Spring time is the perfect time in Canberra to visit gardens and a best kept secret is a tour of some of the 17 courtyard gardens within Parliament House..
The first courtyard, filled with spring bulbs, Azalea hedges and Silver Birches
It is hard to believe there could be so many gardens tucked away in Parliament House.
These courtyards are designed to provide natural light into office spaces and to give all the people who work here some fresh air and breathing spaces.
Oh that all office spaces were designed this way!
My absolute favourite …the Dogwood tree
The garden plants are selected to provide shade and screening, variety and colour throughout the year. The courtyard beds have both native and exotic flowering shrubs.
Deciduous trees are chosen to provide shade in summer and allow sunshine in winter.
We went on this tour in 2015, and the question always arises as to why we do not have more native plants in the gardens.
The answer is that until about 10/15 years ago, native plants were not considered for formal gardens (seems incredible today) but in recent times have been introduced into some of the courtyard gardens.
We did see a very interesting courtyard full of Australian natives, but it was one of the no-go areas for photos.
Since our last tour I’ve noticed less Currawongs in the courtyards (the bully boys) and many of the smaller birds have returned and could be heard singing in the trees.
Magpies are still in evidence, and enjoying life alongside Parliamentarians at the House (as PH is affectionately known by locals)
When our tour group arrived in this courtyard, this resident Magpie gave up fossicking for worms, jumped onto the garden chair …moved in the centre, for the best effect, and warbled loudly until he drowned out the tour guide.
My neighbour suggested he was getting paid time and a half for a Sunday…
The warbling Magpie…how could such a small bird makes so much noise!
There are water features in 14 of the courtyards.
These provide cool places to sit in summer and also are deliberately there to dampen down private conversations from other courtyard users. They provide ”white noise”….. hard for people nearby to listen in…..
Perhaps restaurants should think of introducing water features..it would be great to dampen down the neighbouring table!
Four of the water features are supplied with recycled water from a cooling tower.
Parliament House is on permanent Stage 1 water restrictions.
A computer operated irrigation system checks rainfall, evaporation and soil moisture levels, and irrigation occurs based on daily evaporation rates
.The gardens have set a water saving target of 15%.
The original topsoil on Capital Hill was removed during the construction of Parliament House. and the decision was made to use sand based soil on the site.
Our guide told us that sand based soil is good for drainage, compaction resistance, especially for turfed surfaces. It is used in landscapes built on the top of car parks, roofs and basement areas.
However, for plants in sand based soils, nutrients can easily leak through the soil, so the method is to use a controlled-release fertiliser and also to fertilise ”little and often”
The aim of the Parliamentary Gardens is to use less toxic pesticides and where possible use natural predators.
For example: parasitic wasps for scale, Lacewings for aphids, parasitic nematodes and soap sprays.
The horticulturalist spends time in the gardens, looking very much like David Attenborough with a magnifying glass detecting predators amongst the leaves and then releasing bugs to combat the pests.
The courtyard below has beautiful Flowering Cherry trees (Mt Fuji), a gift from Japan
…we just missed a big photo-shoot in this courtyard last week when the blossoms were at their height.
Our guide, Trent said when he began at Parliament House some years ago, the gardeners, and young apprentices were allowed to choose an azalea each, for this courtyard…..no such lassez faire approach these days I’m sure.
The azaleas were still ablaze with colour and a credit to them.
In the courtyard below, the exotic and native plantings work well.
The rich red coloured Rhododendron hedges (just starting to bloom) blend in with the native grasses, which are much easier to maintain, and are irresistible to pass without waving your hands across them..
The tour ended with tea/coffee and scones in the Queen’s Terrace…a lovely end to an interesting morning.
This photo was taken in 2015, but shows the lovely light and colour in the courtyard as a TV crew get ready for an interview.
Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved
This week our thoughts go to all those fighting fires in California. We have shared the terrible destruction and devastation of fires, best wishes to everyone, but especially the fire fighters, and all those who fight natural disasters…… often unsung heroes of our world.