Catherine StewartThe end of Open Gardens Australia

Open Gardens Australia Garden for National Arboretum, Canberra. Design Neil Hobbs

20,000 open gardens, 10,000 volunteers and over $6 million raised for charity, plus more for community garden grants, over a wonderful 27 years. From these Open Gardens Australia ‘big things’, a little thing will grow, with the National Arboretum in Canberra hosting a new commemorative garden as OGA closes.

It was sad to say goodbye to an organisation that has done so much, but good to see that there will be some sort of lasting legacy of the great service it gave to gardening, gardeners, and the many in the community who benefitted from its grant-giving program.

We gathered first at Government House in Canberra to meet the Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove and Lady Cosgrove who honoured present and past committee members and selectors with a morning tea and a tour of the historic gardens. Even in the dead of a Canberra winter its was a thrill to be able to walk through the gardens, especially with long-time OGA President Tamie Fraser as part of the group, who reminisced about the time she first came to Government House in 1955 with her newly elected Federal MP husband, former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.

Open Gardens Australia commemorative garden Design Neil Hobbs

Open Gardens Australia commemorative garden Design Neil Hobbs

The next day, at the National Arboretum in Canberra, we launched something new. From the sad demise of OGA will rise a permanent legacy garden, to be built over the next 15 months at the National Arboretum. From a selection of design ideas solicited from many notable Australian landscape architects and designers, an OGA committee unanimously chose a design by Canberra local Neil Hobbs, of Harris Hobbs Landscapes.

The 500m² OGA Garden, the first of seven gardens in the Arboretum’s Gallery of Gardens, features a fan-shaped quarter-circle grassed area enclosed by canopy trees and accessed by segments of paving set as chords leading to a central focal point.

Open Gardens Australia Garden for National Arboretum, Canberra. Design Neil Hobbs

Open Gardens Australia Garden for National Arboretum, Canberra. Design Neil Hobbs

The garden will be part funded by money left after the winding up of Open Gardens Australia. Hobbs describes the inspiration for the garden:

The radial hedges represent dawn sun rays breaking across the land. The landscape setting is unmistakably Australian, looking out across Lake Burley Griffin over the designed and natural landscape of Canberra, containing the gardens and event locations that were part of Open Gardens Australia for 27 years. The garden design uses the Australian rising sun metaphor, and blends the planting palette using native and exotic plants. The entrances are flanked by native plants, with the centre planted with exotic plants referencing those commonly used by early Australian gardeners as a refuge from the harsh inland Australian climate. The selection of hardy evergreen hedges and mixed deciduous and evergreen exotic shrubs make a further reference to the history of Australian garden design and garden designers who worked in the Southern Tablelands areas of New South Wales such as Edna Walling and Beatrice Bligh.

The use of Banksias and locally sourced Grevilleas recalls the writing and illustrations of May Gibbs, whose garden, ‘Nutcote’, was another regular on the Open Gardens Australia calendar.

Outgoing OGA CEO, Liz White says that OGA has played a huge role in establishing a sharing and passionate gardening community in Australia :

“It is very apt that this be recognised through the creation of a living landscape, embracing all of OGA’s core values – diversity, creativity, sustainability and, most of all, sharing and inclusiveness.”

Shane Rattenbury, the Minister for Territory and Municipal Services said:

“…OGA’s 
legacy
 will
 live 
on 
in 
Australia’s 
newest
 and
 most 
ambitious 
national 
institution. The
 project
 will 
also 
have 
strong 
community
 links 
as 
local
 volunteers
 will 
be
 offered 
the 
opportunity to
 maintain 
the 
new 
garden”

You can watch the development of the garden at the National Arboretum before its opening in spring 2016.

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Catherine Stewart

About Catherine Stewart

Award-winning garden journalist, blogger and photographer; writer for garden magazines and co-author of 'Waterwise Gardening'; landscape designer turned landscape design judge and critic; compulsive networker and lover of generally putting fingers in lots of pies. Particularly mud pies. Creator, curator and editor of GardenDrum. Sydney, NSW.

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