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Bligh, Rosemary Beatrice (Bea) (1916–1973)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Rosemary Beatrice (Bea) Bligh (1916-1973), gardener, was born on 27 September 1916 at Edgecliff, Sydney, third of five children of native-born parents James Henry Forbes Gordon, grazier of Werriwa, Bungendore, and his wife Gladys Noel Lydia, née Bowker. Raised in the country, Bea was educated at Ascham, Sydney, and Frensham, Mittagong, and later learned to type. On 1 March 1941 at St Philip's Anglican Church, Bungendore, she married Francis Leonard Bligh, grazier of Pejar Park, near Goulburn; he served as a flying officer with the Royal Australian Air Force, leaving his bride to run the property.

At Pejar Park, Bea found a small, bluestone cottage, and a few flowering shrubs and pine trees. Inspired by the wild and romantic garden at Manar, her grandfather's home near Braidwood, and encouraged by Winifred West who provided numerous plants, she began to make a garden. She had to contend with many difficulties: rock and impervious, clay soil, bitter winters and fierce summers, and the country hazards of grasshoppers and marauding sheep, cows and horses.

After World War II the house was extended to accommodate her four children. Slight in build, with a cloud of dark hair, Mrs Bligh played tennis and was a member of Royal Sydney Golf Club; she also belonged to the Ski Club of Australia and later the Ramshead hut at Thredbo. She did most of the work in the garden, with occasional help from stationhands. Resourceful at finding plants, she carried home quince seedlings on the pommel of her saddle and once brought back an alpine fern while skiing from the summit of Mount Ramshead. After years of experiment and the ruthless elimination of mistakes, Pejar Park won first prize in the homestead section of the Sydney Morning Herald garden competition in 1965. A garden of surprises, its main features were shady trees, smooth, weed-free lawns, raised beds filled with hardy perennials, a long, white wall with espaliered apples and pears, a wistaria-covered pergola, a separate vegetable garden and a willow-shaded pool used to water stock on the far side. She bought wrought-iron gates with the prize-money. In succeeding years the garden was awarded second, third and fourth prizes.

As a result of requests for advice from friends and strangers, Beatrice wrote Down to Earth (1968) in which she described the Pejar garden, her mistakes and the short cuts she had discovered; in addition, she provided a calendar of plants that flourish on the Southern Tablelands. On several occasions she opened the garden to raise money for charity. She lectured to garden groups and joined the garden committee of the State branch of the National Trust of Australia.

An overseas fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society, London, she visited numerous gardens on trips abroad and also studied those in dry regions of India, Iran, Africa, Greece and Spain. She was fascinated by the history of gardening and wrote Cherish the Earth (1973), a carefully-researched and illuminating account of gardening in Australia. The book was a tribute to her courage: completed a week before she died of cancer on 18 January 1973 in hospital at Goulburn, it was published posthumously. Beatrice's husband, two daughters and twin sons survived her.

Select Bibliography

  • C. F. Simpson et al (eds), Ascham Remembered 1886-1986 (Syd, 1986)
  • Belle, May-June 1986, p 163
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Nov 1965, 30 Aug 1973
  • Canberra Times, 7 July 1970
  • private information.

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Bligh, Rosemary Beatrice (Bea) (1916–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bligh-rosemary-beatrice-bea-9527/text16775, published in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 26 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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