At last we have a community group that can demonstrate the true depth of feeling about our three local botanical treasures, namely Brisbane Botanic Gardens (City established in 1855), Sherwood Arboretum (opened 1925) and Brisbane Botanic Gardens, Mt. Coot-tha (opened 1976). The official public launch is planned for 14 October 2015 up the mountain at Mt. Coot-tha, near the beloved Japanese Garden.
We aim to plant eventually, a clump of Brisbane Lily (Proiphys cunninghamii) in each site as a symbol of our group’s connection to each place and our tripartite affiliation. We have the Friends website established already and a Facebook page.
Personally I’ve been dreaming of such a group since the mid-1990s when I prepared the first conservation plan for the Old BBG in Alice Street and lamented over the absence of interpretation (and labels) and some unfortunate management decisions over several decades. There was a desperate need for a group that would speak up for the place, respect the historic plants and appreciate their sometimes extraordinary arrangements, to help protect them and promote the intriguing stories to a wider audience. Allied to such a community group was a strong need to reign in the management and get back to proper curatorship practice.
From February this year, that part of my dream came alive with the appointment of a new Curator for the Brisbane Botanic Gardens, Dale Arvidsson, previously of Mackay Regional BG. He was given control of both the Mt. Coot-tha garden and the old Brisbane Botanic Gardens in the city, something lost in the 1980s. I was bursting with joy at that news, which is really the recognition by the Brisbane City Council of the importance of both places. Dale has worked tirelessly, graciously and joyfully with our steering committee and has been an inspiration. The gardens are in good hands!
The value of Friends groups has been proven beyond doubt, with well-established groups at RBG, Melbourne and RBG, Sydney and recent regional groups raising much-needed funds for use in their gardens and bringing the community together for fun and learning. The members of our steering committee have great hopes for lots of different activities and functions including reviving the Plant Fair at Mt. Coot-tha and selling rare plants propagated by our own group under the watchful eye of the new Curator. Chief among our short-term goals is building a propagating nursery so that proper protocols with plant provenance can be re-established. We also see a visitor center or two, one for the City Botanic Gardens and one up the mountain. And we want a shop so we can sell souvenirs and books about the history of the places and the amazing plants. We want to sell artworks and craftworks that celebrate and appreciate the botanic treasures.
I should introduce the steering committee, because it’s teamwork that gets these big jobs done. I met Mary Jo Katter in 2013 on the Lord Mayor’s Parks and Gardens Advisory Committee, chaired by Sally Anne Atkinson. This committee was the brainchild of the much-missed Colin Campbell, who anguished about horticultural standards and historic parks in Brisbane. Mary Jo and I were asked to participate in the community focus group for the new Masterplan for the City Botanic Gardens in 2014 and we kept saying, we need a Friends group! We need a visitor center! We need more labels! And we need fewer mountains of mulch! Finally we realised we had to start the Friends group ourselves. We approached the chair of the Environment, Parks and Sustainability Committee, Councillor Matthew Bourke and asked whether BCC would be supportive. Soon we had backing all the way up to the Lord Mayor and Dale Arvidsson as adviser!
We were also introduced to the well-established and very successful Friends of Sherwood Arboretum (and their representative Andrew Benison) and when we found so many common goals we all decided to be a group that represented both botanic gardens and this extraordinary collection of indigenous plants (called the green triangle at one stage). We also sought the participation of Council’s existing Volunteer Guides Group, and again met with similar passion in Bettina Palmer and Fay O’Sullivan. I called in the help of John Taylor from the Australian Garden History Society (and previously Director at RBG Melbourne and BCC Parks Manager) to be part of our team. Mary Jo asked Arno King to be our horticulturist representative and we found our final team. We had other helpers along the way so I would like to thank Russell Dart, David Drake, Noel Burdette and Elizabeth Ferguson. It was like being in an avalanche of excitement!
And that excitement gets crazier on Wednesday 14 October 2015 when we introduce ourselves to the press and the Lord Mayor helps us plant a Brisbane Lily. That’s the real start of the membership drive and everyone is invited to celebrate with us. Hope to see you there!