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Garden Design

‘Terra Australis Garden’ for Canberra’s National Arboretum

The National Arboretum in Canberra which features 100 forests of rare, endangered and symbolic trees from around Australia and the world is in the process of creating a ‘Gallery of Gardens’ which is a chain of 7 gardens spread along a hill side from the main Visitors Centre. The Australian Native Plants Society (Australia) (ANPSA) has proposed to the National Arboretum to have one of these gardens, the ‘Terra Australis Garden as a wholly native plant garden featuring attractive modern cultivars and hybrids of Australian native plants.

The National Arboretum Canberra has quickly become a national tourist destination. Many of the trees are still young but two of the forests are nearly 100 hundred years old. Over 44,000 trees from over 100 countries are growing across the 250 hectare (618 acre) site, making it one of the world’s largest living collections of rare, endangered and significant trees. The “Gallery of Gardens” has been developed to raise awareness of or pay tribute to a range of Australian charities and community groups through a garden.

Terra Australis Garden layout. Design Lawrie Smith AM


The proposed design for an Australian Native Plant Society garden is an oval shape about 30 m x 19 m, surrounded by a hedge. Lawrie Smith, who designed the Roma Street Parklands among many other botanic gardens, is leading the design team. Native plant expert Angus Stewart is helping out while Ros, I and others, such as experts at the Australian National Botanic Garden, will provide local knowledge of what will grow in Canberra on that site. We think this is a wonderful opportunity to not only show the public how attractive native plants can be but to encourage more people to use them in their own gardens.

The draft plan for the garden should appeal to all regions of Australia as there will be representative plants from most areas. The garden design concept takes the basic form of the Australian continent; the oval garden represents the island coastline and the Great Dividing Range sweeps across the continent from north east to south, physically expressed in appropriate landform.

Within this geographic form, the design philosophy is to create and interpret selected environments and plant communities of Australia that are known to be suitable to withstand the rigors of the Canberra climate. The intent is to invite the viewer to ‘explore’ the flora of Australia by meandering along the central pathway from north to south (or vice versa) crossing the ‘Great Divide’ to experience a representative selection of the flora of the ‘regions’ traversed. The ‘Great Divide’ is represented on the plan in dark yellow for the gentler slopes and brown where they are steeper. Similarly the perimeter pathway recalls the voyage of discovery and exploration around the coastline by many mariners.

The design also incorporates three distinct geological formations of basalt, sandstone and granite, plus a waterway (shown in dark blue) of a coastal river system flowing down through a sandstone ‘gorge’ to a pond that is suggestive of east coast bays and harbours. In the centre is an ephemeral dry lake (shown as a light blue oval).

Planting plan for Terra Australis ANPSA garden for National Arboretum. Design Lawrie Smith AM


The letters show six different Australian plant communities that will be represented, some using the actual plants where they will grow in Canberra’s climate and others, such as the tropical zone community, in a more figurative or sculptural way:

A – Tropical coast and hinterland


B – Subtropical coast and hinterland


C – Temperate coast and hinterland


D – Temperate montane


E – South west coasts and sandplains


F – Outback plains


Rather than only growing species plants, it is important to present to the public through this garden the continuing research and development process with Australian native plants. New selections and cultivars are regularly released commercially and this garden provides an ideal opportunity to establish and promote some of these ‘new plants’ – at least those that are likely to be successful in this location.

The garden should demonstrate in each of the zones a pleasing combination of colours and textures to ensure that at all times and seasons the garden is attractive and has the necessary ‘wow’ factor. This means that seasonal rotation of some plants will be advisable/necessary to enhance the overall aesthetic and compliment the permanent specimens.

As the garden’s design process continues, it may be simplified to ensure that the end result is appropriate as a public garden. It is generally accepted that a native plant garden cannot always be established and managed in the same way that an exotic garden would be.

In order for the garden to proceed however, we have to raise $150,000. I am pleased to report that we already have a commitment of about $60,000 towards this project and we are hopeful that many of the plants might be donated by nursery supporters. But we need more financial support. All donations towards this project will be considered charitable donations for tax purposes.

Anyone interested in donating towards this garden should contact ANPSA at executive@anpsa.org.au and we will provide information on how to donate.

We believe this is a unique opportunity to not only promote native plants societies to the thousands of visitors the Arboretum attracts annually but to educate and share our interest and passion for our native flora, showcasing how they can be used in the everyday garden.

By Ben Walcott, ANPSA President


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