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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation. In January 2018 I was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for 'service to conservation and the environment'.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Australian National Botanic Gardens Revisited; exciting developments

I introduced our National Botanic Gardens, to me the pick of our national institutions, early last year in a couple of postings, beginning here. At around that time an exciting and ambitious plan was put into execution to develop a 'Red Centre' garden, featuring plants and landforms of the central deserts. This was an apparently outrageous proposition in a city 600 metres above sea level and hundreds of kilometres to the south-east (ie towards the south pole) of the region being modelled, and with heavy acidic clay soils. But the Gardens horticulturalists seemingly have help from Hogwarts (or an Australian equivalent) and are able to grow anything, no matter how preposterous the idea - a rainforest gully for instance, including tropical trees, in a city where winter temperatures can drop to minus 10 degrees centigrade, and droughts and 40 plus degree summer days are the norm. 

To provide suitable habitat 900 tonnes of red sand, 800 tonnes of rock and 380 tonnes of brown sand were accessed from various sources (again, none of them from the desert!).
Early days in the development of the Red Centre garden, from February 2013. The red granites were laid, and soil dug
out to be replaced with sand. The mature eight metre high Red Cabbage Palm Livistona mariae on the left was brought by
semi-trailer from Queensland (not from the wild!).
I have delayed writing about the Red Centre garden until now, to give it time to get established. In truth it might seem a bit slow in parts, for the reasons suggested above, and the low nutrient sandy soils introduced for verisimilitude. Nonetheless I think it's looking great, and will get even better as time goes on. I took a series of photos 12 months ago and retook them just now, to allow comparison of progress.
November 2013 above, and November 2014 below.
The spinifex (or porcupine grass Triodia sp.) rings have grown beautifully;
they are vital habitat in the arid lands for a wide variety of small animals,
and dominate more than 20% of Australia's area!


November 2013 above, and November 2014 below.
Again the growth, this time of shrubs, is impressive.

November 2013 above, and November 2014 below.
Again the shrubs are doing well, and while the soil may look bare, it's important
to remember that many desert plains die back after flowering, and regrow from seeds
or underground structures after the next rains.

November 2013 above, and November 2014 below.
Here the growth is less evident, but it has definitely come on.
The disc in the centre is a beautiful embossed indigenous art-inspired sculpture.
These shots were taken from the raised viewing platform visible at the top left of the
first pair of photos above.

Another feature is this ephemeral sandy creek bed, planted with River Red Gums Eucalyptus camaldulensis.
I love this red sand dune too - it's bigger than it looks here. The flowering grevillea on it is
labelled as G. albiflora, but as the name suggests that has white flowers. Though I hesitate to contradict
the gardens botanists, it does look more to me like Sandhill Grevillea G. stenobotrya.(Any comments welcomed, though I'm about to go away for a while and may not be able to respond until late next month.)
A closer view of the palm - now looking a lot happier than it did soon after being transplanted - with
a family of young palms in front of it.

More verisimilitude - a termite mound (with flowering Solanums behind).
I don't assume that the mound is inhabited though...
And finally, a delightfully quirky addition, probably mostly intended for kids, though I don't accept that it's all theirs!
Thorny Devil Moloch horridus. This rendition is beautifully biologically accurate, though a couple of orders of magnitude bigger than the original which, despite the fearsome name, is a slow gentle little predator of ants.
(I acknowledge that the ants may have another view.)
Before I leave this however, I want to mention briefly another Gardens innovation which only opened yesterday - a daisy garden! (Bear in mind that these gardens feature solely native plants.)
I am interested that they have come out and backed Asteraceae as the biggest plant family;
I'd thought that the jury was still out on the on-going contest between daisies and orchids,
but I'll happily concede this one.
Just a couple of shots, which I'll repeat also in the future to allow comparison of development.
Already pretty impressive, and I gather that much of the planting was done by gardens volunteers.

Spectacular Swan River Daisies Brachyscombe iberidifolia from Western Australia.
If you're in the area, now or in the future, do yourself a big favour and drop by! In these seemingly bleak times in Australia, this is something we really can be proud of.

Next time I'll resume the pink theme begun last time - in fact it's going to be an all-pink December!


1 comment:

shapeofthingstocome.org said...

Thanks for an interesting look at the gardens. I'd heard about the central deserts garden and wondered how that would fare in Canberra's climate. I've got to admit though that the daisy garden is more likely to get me to visit as I am a huge fan. Next time I pass through Canberra the gardens will definitely get a visit.

Cheers from Lima, Peru,