A colourful floral welcome | ourballarat summer 2023-24

The majestic Victoria Street gardens provide a bright and warm welcome to hundreds of visitors and residents to Ballarat every day. This grand floral entrance is the work of the City of Ballarat’s dedicated City Entrances team.

A man in high-vis clothing kneeling next to a colourful garden bed

Meet City Entrances horticulturalist Peter Blood and plant operator Deb Jones.

Every day, the two gardeners painstakingly care for the 2.4km stretch between Bakery Hill and Fussell Street that makes up the historically important, tree-lined Victoria Street boulevard.

Peter, who has spent 17 years caring for the Victoria Street gardens, manages the wide thoroughfare’s 25 garden beds, filled with 7,000 annual plants.

He also oversees the renowned themed garden bed, on the corner of Victoria and Princes Street South, that delights passersby with its Mother’s Day, Christmas and Halloween themes.

There is also a second themed garden bed – raised on the side of the railway line on the Melbourne-bound side that Peter and the team’s gardening apprentices plant for special events, such as promotion of the Ballarat Begonia Festival.

Deb, who has spent nine years working in both the Victoria and Sturt Street gardens, maintains the median and service lane lawns with a zero-turn riding lawn mower to mow the narrow sections in straight, sharp lines.

Deb uses a combination of fertiliser and mowing to keep the lawns in a lush green condition that Peter waters using a smart solar-powered sprinkler irrigation system. 

“This is definitely the best city entrance you will see anywhere — especially when it’s in full bloom,” Deb says.

“It makes people happy.” 

A grand entrance

With its bluestone channels, gutters and kerbs, the magnificent Victoria Street entrance features mostly oaks, elms and maples that were planted to replace blue gums in the early 20th Century.

The only native trees remaining are three flowering gums and one original blue gum while several London plane trees were part of the early 20th Century planting of European trees.

The entrance also showcases about 2,500 roses in a variety of bright colours.

The Victoria Street entrance provides a sense of home-coming and joy for residents.

Peter says the entrance also creates an important first impression for visitors.

“Quite often, I have people pull up and say what a great inviting entrance it is to the city as they come in from Melbourne,” he says.

“People just really appreciate it and think it looks good, which is very rewarding as a lot of work goes into it.

“We also regularly have people from a retirement village who are driven up and down the street in a bus so that they can enjoy the sight of the Victoria Street gardens.” 

Growing the gardens

Each year, Peter prepares the garden beds with fertiliser and soil conditioner before planting a winter and a spring display of annual plants, which germinate, grow, flower and die in one season, before being turned into compost.

The plants change each display but can feature a bright mix of petunias, marigolds, osteospermum, salvias, geraniums, coreopsis, pyrethrum, cineraria, begonias, dalhias, erigeron and alternanthera in the summer and autumn months.

The winter and spring months can showcase a colourful range of foxgloves, polyanthus, dianthus, snapdragons, violas, pansies, erigeron, poppies and bellis.

Alongside ongoing weeding, Peter also monitors the plants for pest and disease throughout the seasons.

Deb and Peter say they love their jobs, even in the height of the long, cold winter months when thermal clothing and gloves are essential. 

“I love getting out in the elements,” Deb says.

Peter agrees. “I love Ballarat’s weather – I prefer winter over summer.”

The City Entrances team of 10 staff manage six Ballarat entrances, including Gillies Street, Howitt Street, Creswick Road, Albert Street, Sturt Street and Victoria Street as well as the city’s many grass and vegetated roundabouts.

*Since the time of writing, Deb has moved to the Sturt Street Gardens. Anthony Pearson has taken over her role at the Victoria Street Gardens.