Friday, 14 December 2012

The Australian Garden, RBG Cranbourne

The Red Sand Garden, aka the 'red centre'', Cranbourne's most famous feature. Suitable desert plants form islands, while irregular white shapes are ceramic, symbolising salt-crusts from evaporated pools. The broad line across the space runs north-south. 
I have no hesitation in saying that the Australian Garden at the Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne was the most exciting garden I visited on my travels in November. Cranbourne is the out-of-town satellite for the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, acquired for the development of a collection of Australian natives requiring conditions that could not be provided in the RBG's city site. The estate was purchased in 1970 and covers 300 ha, most of which is still (and will remain) under natural vegetation, a rare pocket in the sprawl of Greater Melbourne.

From 1994 plans for an Australian Garden were drawn-up by the landscape architects Taylor Cullity Lethlean, with Paul Taylor advising on the plants. Construction of the first phase was started in 2003 and finished in 2006: it included the Red Sand Garden, the Rockpool Waterway, display gardens and other feartures. These are now looking well-established. The second phase was commenced in 2009 and opened only in October this year, in fact less than a month prior to my visit. Not surprisingly much of the planting has yet to establish - in fact in some cases one could tell it had come from somewhere protected not very long before, but this enabled the extraordinary boldness of the design to show through.

Design is the great strength of the Australian Garden: big, bold and beautiful and certainly bizarre at times, but uniquely striking. Not many botanic gardens have the freedom to use modern design except in small corners, but on the virgin site at Cranbourne the opportunity was seized with both hands and the result is triumphant. I doubt traditionalists like it, but it must prove inspiring to the younger generation of Australian gardeners and with its solidly Australian native plantings shows that there is no need to resort to exotics to create superb gardens. As well as the big spaces smaller demonstration gardens show off good plants in settings that are both domestically achievable and water-wise.


A very-well done feature: an ephemeral stream rises and flows down the 'rockpool waterway' to the lake, becoming wider and deeper under a great rust-red steel sculpture named after and evoking an 'Escarpment Wall'.

The new portion of RBG Cranbourne is still rather raw in terms of planting, but shows off the strength of its design.

Even the supports for climbers in the Arbour Garden are beautifully, if starkly, designed. One almost hopes the climbers don't all do too well...

Among the splendours of the layout the plant collection is excellent, featuring plants from all over Australia, often in selected forms of particular garden merit (another departure from tradition) and planted with a designer's eye, though in appropriate conditions. A few are shown below. Cranbourne is going to be a place to watch and revisit whenever possible.


The incredibly blue Lechenaultia biloba, a Western Australian species.

Grass-trees, Xanthorroea johnsonii

Hymenosporum flavum, a fine flowering tree with a delicious scent.

Alyogyne huegelii 'West Coast Gem'

I had not realised that Ajuga occurred in Australia - this is A. australis. I also saw it wild in the Tinderry Nature Reserve.

An amusing sculpture of massed blue watering cans - promoting water-wise gardening, of course.

47 comments:

  1. I'm loving the grass trees

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  2. I remember seeing a very English garden in Australia on TV maybe Monty's 80 gardens and thinking how out of place it looked even in the milder climate of Melbourne or maybe Sydney. It is so much nicer to see the native plants especially when Australia has such as wonderful flora

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  3. Look like a wonderful garden, I love the trelliswork. Awesome plants.

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