Monthly Archives: February 2016

A desert in the heart of Canberra..

The city of Canberra is by no means a desert, however, at the National Botanic gardens, the stunning Sturt Desert Pea is flowering..

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I’m visiting the National Botanic gardens on a very hot day in February, to look at the amazing Red Centre garden, and then stroll down to the Fern Gully…to cool off..

IMG_0531 (1024x698)The Red Centre garden is designed to showcase the dramatic landscapes, sand dunes and rocky escarpments of central Australia, known as The Red Centre. The soil in the Red Centre is rich with iron oxide which gives it this distinctive colour.

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Central Meeting Place features Indigenous artist Teresa Pula McKeeman’s artwork and evokes Northern Territory women’s ceremonial dancing.

Canberra often has frosty, temperamental weather, so to design and plant a desert garden is, ”a well considered experiment” according to David Taylor, curator of the Botanic Gardens Living Collections.

Desert plants can be seen here that belong in the desert….many thousand kilometres away from Canberra in Central Australia. An area of research in the Gardens is using micrografting techniques to help plants survive in a different climate….. for example the Sturt Desert Pea uses New Zealand’s Clianthus Puniceus as stock….as a result it can survive the Canberra winter.

IMG_0692 (1024x627)David says ”this garden is as much about the landscape and the colours, the textures and the forms of Central Australia as it is about the plants.’

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On this hot day I am very drawn to this beautiful desert pea, what a symbol of life and hope for desert people and travellers.

This flower is named after the explorer Captain Charles Sturt and he is quoted as saying”one of the greatest ornaments of the desert regions of the interior of Australia.”

All flowers are something of a miracle in this desert country

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desert hibiscus

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Gossypium sturtianum Malvaceae

 

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A model of a Thorny Devil (Moloch horridus)

Here is a very life-like desert dragon on the children’s trail… (I can’t help thinking many of my younger students would surely have been terrified of this guy..)

However, this lizard, found in the desert, is perfectly designed to survive the harsh conditions. A system of tiny grooves between its scales channels water from all over its body to the mouth of the lizard. It can drink by just standing in the rain or from dew that settles on its body overnight.

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A water dragon

Here is a much more low-key real life water dragon, very well camouflaged on the rock.

I’m leaving the Red Centre as the temperature climbs to 35 C and going where it is wonderfully green and cool. The fern gully is one of the most popular places in the National Botanic  Gardens on a hot day, and I can see why…this fern gully is rich with stories for another time…

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A bee hotel and a stroll through The National Botanic Gardens in summer

 

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Canberra has quite a few hotels, but this is special…..a timber bee hotel at the National Botanic Gardens, especially made to attract many of the native bees in the area.

(it reminds me of my neighbour’s neat and organised quilting cupboard!)

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To attract a variety of bees the hotel features many different room decors, including hardwood logs and mud bricks drilled with holes, plant stems, fern fronds, and hotel ”rooms” made from cardboard tubes which are packed tight with paper drinking straws, the perfect size for a native bee nest.

The hotel is in a shady spot at the Botanic Gardens, and surrounded by flowers, mostly of the daisy species.

 

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I arrived early in the morning to see the new bee hotel, but I’m also here to join a group who do a garden stroll through the Botanic Gardens every week. One of the first things we do is look at what is in flower….how about this Banksia Victoriae Proteaceae?

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Near the entrance to the gardens is a bust of Joseph Banks, a British naturalist and botanist, who took part in Captain Cook’s voyage to Australia and New Zealand.

He was fascinated with Australian plants, and the plant genus Banksia is named after him.

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The bust of Joesph Banks is surrounded by Banksias, and therefore we are also surrounded by birds.

A Wattlebird is feeding on the Banksia flowers, in branches just above us…..the food must be tasty! Unfortunately, the one thing the Wattlebird objected to was my camera, so no photo…..sadly.

Considering this is mid summer I am surprised at how much is flowering….

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Corymbia filicifolia

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Pandorea jasminoides

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Rhododendron Viriosum Ericaceae

Here is a Lemon Myrtle tree flowering gloriously in the summer sun… when you crush the leaves there is a wonderful scent of lemon…

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Lemon Myrtle white blossom

It is thought that Aboriginal people have always used the leaves for flavouring in food, and this tradition  continues today. The leaves are used in cooking,  to make tea, and are also added to  soaps and used as herbal remedies.

These gardens are a paradise for birds…this lovely Crimson Rosella is busy preening his long blue tail and wishing I would just go away..

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Crimson Rosella

We are back at the entrance of the National Botanic gardens, what a cool and beautiful spot to spend the morning… I have no doubt that bee hotel will be booked out in no time!

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A grand site for a city…

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In 1913 Walter Burley Griffin, a young architect from Chicago was the winner of a design competition for the new capital city of Australia. His wife, Marion Mahony did many of the design drawings for the project. She was the first woman in America to become a licensed architect. They made a remarkable team.

On his first visit to Australia, at the site for the future capital city, Canberra, Walter Burley Griffin told the Melbourne Press,

”I think this is a grand site for a city. Of course I’m pretty familiar with the layout of the land, but drawings and photos can give you no real idea of the contour of the country and its charms

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Views of the Brindabella Ranges from our house on the south side of the city of Canberra.

The morning and the evening lights at Canberra are wonderful.

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The shadows of the clouds and mists as they cross the mountains are very beautiful indeed.IMG_0747 (1024x622)

Walter and Marion believed that good planning and architecture could improve the quality of life of the people living in a city.

With their vision, Canberra is designed to have several town centres,  with corridors of greenery and bush in between, and several small lakes…

Rodney Moss, former Professor of Architecture at the University of Canberra and Director of Cox Architecture says,

”Canberra is a city designed within a landscape setting..”

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It is possible to go rowing before work..

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or keep an eye out for the sleeping cockatoos as you drive to work…

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or walk along the backtracks behind our suburbs..

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The corridors of bush means that wild birds and kangaroos live in a companionable way around  us….

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one of the many young kangaroos watching us as we walk up Mt Taylor

Magpies are part of the family…(sometimes not in spring, but that is another story)

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These parrots visit our cabin in the garden for some unfrozen water in winter …

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In summer our fruit trees are given over to the birds

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They are worth it!

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Early on a hot summer’s  morning the sun shines through the gum (eucalypt) trees…

..as Walter remarked……it really is all about the light.

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Once Walter Burley Griffin had seen the site he said he was reminded of a great American artist, George Innes..

he said every one of his paintings reminded him of Canberra.

Thanks to the magic of the internet, I’ve looked up some of his paintings, and I agree, the light in many of George Innes’s paintings is very similar to the light in Canberra.

Walter never did see his design completed, and he died unexpectedly while working in the north eastern Indian city of Lucknow. Fortunately Marion was at his side when he died, and she did make the journey back to Canberra to see it as a fledging city. …but that is a much bigger story..