Vale Dennis Norgate
Dennis Norgate died last Monday the 2nd of October. With him a hundred and fifty years garden lineage also ends. Norgate’s mother worked for the well known English nurserymen, the Pritchard Brothers. They in turn had in their younger days worked for the famous French nurseryman Victor Lemoine who opened his nursery in Nancy in 1850. Lemoine who came from a long line of nurserymen and gardeners is best remembered now as the breeder of the first double lilacs.
When Russell Pritchard decided to make a new life and create a new nursery in Australia he asked Norgate’s mother to go with him. She worked with Pritchard for many years.
Dennis Norgate left school at 15 and became a bricklayer’s apprentice but soon dropped that to start his own nursery business in Bayswater, now an outer suburb of Melbourne. During the immediate post Second World War period he grew perennials which he sold bare rooted to Coles. When Coles arbitrarily cut his price from five pence to thruppence he started his mail order business as he could see that dealing with large supermarkets was fraught. It was then that he started his mail order business. During the 1950s he moved the nursery to a site in the forest between Blackwood and Trentham. This became the famous Norgate’s Plant Farm.
I first met Dennis 52 years ago. At the time I was working in a Melbourne suburban nursery selling really boring plants. Norgate’s Plant Farm used to place two page advertisements in such magazines as Your Garden and the Garden Lover. The ads were in black and white and just listed the names of plants which were for sale. There were some exciting perennials on the list so one autumn day I took a trip up to Trentham to have a look.
By the time I got to the nursery a heavy fog had settled in. After parking I couldn’t see a thing until suddenly out of the gloom stepped a Quasimodo-like figure. It was Dennis Norgate carrying a sack of seeds mixed with dry sand on his back. I saw him fairly often after that but it wasn’t until I set up Lambley Nursery thirty years ago that we became firm friends. Soon after we started moving the nursery from the Dandenongs to Ascot he came over from Trentham to visit me. He said that he’d been through a big shift and that it would cost me a lot more than I had budgeted for and that he thought I would need some extra funds. At which he gave me $10,000 and said to pay him back when I got on my feet. No paperwork and no interest. I paid it back two years later.
Most years he would come over a couple of times to have lunch with Criss and me. During his spring visit he would always bring a huge bunch of peonies for Criss.
Sadly Dennis’s wife died many years ago and he felt her loss enormously.
He sold Norgates Plant Farm about ten years ago but still grew plants for the wholesale trade at his new property. He had a triple bypass operation a year or two later and his son Stephen brought him over to visit us after he signed himself out a mere 3 or 4 days after the operation. A couple of days later I visited him and found him out in the paddock hoeing weeds. That was 5 or 6 days after the triple bypass.
It was not much more than a year ago that he finally decided to move to the Trentham Health Service facility where he died peacefully last Monday.
Criss and I and all at Lambley give our condolences to his three children, Stephen, Gordon and Debbie.
Peonies with a Blue Vase
1994, oil on canvas, 66.0 x 55.5 cm
The peonies in this painting by Criss Canning
were given to her by Dennis Norgate