Can a visit to one place evoke the Australian context, the essence of our land, and our Australian flora? Native Plant Project goes on location to the inspiring Australian Garden to find out.
“The distinction between a botanic garden and a park is the curatorial agenda. We actively curate a botanic garden for specific purposes in the same way that a gallery is curated with art pieces and a museum is curated with artifacts and objects,” says John Arnott.
He’s the passionate manager of Horticulture at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Cranbourne where he manages a team of horticulturists who curate areas of the famous Australian Garden. But he sees his role as more than that. He’s an ambassador for Australian natives, an advocate for their care.
“I think we take our flora for granted a bit, so if we can help develop a better understanding of our plants, the extension of that is protection, advocacy and better care for Australian flora and landscapes.”
Arnott has been at Cranbourne for a decade, and has seen it transform quite literally, before his eyes.
“We actively curate a botanic garden for specific purposes in the same way a gallery is curated with art pieces and a museum is curated with artifacts and objects…”
Designed by the landscape architectural practice Taylor Cullity Lethlean (TCL), with Paul Thompson, the 18 hectare Garden comprises themed areas that take visitors on a continuous journey through a huge variety of areas including the fragrant Eucalypt Walk, Melaleuca Spits, the infamous Red Sand Garden, the eponymous Weird and Wonderful Garden, the diverse Arid Garden, which contains some 350 species, and Gondwana Garden; many with their own detailed sub-sections within, such as the Fire Zone inside the Eucalypt Walk, where plants show how they respond to fire.
There are now over 2000 taxa and a spectacularly complete representation of the diversity of Australian landscape and flora – from red desert to waterholes and a sample of little Aussie backyards.
“The masterplan was the most ambitious innovative landscape architecture I’d ever seen. With the objective from Gardens Director, Phillip Moors to make them world class, the designers threw the rulebooks out the window. It was award winning before they’d even turned the earth,” says Arnott.
“Some things have worked beautifully and are still sitting in the landscape as imagined, right down to plant selection. Others have had a gentle evolution, particularly in the planting but we always have an absolute desire to maintain the designer’s intent. We don’t want to compromise the design intent by coming up with the new ideas. As the Garden’s horticultural team it’s our job to maintain Paul Thompson’s and TCL’s vision.”
“We take our flora for granted a bit, so if the Garden can help develop a better understanding of our plants, the extension of that is better care for the Australian landscape…”
The first stage of the Australian Garden opened in 2006 with stage two completed by 2012, and the Garden will continue to evolve under the expertise of Arnott’s horticultural team, guided by TCL’s original masterplan.
And while Arnott and his team continue the hard work of executing and nurturing the overall vision for one of the world’s most spectacular botanic gardens, overseeing a ‘living art gallery ‘ brings constant joy to Arnott.
Arnott takes us through highlights he hopes visitors will enjoy:
Visitors – Streakers, Strollers, Studiers
“There are three main categories of visitors at the Gardens: Streakers – those who come in and out in 45 minutes; Strollers – those who might spend half a day or a couple of hours, take in some key messages and narratives from the Gardens; and Studiers – those who understand everything about every plant and consider themselves an authority on the garden. They come back again and again.
One of the big aims of the Gardens is to capture the beauty and diversity of the Australian flora and the different landscapes that our flora grows in.”
Red Desert – the Australian context
“For ‘streakers’ the story of the red sand garden really sets the scene. There’s an immediate implication with that red sand, of the Australian outback and the big sky. You don’t need to be a scientist to understand that this is the abstracted dessert. People immediately recognise that this is about an arid landscape, with its harshness hostility and lack of water. Even on a superficial level Streakers understand that this is a garden which evokes the Australian context, the essence of our land, and the Australian flora.”
The Aussie Backyard – domestic gardening, tuition and inspiration
“Strollers and studiers will track more and understand more of the messaging through our signage. The plants we grow are also about teaching and inspiring visitors about the nature of the flora and the landscapes that support that wild flora. That expresses in the beauty and the diversity, in the plant presentation, plant selection and in the larger design frame.”
“They are laid out like demonstration gardens, a bit like you’d find in a flower show, but they are permanent show gardens, developed with themes and messages so they serve as inspirational horticultural prompts.”
“The other aim is to encourage gardeners to garden with Australian plants….”
“So, it’s about the culture of the flora, arranged at a domestic size scale, look and feel. All of those teaching gardens are designed to be accessible: you’ll see things you can reasonably find in a plant nursery….”
Botanical hopes and dreamtime – how Cranbourne inspires its visitors
“I’m idealistic. I hope people take pride in Australian flora. The premise is that people will protect what they value and value what they understand. I think we take our flora for granted a bit, so if we develop a better understanding of our plants, the extension of that is protection, advocacy and better care for Australian flora and landscapes. We want to evoke that experience, and even if it’s just a small percentage of our visitors, I think that’s a patent aspiration, personally and organisationally.
We also really want them to have a good time, to enjoy the beauty and amenity of the Gardens. We have an agenda for wellbeing, and gardens are places of refuge; they’re a safe place to stop, breathe, and slow down..”
Photo Credits: The Australian Garden
The Australian Garden at Royal Botanic Gardens
Corner of Ballarto Rd & Botanic Drive, Cranbourne Victoria
T: +61 3 5990 2200