Canberra is 103 years old in March 2016 ….a young city just finding its place in the world.
There are many birthday celebrations through the month of March, and one of the biggest events is ”Balloons Afloat”
Here we are at dawn waiting for the giant balloons to fill with air and be fired up into the sky..
Some balloons are taking off without any trouble, but there is not much wind this morning…
….and some of the cuter ones are having trouble floating off.
and some stayed up just long enough to give the kids a thrill…
Looking at all the families around enjoying this early morning start to Canberra day I can’t help thinking of all the turmoil in the world at the moment, and yet, how much ordinary people all over the world really just want to be able to live peacefully with their families and communities.
The dawn on the lake is very gentle this morning, as the poet Mary Oliver says ” softest of mornings, hello.”
We are off to our favourite little café in the city for breakfast. This café has a healthy herb garden and even a pumpkin vine heading out and over to the road. You can’t trust a pumpkin to behave well in a garden bed, never mind a city bed!
I think the Chicago planners, Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony would have been happy to see a garden in the city, that was part of their dream.
What great good fortune to live in a peaceful city.
I’ve come back to the National Botanic gardens of Canberra on a beautiful summer morning, and all the more sparkling because we’ve had some steady rain last night for the first time in a month.
The Rainforest fern gully was created in 1960 from a naturally occurring dry gully with a few eucalypts, shrubs and grasses….and as I step into the cool shaded area today it is hard to believe it was ever dry..
The lower end of the gully begins with Tasmanian cool temperate rainforest plants..and gradually changes to the warm temperate rainforest of northern NSW and south eastern Queensland
…as I follow this path I’m effectively walking the entire east coast rainforest of Australia in ten minutes!
To create this gully, fast growing wattles and eucalypts were grown, and 2000 fine mist sprays installed to keep the humidity high…
the understory has small trees, fallen branches and ferns..
Now a canopy of tall plants, like an enormous umbrella protects the ferns below from the direct sun, heavy rain, drying winds and frost…all of which can happen in Canberra.
I expected to find some birds in the gully, but the rain and soft sunshine has sent them out to the Banksia and Grevillea bushes….a little bird flew into the ground cover and stayed there, forever it seemed, I guess a whole small world of activity is going on in there…
Here is a New Holland Honeyeater having breakfast at the Banksia café..
As good luck would have it, just as I headed for the car park, some noisy Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos arrived..
Unperterbed by cars and people nearby, one of them began burrowing into the tree, possibly looking for grubs to eat..
In no time at all he has almost disappeared into that hole….
… so his mate is coming over to see what it is all about
The city of Canberra is by no means a desert, however, at the National Botanic gardens, the stunning Sturt Desert Pea is flowering..
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..
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.
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.
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.’
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
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.
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…
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!)
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.
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?
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.
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….
Here is a Lemon Myrtle tree flowering gloriously in the summer sun… when you crush the leaves there is a wonderful scent of lemon…
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..
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!
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
The morning and the evening lights at Canberra are wonderful.
The shadows of the clouds and mists as they cross the mountains are very beautiful indeed.
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..”
It is possible to go rowing before work..
or keep an eye out for the sleeping cockatoos as you drive to work…
or walk along the backtracks behind our suburbs..
The corridors of bush means that wild birds and kangaroos live in a companionable way around us….
Magpies are part of the family…(sometimes not in spring, but that is another story)
These parrots visit our cabin in the garden for some unfrozen water in winter …
In summer our fruit trees are given over to the birds
They are worth it!
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.
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..
Recently the National Arboretum of Canberra opened new walking tracks and these have already become very popular with walkers in Canberra.
The Arboretum has more than 48 000 trees in 100 forests, and has been under development since 2003.
We started at a midpoint along the track…..at the top of Dairy Farmer Hill….seen in the distance in this photo. The Village Centre is on the right, the Margaret Whitlam Pavilion on the left, and a grassy amphitheatre for concerts in the centre.
Standing at the top of Dairy Farmers Hill is a sculpture called Nest III, welded from discarded steel objects, mostly abandoned farm machinery found on farms around the region. The artist is Richard Moffatt.
While we were there a magpie was feeding her chick perched on the nest alongside that formidable looking eagle. Nice to see.
This is a view of three of the forests below our path, leading down to the Village Centre.
Here is the purple-leaved Smokebush. Jackie French, a well known gardener and writer in Canberra once said that the Smokebush in her garden was the most asked about plant in her extensive garden!
The Smokebush is a garden hybrid and is widely used in parks and gardens, particularly for colour contrast.
