Sister Jean Galbraith had very little formal education; she left school at 14 years old. When she was 16, she met Mr H.B. Williamson through the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria. In Jean’s words: “He (Mr. Williamson) asked if I would like to send him species (of plants) and he would name them for me. This I did, and for the next 10 years, until he died, he helped me in this way, teaching me basic Botany and enough German to puzzle out botanical papers. I had a smattering of Latin, which helped.”

Then, in 1926, when Jean was 20, she began to write articles about plants and gardening for The Garden Lover magazine and newspapers such as The Leader. Her articles invariably made some comment about the Creator’s handiwork through the seasons. This she did for 50 years under the pen name of ‘Correa’. Correas are attractive, low growing native shrubs with red, pink and white tubular shaped flowers. Her garden, “Dunedin” was a focal point of these articles. It was through them her book, A Garden in a Valley, was born. The book tells how she and her parents lovingly and enthusiastically developed the now famous garden; it gives a fascinating insight into country life in the 1920s and 30s. During these fruitful years, she also wrote over fifty articles and poems for The Christadelphian magazine.

The artist

The garden brought much pleasure to the family and their friends. But then Jean began to have twinges of conscience. “If ye do good to them that do good to you, what thanks have ye? – be kind to the unthankful and evil”. Let your flowers give pleasure to someone who will enjoy them and is not likely to have a chance to thank you. Consequently, in the 1920s, Jean began to regularly send flowers from her garden by train to the Austin Hospital in Melbourne. She did this for many years so they got to know staff and patients from their letters and occasional visits.

One patient, Walter Thornby, whom Jean called “the artist”, became a close friend. He suffered from tuberculosis and was invited to visit the home. Later they built a sleepout for him. He greatly benefi ted from the peace and serenity of the garden. He also absorbed and accepted the family’s spiritual values and was baptised in 1932 into name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Towards the end of his life, and after one weary night, he said, “Perhaps the Lord will come tomorrow and then I’ll be made well again. He might let me help to make the desert blossom. I should like to be told to irrigate the Sahara desert and plant forests there”.

Jean the author

Jean did a lot of writing over the years; she wrote twelve books that were published. Her most wellknown books are, Wildlowers of Victoria, published in 1950, and Field Guide to the Wildlowers of South-East Australia, published in 1977, that described over 3,000 native flowering plants. To this day they remain authoritative works on this subject. This is an amazing feat considering Jean never owned a car; all her field trips were taken by train or bus, and often involved camping. In 1970, she was awarded the Australian Natural History Medallion. She was only the 4th woman to receive it.

Anne Latreille wrote of Sister Jean: “Apart from the garden itself, the centre of her activity was the dining room. She works at the oilclothcovered dining room table; the room has changed little since her parents’ day. The table stands by the window, immediately outside which are set two feeding boxes for King Parrots, Wattlebirds, Honey Eaters, Satin Bower Birds, and others…A fire burns in the hearth, with a capacious kettle simmering above it. Books, paintings and family photographs line the walls, small vases of fresh flowers and dried specimens are everywhere. The adjoining dimly-lit pantry is jammed to ceiling height with jars of preserves”.

A sister in Christ

Jean was a lovely, gentle sister. When young, her health had not been good; she was an invalid for most of her childhood. She always had poor eyesight and suffered for many years from asthma, eczema, lumbago and bronchitis. Jean managed to live in “Dunedin” until 1993 when she was 87 years old. That year she moved into a nursing home, and in 1996, into Olivet Home in Melbourne. She died in 1999 aged 93 years.

We may ask what is Jean’s garden like today? As we enter through the picket fence and go up the front path that leads to the house, we go through tangled arbours of roses and vines which remind us of the childhood book The Secret Garden. Foxgloves rest under the window with many other old-fashioned plants; cyclamens multiply under the trees. Garden beds are no longer clearly defined but the old, gnarled trees in the orchard continue to bear fruit. Huge roses, original specimens planted long ago, drench the air with their rich perfume. One path wanders to the seat Jean made with wood and concrete, which bears the inscription, “If you would be quiet then you would be helped”, reminding us of Moses words, “Stand still and see the salvation of Yahweh” (Exod 14:13).

I began this review of Jean’s life by mentioning that she wrote hymn number 383, “Rejoicing in hope and the joy of salvation.” This hymn gives us a window into Jean’s remarkable mind. It beautifully expresses the hope and joy of salvation that is the legacy that Brother John Th omas has left us. We are saved by the hope (Romans 8:24), therefore, we “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom 5:2). So “let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us unto wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (IThess 5: 8–9).

Closing thought

“Above all the book (the Bible) of our childhood, of our growth and maturity, whose words have spoken to us every day of our lives, is full of gardens. Its whole theme is the making of the Garden of God; rising from height to height, from the time when, in the first chapter, “The earth brought forth grass and herb yielding seed after its kind, and the tree yielding fruit whose seed was in itself after this kind; and God saw that it was good,” to the last when a tree of life grew by a “river of life, clear as crystal,” and “its leaves were for the healing of the nations.” In it have gardens their highest honour, for its Prince sought a garden in his anguish, and spent in a garden at dawn his holiest and most wondrous hour (Garden in a Valley, Jean Galbraith).