Horticulture Volunteers are taught by our expert gardeners along the way, while becoming involved in the horticultural care and maintenance of the Old Parliament House Gardens. Five teams work in the gardens pruning, weeding, dead heading and working together to beautify the gardens for local, national and international visitors.

Meet our Horticultural Volunteers Gwen and Gabrielle.

Gwen Souter, Horticulture Volunteer

“Volunteering in the Old Parliament House Gardens is rewarding, you get to see what you’ve achieved and how you’ve made it a nicer place to visit.”

Old Parliament House Gardens Horticulture Volunteer and Macarthur Rose Garden Team Coordinator, Gwen Souter encourages her team to have a volunteer work and social life balance, saying that after a morning of hard work in the gardens “the coffee is as important as the pruning” – We couldn’t agree more, Gwen!

Gwen Souter was born in New Zealand and immigrated to Australia in 1949 for her father to work in the Snowy Mountain Scheme. Gwen moved to Canberra in 1964, for an 11 month program as a typist, just in time to see Lake Burley Griffin fill. From there, Gwen became a Steno Secretary for the Department of Social Services and later a Secretary for the old Canberra Hospital, a fabulous and busy job that gave her a lot of satisfaction.

In Canberra Gwen met her husband Duncan, who had moved to Canberra in 1959. They married and began their family, deciding Canberra is a great place to bring up children. From a young age, Gwen and Duncan began dancing together every week and this year celebrated 39 years dancing Old Time New Vogue Sequence Dancing. Dancing has taken Gwen and Duncan around Australia.

In addition to being available for their four grandchildren, volunteering in the rose gardens and dancing every week, Gwen also sings in the Canberra Community Voices Choir and is involved in a local social crafting and stitching group.

Having just retired, Gwen decided to join the newly formed Horticulture Volunteer Program in 2005, during one of the very first volunteer intakes. Gwen wanted to join the program due to a close connection with the roses, after donating two roses in memory of their daughter. Gwen values all she’s learnt from the program and now uses her expert knowledge in another community garden.

Gwen says volunteering in the gardens has been a great way to meet new friends, so much so she is still in touch with former volunteers. Gwen also enjoys making the Old Parliament House Gardens a beautiful place to visit and is frequently surprised by how many people don’t know about it, one of Canberra’s best kept secrets. Gwen is proud of the commitment of her team, showing up at 7.30 am in the warmer months and 8 am in the colder months. Even when it is -5°C in the middle of winter, they pile on the layers and get moving.

Gabrielle Le Grand, Horticulture Volunteer

“The Rex Hazlewood Garden is a living museum. It’s not just a garden of pretty flowers. It tells a story.”

Horticulture Volunteers assist in the Old Parliament House Gardens. Five teams work on one morning each week to prune, weed and deadhead roses to beautify the gardens for their local, national and international visitors.

Gabrielle is part of the team that maintains the Rex Hazlewood Rose Garden. Originally from Brisbane, she moved to Wamboin, just outside of Canberra, in 2011. She is a historian and has also completed studies in Indonesia-Australia political and defence relations. As a Navy wife, the move to Wamboin was somewhat of a sea change for her. Gabrielle travels into Canberra every Thursday morning for an 8 am start and is also busy raising a baby, renovating her family’s house and being President of the Bungendore Country Women’s Association.

Gabrielle loves roses and has over 200 rose species at her home, ranging from climbers and David Austin’s to shrubs and old-world roses. She also writes a blog called ‘Home Among the Roses’ that she describes as ‘fun ramblings about gardening and homemaking’.

For years prior to joining the NCA’s Volunteer Program, Gabrielle appreciated the Old Parliament House Gardens from afar, and enjoyed visiting them when she came to Canberra. On one of these visits, Gabrielle bumped into Nadene Edwards, then the Citywide Garden Team Leader. They discussed the overgrowth of rootstock and its negative effect on the roses and immediately struck up a friendship. Shortly after, Gabrielle joined the Rex Hazlewood Rose Garden Team and has since been able to get all the rootstock under control.

What drew Gabrielle to the program was being able to do something important for the health of the age-old cultivars. As a historian, Gabrielle sees these as both historically and horticulturally significant.

She says the most enjoyable aspects of her volunteering are being part of a great team and the satisfaction of seeing the results in the health of the roses. She also loves being trained under the guidance of Dennis Dempsey (our resident rose expert), and being trusted to care for the gardens. An added bonus is seeing her son Raphael play in the gardens, interacting with the volunteers in such a beautiful location.