In spring, fruits begin to form, hidden amongst a network of fine fluffy stems, giving the effect of clouds of coral pink smoke, hence the name Smokebush. During November the ”smoke” will turn dark red, and the stems will loose their fluffiness as the tiny dark red fruits appear.
As we walk down the hill we come to the Saharan cypress, considered to be endangered, with only 230 naturally occurring trees known to exist. In the Sahara, nomads shelter under the trees and their herds eat fallen cones, which in turn leads to fewer cypress trees growing.
The guide with me was pleased to see cones appearing on one of the trees, a sure sign they have adapted to life in Canberra!
Just before we reach the Village Centre we come to a forest where the trees are commonly called Judas Trees, or European Red Bud. This species grows in the Middle East and southern Europe, in woodlands, on stony arid slopes, and along banks of rivers. Here they are surviving well on a sloping part of the hill.
There is a long standing belief that Judas Iscariot hanged himself on one of these trees, thus the name, but it could also have come from the French common name, Arbre de Judee, meaning the ”tree of Judea” referring to the hilly regions of the country where it is most common.
As we arrive at of the Village Centre, I took a photo of the beautiful stone walls with Acacias and grasses growing happily in the front. Very low maintenance!
There is an lookout right next to the Village Centre and these two beautiful trees were planted nearby.
I was not surprised to see they were the oldest Japanese black pines grown in Australia from imported seeds, and styled as Niwika, similar to Bonsai.
Meanwhile, on this sunny spring day, a family is already taking advantage of the grassy amphitheatre to fly a kite.
As part of the spring festival in Canberra, many Embassies have opened their doors and gardens to the public, and South Africa is one of those Embassies.
The South African Embassy is one of the oldest in the diplomatic circle in Canberra. The beautiful Cape Dutch building was established in 1956, and the gardens were designed at this time. The elegant buildings and grounds reflect the era in which it was built.
It is surprising these lovely long lawns have survived the drought. Nowadays many embassies, including this one, have very large water tanks to store rain water. Some years ago, Canberra suffered 10 years of drought, and since then there have been permanent water restrictions for watering gardens.
However, this year we have had plenty of winter rainfall and everything is looking very green and lush.
The Galahs have found some tasty seeds in the lawns of the Embassy, and, a Magpie is making a nest in one of the many trees nearby.During nesting times, Magpies become very territorial, and I’m watching her, watching me…..
In the front of the building is a wonderful bush full of proteas, the emblem for South Africa. My mother spent her childhood in South Africa, and she felt homesick every time she saw a protea…(or a Red Hot Poker, or Flame Lily)
The plants in the garden are a mix of those that grow well in Canberra and those that represent South Africa..
and some flowers that seem to have strayed in from Monet’s garden…
We visited South Africa a few years ago and enjoyed the markets, the colourful fruit and vegetables and the lovely fresh food served in restaurants…….
As one of the South African waiters said to me…when I mentioned that she had given me a very large serving….
“‘ What are you worrying about?……you can go on a diet when you get home….”
I’m using this logic today at the Embassy cupcake stall…even though home isn’t very far away.
As part of the spring celebrations in Canberra, many of the Embassies open their doors and gardens to the public. The Japanese Embassy is a favourite for Canberrans, and their sushi making and open gardens tours were booked out within 10 minutes of being on offer!
Unfortunately it was not a sunny day for photos, but nonetheless, it is easy to see how lovely these Cherry trees are!
As we were lining up for the tour, we noticed a very cute family of ducks crossing a busy road between the Embassies. The parents were shepherding the ducklings very carefully and soon disappeared under a little gap in the fence of the Japanese Embassy….they knew they were safely home!
The tour began with sushi making. The husband and wife team, Mr Sadanori Noda and Mrs Tamami Noda are the chefs working at the Japanese Embassy in Canberra. They were owners of a well known restaurant in Japan, and have travelled all over the world, teaching and cooking.
Mr Sadanori said that when he was a child sushi was a special treat and he was pleased that it has now become so widely available. However, this was a chance to show authentic Japanese-style sushi. He gave a clear demonstration using seaweed wrapping, sticky rice (special non-stick gloves…new to me) and filling of avocado and smoked salmon.
Mrs Tamami Noda showed us how to make a simple egg sushi, using a lightly pan-fried egg which was then used to wrap some tasty sushi fillings. It looked very simple and easy, especially in the hands of professionals!
We had a chance to practise with our chopsticks, and to perfect the art of holding them properly. Before starting to eat our own sushi, we had to move the small white beans from one container to another…..no pressure though! My excuse for coming (almost) last was…I had to take a photo of it !!
