Family horticultural legacy

People say I’ve got a green thumb, but to be honest, it’s a lot more than that. I like to think I have green blood given the significant role horticulture, viticulture, farming and permaculture have played in my family history.

My grandfather, Mick Waldeck, was a 1960s pioneer of Swan Valley winemaking with the establishment of Waldeck Wines, which is noted in the James Halliday Wine Companion as being “one of the Swan Valley’s more important wineries” of the time. Our family history is writ large in streets bearing his name, stories from old-timers and long-held connections with current winemaking families like the Pinellis of Caversham.

Domenic Pinelli gained invaluable experience working for over twenty years with his former employer, the iconic Western Australian producer of the 1960s, Waldeck Wines.

My Dad, Barry Waldeck, didn’t follow directly in his father’s footsteps, opting instead to pursue his love of growing plants and ornamentals. His horticultural future became increasingly evident when, as a young teenager, he took out the top prize at his local flower growing competition with his ginormous dahlias, much to the consternation of the old ladies at the CWA.

Starting his entrepreneurial career with a flower stall at the side of the road in Caversham, my father would go on to become an Australian horticultural icon. Waldeck Nurseries, his chain of leading garden centres, became a household name in Western Australia during the late 1970s to early 2000s. In addition to his many and varied entrepreneurial exploits, my Dad was a pioneer of and tireless advocate for the broader horticultural industry, giving endless hours to industry associations including the NGIA, NGIWA, GCA and IGCA to name but a few.

An excerpt from the International Garden Centre News, June 2003, gives a snapshot of his lifelong contribution:

“The AGM of the Australian GCA held in Sydney during the NGIA Conference saw Barry Waldeck being awarded an Honorary Life Membership in GCA. Barry was one of the original founders of GCA, was its inaugural chairman and was responsible for its rebirth in 1994. Barry, in conjunction with Peter Trevarthen and Yates, started the GCA Awards, now the Australian Garden Industry Awards, and has been a mover and shaker over the years. Barry was also responsible for implementing the IGCA Congress in Australia in 1998, that not only put the GCA on the world map of garden centres but also put some much needed money into the “Australian coffer”. Congratulations, Barry!”

I spent my childhood and teens in and around nurseries, gaining an informal but invaluable education in horticulture and business as I went. It wasn’t until my early 30s that I began to realise how much my Dad had taught me and to truly appreciate and enjoy the legacy I had been given.

Unlike my Dad who loved ornamentals, my focus has always been on edibles. I rarely plant something I can’t eat. My introduction to the concept of permaculture in 2009 was a truly revelatory experience and a defining moment in my life.

Sadly, my Dad passed away in 2003 and isn’t able to give me the gardening advice (solicited and unsolicited) that I know he would be itching to give. But it gives me great pleasure to, in some small way, continue his legacy whether in print, through my work with in the food, permaculture and sustainability sectors, the development of my own magnificent garden, or teaching my kids the joy of coaxing green life from soil. To this day, I feel closest to him when I’m in my garden. Perhaps, in some small way, I am continuing our family history. I hope I do him proud.