Dubbo gardener Ron Watson retires after long career

Dubbo’s Ron Watson seems as much a part of the Shoyoen Japanese Garden as its renowned tea house and lake with koi fish.

He’s tended the vibrant plants of the steadily-developing Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden (DRBG) from their earliest days.

This week after more than 15 years as head gardener at the city attraction, Ron embarked on retirement.

It marked the end of almost three decades’ employment with Dubbo Regional Council and forerunner, Dubbo City Council.

Through many seasons, Ron was part of brightening up some of the city’s most prominent spaces including Victoria Park, Macquarie Street, Elston Park and roundabouts and more recently at the botanic garden.

The well-respected horticultural services team member has also done three stints at writing a gardening column for the Daily Liberal, most recently its weekly Botanical Buzz.

Before retirement, Ron shared some of his knowledge about gardening - and life - with the Daily Liberal.

“It’s been a privilege working in the garden here,” he said.

Shoyoen was a new challenge for Ron after it opened in 2002.

After leaving work for 18 months for health reasons, when he returned – “I tried retirement, it didn’t work” – he threw himself into its care.

It’s been a privilege working in the garden here.

Ron Watson

Much of his previous work with the council had been tending the annuals and perennials displays.

So Ron resolved to become more familiar with the Japanese garden, and began collecting plant tags, making up his “own little diary” or reference book.

Now all around him plants from exotic places and native flora flourish.

Ron acknowledges the gardens’ development is a source of satisfaction but he gives the credit to colleagues and the Friends of the Dubbo Regional Botanic Gardens.

“Certainly, certainly, but once again, I always worked as a team member,” he said.

“It was always with the help of team members that everything I had to do got done.”

While Ron is modest about his impact, council horticulture and landcare asset coordinator Ben Pilon is effusive in his praise.

“From my perspective, being a fresh out of TAFE horticulturist working with council, like Ron mentioned before he had a book of reference or his diary with all his plant lists, he was our book of reference,” he said.

“That’s across all of council in the horticulture section, if we wanted to know something, or needed to know something about a particular plant, Ron was our man.

“It’s going to be a big loss to council, just with his knowledge and passion for horticulture, and it’s been rewarding on my behalf to work with such a beautiful person.”

With fame in council as a human encyclopedia for plants, some may be surprised to learn gardening was only a sideline for Ron earlier in life.

When he was younger in Sydney he worked in various jobs, from a foundry, to a bank to telephone accounts.

It’s going to be a big loss to council, just with his knowledge and passion for horticulture, and it’s been rewarding on my behalf to work with such a beautiful person.

Ben Pilon from Dubbo Regional Council

“I never took gardening seriously,” he said.

At one of his workplaces Ron had a greenkeeper colleague who had been through college and encouraged him in the career.

“He said if you’re going to take gardening seriously, you’ve got to go to TAFE,” Ron said.

The studies weren’t always easy, but the colleague kept up his encouragement.

“And I thought okay, I better take it seriously,” Ron said.

“I went back to TAFE, so I was working the full week and half a day Thursday at the job, then I’d go to the Ryde School of Horticulture annex until 10 o’clock at night.”

In the past decade, the Biodiversity Garden, the Sensory Garden and Oasis Valley have taken shape in the Elizabeth Park precinct.

Ron’s favourite is the Biodiversity Garden.

“I sort of favour the native plants, because they fit,” he said.

“I’ve often felt we live in the western region and it is drought-prone, as we are experiencing right now.

“The best plants to survive this type of environment are the ones that have acclimatised here...

“To me the native plants for our region, our local native plants, are like saying ‘this is Dubbo’, this is what we’re all about, and I think we should broadcast it more in our treescaping plans to tell people we’re proud of what is Dubbo.”

During Ron’s first retirement in 2003 he had the idea of doing a gardening column, so he approached the Daily Liberal.

“I wrote them in long hand, they weren’t typed up or anything and [the editor] said ‘Can you put some more in’,” Ron said.

“So I had a weekly column at that stage called ‘How does your garden grow?’.”

When he returned to council he started up the column again, highlighting the garden under the pen name of ‘Elizabeth Parks’.

Most recently his manager asked him about a column, so Ron said he could give it a try and Botanical Buzz was born.

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Friends of the DRBG president Bryan Smith said he’d thoroughly enjoyed working with Ron.

“Since Ron has got into my life, I’ve learned a lot more about plants, and can identify a handful and feel fairly comfortable about talking to people, visitors who come into the garden, talking to them about different plants,” he said.

“But that’s all because of this fellow over here, it’s been a pleasure.”