The roses have become a big event for the town in the form of the International Rose Festival. The International Rose Garden Festival Morwell runs on the weekend of 16-17 November and will showcase over 4000 roses all expertly grown and maintained by the Friends of the Rose Garden, a group of volunteers in their 70s and 80s. They dedicate around 6000 hours a year to the upkeep and maintenance of the roses winning a Garden of Excellence award from the World Federation of Rose Societies.
For further information on the International Rose Garden Festival that takes place on 16-17 November visit https://irgfm.com.au/. Free entry.
Question: Can you tell us about the International Rose Garden Festival in Morwell?
Del Matthews: The International Rose Garden Festival is now in its second year and due to being so well received in 2018 has been extended and will run over two days the 16-17 November. The roses are a big drawcard for the town and the festival will showcase over 4000 roses all expertly grown and maintained by the Friends of the Rose Garden, a group of volunteers with many in their 70s and 80s. We dedicate around 6500 hours a year to the upkeep and maintenance of the roses each year. The event is free to visitors.
Question: What can visitors to this festival expect?
Del Matthews: This year the festival is bigger than ever before and features something for everyone. ABC Gardening's Costa Georgiadas will be giving a talk to garden enthusiasts and visitors can learn to make a bee or insect hotel, create their own limestone sculptures and listen to live local bands plying throughout the weekend. Our youngest guests are also well looked after with a performance from children's favourite green thumb – Dirtgirl. Come evening our Midsummer Night Light installation will take place lighting up the garden beds in vivid colours. We recommend bringing a picnic rug and sitting back and watching this amazing light show. If food and wine is more your thing then Sunday is the food and wine fiesta. Visitors can enjoy a rosé wine tasting masterclass, and sample amazing produce from the Gippsland region.
Question: Can you tell us about the public rose garden you have cultivated for 25 years?
Del Matthews: I have been on the Committee and Garden Panel from the start so have always been involved. As a group we have taken the closed railway cutting to Mirboo North and transformed it into an Award-Winning Garden to celebrate the centenary in Morwell. Today we have two hectares of gardens lovingly landscapes with over 100 garden beds. These feature a selection of 400 varieties including recent hybrids and traditional favourites. We have the following roses in the gardens – heritage, floribunda, tea roses, hybrid teas, miniatures, climbers and rambling rose species to name just a few. My husband and I have been involved with the gardens together since the beginning. We believe that our shared passion has been part of the foundation for our strong marriage – we celebrate 60 years married in January. They say that roses are after all the flowers of love!
Question: Are you able to share with us some of your favourite experiences during the past 27 years?
Del Matthews: There have been so many. Taking an area of land in the region and turning it in to a place that the local community can use has been incredible. We have seen many weddings held in the gardens which makes us very proud.
Winning a Garden of Excellence award from the World Rose Federation of Rose Societies was a real honour and recognised all the effort the volunteers put into the gardens. At the time we were only the second garden in Australia to win. But the best experience has got to be the lifelong friendships we have made through the group.
Question: How has the Friends of the Rose Garden created a female-based community network?
Del Matthews: We are predominantly women in our group but have some men as well. The Friends of the Rose Garden has proved to be a lifeline to many of the members and offer support through good and bad times. Many people who have joined the group as a couple have since lost their partners and the group has been a support network for those grieving. The garden has definitely become a support network and very much still is for its 60 members. The Friends of the Rose Garden has been a lifeline for its members, really good for mental health and offers many of the friends a solid friendship group and a purpose it's more than just about the gardening but a real network.
Question: How often and what happens when you meet?
Del Matthews: The group meet every Tuesday to tend the roses including, deadheading, fertilising, including, deadheading, fertilising, mulching and pruning. We end our session with a cuppa and this gives us time to catch up with each other. We organise rose themed activities on the fourth Friday of the month and have visited gardens across Victoria, as well as organise dinners in the rose rooms and have information sessions.
Interview by Brooke Hunter