Sunday, 6 January 2013

Two collections in Canberra

Patersonia longifolia
 While in Australia in November I was asked to give a couple of talks in Canberra, which enabled me to see two gardens there. First was the Australian National Botanic Gardens, effectively started in the 1950s and growing only native species and selections from them. The planting is quite informal but very pleasant, and gave me the chance to see a lot of species not encountered in other gardens.  I also had the pleasure of meeting some members of the seed bank team, who gave me a warm welcome and tour of their facilities. It was fascinating to see their work and learn of projects for restoring native plants to degraded habitats.

The founding father of Australian botany, Sir Joseph Banks, in his young Tahitian-seducing days of the Endeavour's voyage, given due prominence at the Australian National Botanic Gardens, with a tree-forming Banksia behind.

A less-familiar style of Banksia, forming a tuft of leaves arising from prostrate stems, with inflorescences at ground level. This is aptly called B. blechnifolia.

An attractive legume from northern New South Wales and southern Queensland, Jacksonia scoparia, not dissimilar in habit to Genista aetnensis

Jacksonia scoparia

Callistemon 'Howie's Fire Glow' - a particularly bright bottlebrush.

A young Spiny Echidna in the Australian National Botanic Gardens: the best mammal sighting of the trip.

Viewpoint with engraved rail in the National Arboretum Canberra.

The second visit was to the very new - in fact not yet formally open - National Arboretum Canberra. This is a project on a massive scale, occupying 250 ha on a site that was a pine plantation until it was destroyed by a fire in 2003. The ACT Government seized upon the site quickly for a National Arboretum, and following competition, awarded the design project to Taylor Cullity Lethlean Landscape Architects with Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects. Their concept was a series of blocks of one species of tree 'of rare, threatened and symbolic tree species from around the world' and so the landscape is divided into blocks that look like forestry trial plots. It's a very different concept from a traditional arboretum, but one can see the big boldness of it. A lot of trouble was put into getting appropriate seed and propagation material, but it is really vexing to learn that no thought was taken of the conservation value of such large blocks of rare trees, which could act as important seed orchards in the future. For example Cupressus dupreziana var. dupreziana, and var. atlantica, both reduced to a handful of wild specimens, were grown from wild-origin seed and then planted together, instead of growing them as disparate blocks that would preserve a decent genetic diversity. Ideology also seems to have dictated the location of the plantations, and one does wonder how many of them will thrive and prosper long term. But it is good to see any big horticultural project going ahead in these times, and I wish the arboretum well for the future.

Ideology dominant over physiology: a plantation of Dracaena draco (with cages for  wrapping against frost) with Liriodendron chinensis scorching in the sunshine beyond.

New buildings and amphitheatre at the National Arboretum Canberra, with a stand of Washingtonia on  the hilltop opposite.


  1. What a trip, some great plants and exciting plans, very reassuring.

  2. Did you bring any plants/seeds back with you? Im sure you brought lots of memories and ideas.

  3. It is interesting how botanic gardens in countries such as Australia focus on their native species whilst ones here seem to collect plant families regardless. I suppose it is hard to really establish our native species whereas the Australia plant families are quite distinct

    Enjoyed the talk yesterday, quite an eye opener.


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