Doug Rawlinson is a self-taught nurseryman who is making a significant contribution outdoors by not disturbing the soil. But that’s not to say he isn’t turning over ground in a network of gardens on his 14-hectare property, ‘Kentgrove’, in Goulburn. Most days his fingers are deep within planting or potting mixtures.
As the formal gardens grow, a 6.5-hectare conservation area on ‘Kentgrove’ is left alone for birds, insects and native animals. Striking Australian diamond firetail finches flit about under centuries-old gums. Along with black-hooded robins and flame robins, the red-beaked, firetails are among 80 bird species identified on the property.
There are thousands of gum trees, some very old, including eucalyptus polyanthemos (red box) and five giant eucalyptus viminalis (ribbon gums) thought to be 200 to 300 years old.
Following a species audit, the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage confirmed Doug’s application for conservation status.
“It’s a fantastic corridor between the Cookbundoon Range and Mount Gray,” he says. “It is the sole conservation area within Goulburn’s boundary.”
Arriving in 2006 after buying the property, Doug found a degraded legacy of an orchard and sheep station on Goulburn’s eastern fringe.
“It was drought-affected and very rundown,” he says. “Now it’s a showcase for sustainability.”
Along two creek beds after rain, croaking pobblebonk frogs confirm the land’s recovery.
Doug’s horticultural skills emerged years earlier in his Goulburn backyard at Addison Street, where he rented an acre of land behind his house from the council.
“I grew everything there and sold it to farmers,” he says.
Doug also worked in the garden of historic ‘Riversdale’, and soaked up knowledge from older horticulturalists and then established his own nursery in the heart of Goulburn for 15 years. By the time he sold the business, he had won industry-wide recognition.
Then he bought ‘Kentgrove’. The landscape began changing a month after the Rawlinsons arrived.
“I’ve been going hell-for-leather propagating and planting hundreds of lavenders, English and Japanese box, 150 roses, 150 white daisies, hundreds of native correas, grevilleas and bottle brush from tube stock, which are now 1.5 metres tall,” says Doug.
He also planted about 500 deciduous trees.
A megalitre-dam, plus a bore that can deliver 800 litres an hour, and tanks holding 250,000 litres water his rainforest room, Japanese knot, Victorian kitchen and native gardens, plus the sweeping English parkland.
All of these gardens underline Doug’s journey as a nurseryman that gathered momentum from 1996 to 2011, when he built and ran Greenlife Nursery in Ellesmere Street, Goulburn, with his wife, Sharon.
Formerly a vacant car yard where Geissler Motors previously sold secondhand cars, the nursery sat on a bitumen surface behind a 3.2-metre-high steel fence which Doug made.
He directed water runoff to collect at one point from which it was pumped into storage tanks.
“In the middle of a very bad drought we didn’t use any [town] water,” says Doug. “I bought water in from home and we survived the drought well because I was sustainable.”
He built a huge showroom for much of his wholesale plant stock. He grew seedlings into bigger plants to add a few dollars to the retail price as Greenlife Nursery competed with Goulburn’s large nurseries, Gehl Garden Centre and and Craig’s Nursery.
The Southern Star nursery, Magnet Mart and Kmart were also in the nursery market until the drought closed or severely reduced their trade.
Greenlife Nursery, on the original backyard of three bluestone cottages neighbouring the nursery, soldiered on through the drought, opening seven days a week. One winter, snow fell so heavily that Doug could not make out where the outdoor plants were.
“We also had extreme heat where we had to water maybe three times a day,” he says. “Because Greenlife was small and sustainable and I knew what I was doing, it was all workable. I didn’t have employees, and I could do everything myself.”
A big sign along one of the fences read ‘An oasis in the heart of Goulburn’.
“I had wonderful customers, and made wonderful friends,” says Doug.
After 15 years enjoying the highs of growing and selling plants and trees, he put Greenlife Nursery on the market and subsequently sold the site to Stacks Law Firm.
“The nursery industry is refreshing, and really good,” he says, reflecting on that time.
By the time he purchased ‘Kentgrove’ Doug was keen to continue growing plants beyond the sizes suitable for Greenlife Nursery. He is happy to share the land with Australia’s wildlife, too.