Gerrie MackeyCanberra’s ‘STEP’ towards a regional botanic garden

The National Arboretum in Canberra, ACT (100 forests each with 100 trees) which opened in 2013 now has one of Canberra’s best kept secrets among its mosaic of fledgling forests – a new regional botanic garden called STEP, short for the Southern Tablelands Ecosystems Park. This area has been designed to represent the native plants and trees typical to the Southern Highlands. These areas have forests, woodlands, grasslands, and wetlands.

Path through the new Southern Tablelands Ecosystem Park in the National Arboretum, Canberra ACT

Path through the Southern Tablelands Ecosystem Park in the National Arboretum, Canberra ACT

View to the new Southern Tablelands Ecosystem Park in the National Arboretum, Canberra ACT

View to the new Southern Tablelands Ecosystem Park in the National Arboretum, Canberra ACT

Unlike all the other forests in the Arboretum, this forest has an understory of shrubs, herbs, grasses and ferns. As we walked down the path from the highest area to the wetlands I’ve concentrated on the flowering understory for photos, but just occasionally there is a lovely spring flowering Eucalypt..

Eucalyptus dalrympleana in the new Southern Tablelands Ecosystem Park in the National Arboretum, Canberra ACT

Spring flowering Eucalyptus dalrympleana in the Southern Tablelands Ecosystem Park in the National Arboretum, Canberra ACT

…. this one is called Eucalyptus dalrympleana (Mountain Gum)

Wee Jasper grevillea in the new Southern Tablelands Ecosystem Park in the National Arboretum, Canberra ACT

Wee Jasper grevillea in the new Southern Tablelands Ecosystem Park in the National Arboretum, Canberra ACT

and a flowering Wee Jasper Grevillea ..

….. further down the path the open woodland area is being developed, the clumps of grass are called Poa sieberiana

Poa sieberiana in the new Southern Tablelands Ecosystem Park in the National Arboretum, Canberra ACT

Poa sieberiana grasses – Southern Tablelands Ecosystem Park in the National Arboretum, Canberra ACT

Early the following morning I went back to take more photos, and I was reminded of my childhood in Africa ….. walking along paths lined by soft green grasses, and watching birds skimming through them…but in this botanical garden there are street lights in the distance to remind me that we are very near a carpark, and the expressway to the city is not too far away.

View through the new Southern Tablelands Ecosystem Park in the National Arboretum, Canberra ACT

View through the new Southern Tablelands Ecosystem Park in the National Arboretum, Canberra ACT

The only bird happy to have his photo taken is this cockatoo, who was very busy eating the tips of the grasses.

Cockatoo eating seedheads in the new Southern Tablelands Ecosystem Park in the National Arboretum, Canberra ACT

Cockatoo eating grass tips – Southern Tablelands Ecosystem Park in the National Arboretum, Canberra ACT

Here are some of the colourful spring flowering native plants and shrubs

and my all time favourite is this tiny Dianella revoluta flower, perfect in every way!

Dianella revoluta

Dianella revoluta

The frosty hollow area has species that need frost and cold air ..a favourite tree of mine is the snow gum (Eucalypt)

Snow gum in the frost hollow in the new Southern Tablelands Ecosystem Park in the National Arboretum, Canberra ACT

Snow gum in the frost hollow in the new Southern Tablelands Ecosystem Park in the National Arboretum, Canberra ACT

There is a small wetland for the plants suitable for this type of habitat.

Small wetland area in the new Southern Tablelands Ecosystem Park in the National Arboretum, Canberra ACT

Small wetland area in the new Southern Tablelands Ecosystem Park in the National Arboretum, Canberra ACT

This attractive rock amphitheatre has been constructed to use as an educational space. Over time the plan is to have regular groups of students to learn about the plants native to this area.

Rock amphitheatre -Southern Tablelands Ecosystem Park in the National Arboretum, Canberra ACT

Rock amphitheatre – Southern Tablelands Ecosystem Park in the National Arboretum, Canberra ACT

The Arboretum provides water tanks for STEP, and these are used to irrigate the fledging trees and shrubs.

Arboretum water tanks used by STEP

Arboretum water tanks used by STEP

Here is one of the dedicated volunteers watering the plants, the netting over his hat is a most efficient way of keeping the annoying flies away from his face (a sure sign summer is on the way).

Volunteer in the Southern Tablelands Ecosystem Park in the National Arboretum, Canberra ACT

Volunteer in the Southern Tablelands Ecosystem Park in the National Arboretum, Canberra ACT

The volunteers working on the STEP program are an inspiration. They are full of enthusiasm and very knowledgeable about all the plants that they see growing and developing every week.

Volunteers at the Southern Tablelands Ecosystem Park in the National Arboretum, Canberra ACT

Volunteers at the Southern Tablelands Ecosystem Park in the National Arboretum, Canberra ACT

When we arrived they were just packing up after a shared morning tea under the gum trees. What better way to spend a lovely warm spring day, being productive and useful and sharing that with like-minded people.

STEP is having an open afternoon with volunteers to show visitors around STEP and answer any questions about growing native plants in Canberra on Sunday 29 November 2015 between 12.30 – 3.00. Contact STEP

Like this post? Why not share it with a friend?


Gerrie Mackey

About Gerrie Mackey

Gerrie Mackey is a freelance writer, retired teacher, and passionate gardener. During her teaching career she wrote articles on education, travel and social issues. Now that she is retired Gerrie can indulge her interest in gardening, and her place in the world, with her blog called Canberra's Green Spaces. Gerrie enjoys living in Canberra with its wide skies, clean air, and quiet country living within a thriving community. It is truly a modern city with unparalleled green spaces.

3 thoughts on “Canberra’s ‘STEP’ towards a regional botanic garden

  1. Jeff howes on said:

    A great concept and worth a visit when next in Canberra. Thanks for the article and pictures.

    • germac4 on said:

      Thanks Jeff, the whole Arboretum is worth a visit, and STEP in particular.

  2. Max Bourke AM on said:

    Thanks Gerrie a good read and look!

Leave a Reply (no need to register)