I have not included Toorak, which name “may have come from Aboriginal words of similar pronunciation, meaning black crow or reedy swamp.” I have also not included Malvern, although one source suggests it is the Olde English name for “hill of alders”. The claims for inclusion of Ashburton and Ashwood have also been rejected – Ashburton was named after the birthplace of local Councillor Dillon in Cork, Ireland. 


Box Hill’s origins as a township date from 1 February 1861, with the opening of the Post Office. The locals met at the home of Mr Silas Padgham, the first postmaster (on a salary of £10 a year) and drew lots for the name of the village. Mr Padgham himself was successful with his nomination of “Box Hill.” He was born at Dorking in Surrey, England, at the foot of Box Hill, a well-known beauty spot in the Surrey hills. In his Golden Jubilee history, Box Hill (Lothian 1978), Andrew Lemon wrote “however inappropriate it was to name a crude bush settlement in Victoria after this park-like English hill, it was a pretty name, a nostalgic link, and may well have represented a hope that one day this Australian landscape would be transformed into something like the one he left behind”. 

We are very familiar with the use of Buxus sempervirens as a dwarf edging hedge and in topiary, but less familiar with the slow-growing European Box tree which grows up to 9m with a trunk 30cm thick. The wood is very heavy – indeed it is the only European timber that sinks in water. Boxwood has always been valued for engraving, carving and for making musical and mathematical instruments, and other turned articles – and for making boxes!


Wattle in the valley; ferntree in the gully, heather in the dale – is this iris in the glen? It might have been so originally, and perhaps back in the Mother Country, but this suburb Glen Iris takes its name from the large holding of solicitor J.C. Turner who in the early 1850s developed a vast property with a one mile and a half frontage to Gardiners Creek – an orchard, vineyard, stables, mansion named “Glen Iris”, dairy and coach-house. He lost his fortune as quickly as he gained it, and the land was subdivided in 1861 “and his aspirations towards gentryhood dissolved, except for donating the name of his house to the suburb of Glen Iris,” wrote Lynne Strahan in her Private and Public Memory: a History of the City of Malvern (1989).

Iris is a genus of more than 200 species. They are showy flowering plants named after Iris, the Ancient Greek goddess of the rainbow, for the flowers come in many colours. Grown from rhizomes or bulbs, their growing conditions vary greatly. They are frost-hardy and enjoy a sunny position – although many species will grow well in glens! We grow more of the rhizomatus, including the familiar bearded iris, but it is the bulbous, especially purplish blue Dutch hybrids, which are more often seen in florist shops. The Bearded Iris, or Flags, are widely grown. Although individual blooms are not long-lasting, a succession of buds ensures flower over some weeks. Iris propagation is normally by division in late summer. 


Hawthorn was “named after Lieut. Hawthorne of the frigate Phantom, visiting Port Phillip in 1852. It was spelt Hawthorne on earlier maps,” writes A.E. Martin in Place Names in Victoria and Tasmania. In her authoritative history Hawthorn Peppercorns (1978) Gwen McWilliam discusses the origin of the name Hawthorn. She identifies two possibilities: the above one about a sailor named Hawthorne who visited Robert Hoddle just as the Surveyor was seeking a name for the area he was mapping, and another based on botany. After quite a few pages of interesting discussion, she states that “a botanical origin for the name is feasible”. The “e” on the visitor’s name is a problem, for right from 1852, it was not on any official documents, including those produced by Hoddle. Gwen McWilliam concludes: “The reason Hawthorn was called Hawthorn may have been only known to Robert Hoddle, and perhaps to Albert Purchas, who drew up the plan for the little village beside the creek”. 

The Hawthorn (Crataegus) plants are a large genus of deciduous shrubs and small trees, characterised by their small pome fruit and thorny branches. The fruits are sometimes known as “haws,” hence the plant’s name. The common Hawthorn is used extensively in Europe, Britain and Ireland as a hedge, but left unpruned it will make a small tree 5 to 6m high. Hawthorn hedges provide food and shelter for many species of birds and mammals.


Although better known for the park itself than as a suburb, a justification for including Wattle Park as a suburban area is its inclusion in Melway’s list of localities! There is also a Wattle Park Primary School (opened 1914) and between 1962 and 1992 there was a Wattle Park High School. Approximately one third of the park is recorded as a heritage place by Heritage Victoria, and the National Trust has also classified the park. The park was first created when the Hawthorn Tramways Trust purchased 137 acres from Mrs Eliza Welch on condition that it was used as a public park. The park opened on 31 March 1917 when Sir Arthur Stanley planted a Golden Wattle and named the park. Between 1926 and 1928 twelve thousand wattle trees were planted.

The wattle is, of course, Australia’s national emblem, the particular species being the golden wattle Acacia pycnantha (meaning “with dense flower heads”). The green-and-gold combination of the wattle is seen as symbolic of Australia. There are at least 750 other species, with an enormous range of shape and forms of leaf, flower and pod. Among the most popular are Acacia baileyana (Cootamundra wattle) for a parkland – despite its weed potential, and more compact types such as A. drumondii (Drummond’s wattle) and A. vestita, excellent for the home garden; as are A. fimbriata and A. prominens, A. acinacea, A. cognata, A. binervia, A. boormanii, A. howitti, A convenyl and one enjoying much current popularity in all its new cultivars, A. cognata. Wattles are quick-growing, and readily attract birds. Wattles are propagated by seed, which must be treated to get water through the tough coat. This is done by boiling water and soaking, or by rubbing with sandpaper. They develop long tap roots quickly, making transplanting difficult. Fertilizers must be used carefully, if at all. Many wattles respond well to light pruning. Borers attack some wattles, and a number of species are short lived.