were purchasing a rundown 20acre reserve and another 80 acres of native forest. How wrong we were!
The main garden (Reserve area) had been neglected for a decade or so, and many major tree weeds had grown through the Rhododendron beds. Holly was an impenetrable weed in some rows, along with wattle, broom, cotoneaster and blackberry. Although most of the rhododendron beds were cleared of invasive weeds using chainsaws, hand tools and a lot of effort, a couple of beds could only be cleared using an excavator. As this area of the gardens was brought under control we turned our attention to an old trail further up the hill that seemed to peter away to nothing into the bush. We started clearing this trail which led to other areas of old plantings and over the next few years we uncovered a network of trails and plantings stretching across most of the property, with many extraordinary features along the way.
The clearing of areas of weeds along these trails has afforded the opportunity to plant, thereby increasing the collections rhododendrons, planting along the trails that link the historic plantings. Across Cadby’s gully we planted many varieties of tender rhododendrons including the giant leafed species, scented rhododendrons as well as vireyas, suited to the protected east facing microclimate. Hundreds of new trees, both exotic and native, have also been established.
These years have been an exciting time of discovery and rehabilitation with the unfolding project akin to the “Lost Gardens of Helligan” in the UK in both scale and effect. Our discoveries have uncovered a further four significant areas of heritage rhododendrons and many wonderful avenues of exotic trees in hidden valleys.
Major work completed to date includes building several ponds, restoring the lake (completely filled with aspen saplings), installing extensive irrigation system, stone walls and steps, creating the stone wall garden, resurfacing roads and trails, revegetation of Cadby’s Gully,establishing the fernery, restoring bridges and walkways, landscaping the chapel site, building the house and then the Hosanna Chapel, installing carparks, seats and park benches and creating an area for disabled access to the rhododendrons.
We are currently planning to build a visitor interpretation centre an important step towards re-establishing these gardens as a place of cultural, scenic and historic significance.”