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Sorensen, Paul Edwin Bielenberg (1891–1983)

by Colleen Morris

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Paul Edwin Bielenberg Sorensen (1891-1983), nurseryman and landscape gardener, was born on 16 December 1891 at Frederiksberg, Copenhagen, seventh of eight children of Jens Sorensen, civil servant, and his wife Marie, née Bielenberg. At an early age Paul was employed at Horsholm Planteskole, a Copenhagen nursery. In 1902 he began studying horticulture at the Horsholm Tekniske Skole. Following a short period of national service, he worked in Germany and France, and in Switzerland, where he was employed by Mertens Bros, landscape designers and contractors. In 1914 he resolved to migrate to Australia.

Described as a farmer when he embarked from England, on his arrival in Victoria in 1915 Sorensen worked as a farmhand, prior to propagating ferns at Ormond Plant Farm. His first work as a gardener was at the Carrington Hotel, Katoomba, New South Wales. He then set up a nursery in Katoomba before moving his home and business to Leura in 1920. On 27 November 1919 at the Methodist Church, Sydney, he married Anna Ernestena Hillenberg.

Initially, garden maintenance was Sorensen’s major source of income. Work at Westella, a guesthouse in Katoomba, was one of his earliest commissions. By the mid-1920s he was planting gardens for wealthier private clients in the Blue Mountains: Sylvan Mists (c.1920), Gabo (c.1923-27), La Vista (1928), Dean [Dene] Park (1928) and Cheppen (1929). Sorensen assisted Lady Fairfax, the widow of Sir James Fairfax and an experienced gardener, with Sospel at Leura. He started a garden for the Lonergan family at Heaton Lodge, Mudgee, in 1932.

In 1933 Sorensen met Henri van de Velde, who retained him on a fee of £100 per year. Van de Velde could visualise the garden he wanted at Everglades, Leura, and with Sorensen designed a series of architectonic terraces, incorporating the prime example of modernism in Australian garden design. Sorensen admired the Blue Mountains, preferring to shape the endemic trees and use the area’s rocks—’as big as can be handled’—scattering them ‘in apparent disorder . . . like Nature’, a concept implemented beyond the formal terraces.

From the mid- to late 1930s, Sorensen worked for Anderson & Co. Ltd, seed and plant merchants, in the garden-design department at the Summer Hill headquarters, while maintaining his own private clients. W. H. Anderson and Sorensen met together with major clients. The Anderson team helped to construct a striking rooftop garden (1939), designed by Sorensen, for van de Velde at Feltex House.

Also holding strong views about gardens and the effect he wished to achieve, (Sir) Cecil Hoskins, the managing director of Australian Iron & Steel Ltd, engaged Sorensen to assist him with the re-design of the garden around his new house, Invergowrie, at Exeter, completed in 1936. More projects for this industrialist family followed: at Glennifer Brae, Wollongong, for Sidney Hoskins; at Green Hills and Hillside executive houses for Australian Iron & Steel; at Hoskins Memorial Church, Lithgow; and at Southern Portland Cement Ltd, Berrima. Sorensen also began planting on the Mittagong property, later known as Redlands, of a Hoskins’ employee, Cedric Rouse.

In 1939 Sorensen leased the Old Rectory, Berrima, where he established a second nursery, with which Anderson was associated. Sorensen was naturalised in 1940. Following the deaths of his sons Derrick and Neville in action during World War II, he closed operations at Berrima in about 1944. His youngest son Ib joined him and his wife in the Leura business. From the mid-1940s Sorensen mainly constructed smaller gardens in the Blue Mountains but in the following decade he secured large commissions for country properties near Bathurst, Orange, Cassilis and Merriwa. During the 1960s Sorensen undertook commissions in country New South Wales, the upper North Shore of Sydney and the Blue Mountains: these included Boogadah, near Binnaway; Calleen near Cowra; Fernhill, Mulgoa; Mereworth, Berrima; Mahratta, Warrawee; and Blue Mist and Talltrees, Leura. He returned to Everglades, further developing the garden acquired by the National Trust of Australia (NSW) in 1962.

Sorensen excelled at pruning trees and, with theatrical gestures, extolled the virtues of bringing out the ‘spirit’ of a tree. Stone walls and paving were features of his work; keeping within budget was not. A man of impressive stamina, as an employer he was very hard but fair. He continued to work until his death, but his son and grandson took responsibility for the physical work. Two of his later gardens were Aola, Peats Ridge, and Forest Park, Kulnura. Survived by his wife and their youngest son, he died on 12 September 1983 in his home at Leura and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Ratcliffe, Australia’s Master Gardener (1990)
  • Blue Mountains Echo, 18 Mar 1927, p 2
  • B741, item V/307, SP11/5, item SORENSEN PAUL EDWIN (National Archives of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Colleen Morris, 'Sorensen, Paul Edwin Bielenberg (1891–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/sorensen-paul-edwin-bielenberg-15730/text26918, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 17 December 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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