Flinders’ stunning gardens are a big part of its appeal and Open Days last week presented them in their finest winter glory. The iconic University environment may be natural, but a lot of work goes into its beauty. FiT sat down with Cameron Scharnberg to explore the world of our gardening guru.
What is your role at Flinders University and how did you get here?
I’ve been working at Flinders University since late 2007. My current position is acting team leader, grounds maintenance, a role I have been in since late 2017. I manage a small team of gardeners who look after both the Bedford Park and Sturt campuses, as well as the sports fields. I am also the elected health and safety representative for Property, Facilities & Development .
I grew up in Nangkita (about 7km out of Mount Compass) on a flower farm that specialised in proteas, so I’ve been around plants for most of my life. I would help with various tasks around the farm on weekends to earn pocket money.
My first proper job working with plants was in the viticultural field – picking grapes throughout the McLaren Vale region during summer, and pruning vines in autumn and winter. I then commenced an apprenticeship in horticulture, where I rotated through a few different councils before coming to Flinders University for my last placement.
A full time position opened up just as my apprenticeship was about to finish, and I’ve been here ever since. Using Flinders’ study assistance scheme, I completed a Diploma of Horticulture in 2014 at Urrbrae TAFE.
What does a normal day look like for you?
Our work varies from season to season. At this time of year (winter), the lawns slow down and weeds start growing like crazy, so we have been spending a lot of time on pest plant control – spraying, hand weeding and applying mulch to garden beds. Winter is also the time where we remove tired plants and install new ones, and perform formative pruning on young trees.
Once winter ends, we spend most of our time mowing lawns, trimming plants and maintaining irrigation systems. We have 31 lawns, most of which are mowed and edged on a weekly basis. We have around 65 automatic irrigation systems to keep our lawns and gardens thriving through the dry periods.
The changeover from winter sports to summer sports happens in early spring. We have a period of a couple of weeks to convert the soccer and football fields into cricket ovals and athletics tracks, which involves plotting and marking new lines, and renovating the turf wicket squares. This is always a super-busy period for our team.
Do you have a favourite plant or section of the grounds here at Flinders?
We have many beautiful trees and plants on our campus – it’s hard to narrow it down to just one.
On the western side of the Sturt campus, we have some lovely old red gums with an under story of smaller indigenous plants. The trees are so grand and there is always something flowering in this area. I like the Ficus trees on the edge of the lake, with their dense canopies and buttress roots protruding from the ground. I’m a big fan of Ginkgo trees, of which we have just one in the lower courtyard of Social Sciences North. The fan-shaped leaves turn a vivid yellow in late Autumn and it looks fantastic.
I get a lot of satisfaction from presenting the plaza at its best. Seeing it filled with students enjoying the space on a sunny day makes it worth the time and effort.
Do you enjoy gardening at home – or do you get more than enough at work?
I enjoy gardening at home, particularly growing edible plants. I mainly grow herbs, leafy greens and various types of chilies. I also have a small plantation of hops at my father’s property in the Adelaide Hills, which I use for brewing beer.
Are there any regular challenges you face on campus?
Flinders can be a difficult site for gardening, with its hilly terrain and heavy, rocky soils. We also share our work environment with a range of not-so-friendly animals. It’s not unusual to encounter a brown snake during the warmer periods, and I think that everyone in my team has had a run-in with angry inch ants at some period in their time working here!
Other than gardening do you have any interests you would like to share?
I have a keen interest in home brewing, a hobby I took up about five years ago. I brew using the ‘all grain’ method, which is essentially a scaled-down version of how a professional brewery produces beer.
I mainly brew conventional craft beer styles, but occasionally I brew something a bit ‘out there’. I was inspired by an osmanthus-infused IPA (India Pale Ale-style) I tried in Hangzhou, China, so I’ve been experimenting with Asian botanicals over the last year – my pale ale infused with jasmine flowers was particularly good!