Once we had finished our delicious sushi, we were taken on a tour of the garden. Our guide asked everyone to be very careful of the duck family who have chosen to bring up their ducklings in the Japanese Embassy pond… a lovely addition to the tranquil surrounds.
The gardens were created by the famed Japanese landscape designer, Juki lida, (he also created the Seattle Japanese Gardens) and they took nine years to complete. Fifty tonnes of rocks and boulders were brought from Japan and distributed around the garden. A pond and teahouse were built amongst the boulders, shrubs and rocks. The teahouse is used for traditional tea ceremonies and special Embassy events during the year.
A stream runs through the gardens with rocks on either side….Irises and Mondo grass framing the borders of the stream.
Juki lida’s design was to create a 3-D effect, hedges and shrubs are cut at different levels to give balance to the garden.
The colours and different types of shrubs are spread throughout the garden so that, even in winter there is a never a bare or stark area within sight.
Below is a Photinia bush, grown frequently in Canberra because it is extremely hardy, drought and frost resistant. For many years we have grown them in our garden as screening or shade bushes/hedges, and I have always regarded them as ”the pack horses” of the garden…they do all the hard work, but with very little attention. I was interested to see this one clipped so skilfully, and under planted with azaleas. Perhaps it is time to take the secateurs to our Photinias…
A wonderful hour was spent learning new cooking skills and being inspired by the garden, thanks to our gracious hosts from the Japanese Embassy.
…..and I’m coming back on a sunny day to get some more photos of those beautiful Cherry trees!
Lake Burley Griffin is at the heart centre of Canberra, and it comes alive in spring……the warmth, the flowering trees, shimmering lake and most of all….on behalf of all Canberrans….good morning sunshine!
I hope you will follow me through the next few months of gardens and festivals in Canberrra, including Floriade, some Embassy gardens, Parliament House courtyard gardens and some productive suburban gardens.
Every year, Commonwealth Park, on the northern bank of Lake Burley Griffin, hosts the biggest horticultural event of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere…a spring festival, Floriade.
An amazing one million bulbs and annual seedlings are ordered before Christmas. There are, typically more than 70 varieties of tulips, and a range of daffodils, hyacinths, ranunculus, Dutch Iris, interspersed with pansies, violas, poppies, and a variety of daisies.
There is an almost year round preparation for this event. The Floriade theme for the year is decided about 18 months beforehand. This year the theme is Reflections, a tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Anzac landing at Gallipoli.
Andrew Forster, the head gardener says this theme is very close to his heart, as his grandfather’s two brothers were at Gallipoli.
Preparation begins in earnest in February, the areas are marked out and the paths made around the beds. Agricultural pipe is used for drainage under the beds, and a base of organic soil is spread about 15 cm deep over the growing areas. This is levelled, then patterns are marked out with pegs.
In March the planting of one million bulbs begins! They are placed on the soil and covered with an additional 12cm of soil mix. This mix has a fertilizer added to enhance growth. The annuals are then planted on top…..in total about 2700 cubic metres of soil mix is used to create the beds.
During the month long festival not all the bulbs come out at the same time, but annuals are planted between the bulbs to keep the colour and design clear and vibrant.
I noticed the gardeners have planted some parsley in between the hyacinths and the pansies ….what better plant to keep a rich green colour all month long and it is totally unaffected by wind and frosts.
In fact in this photo the parsley seems to be better behaved than some of those renegade bulbs nearby…
An automatic irrigation system with a diluted liquid fertiliser is pumped over the gardens every three weeks, and all the beds have secure netting and fencing to protect them from wildlife.
Although Commonwealth park is five minutes away from the city, the gardeners have to look out for ever present rabbits and possums, not to mention bats and birds…….what a job!
Fortunately we only found this elegant kangaroo nearby…
Two weeks before the event begins, the barriers are removed and the team of gardeners weed and tidy the beds. I wonder if the gardeners do round the clock watching for pests during those two weeks ? ….I hope they don’t come across the cockatoo who flies through my garden lopping new shoots from roses…just for the fun of it.
This festival is a great tribute to Andrew Forster and his team of fantastic gardeners.
In 2003, devastating bushfires swept through Canberra. I’m sure I speak for most Canberrans when I say this was the most frightening, and challenging experience of my life. For a long time afterwards, Canberra was a place of charred black earth, withered trees and the smell of smoke and charcoal.
It is hard to believe that from such devastation could come a place of such sweeping beauty, the new National Arboretum Canberra.
Walter Burley Griffin, the designer of this city always envised an Aboretum in the planning of Canberra. However, by the time Griffin arrived in Australia in 1914 Thomas Charles Weston had been appointed as afforestation officer, and he and Griffin differed on tree species selection and planting priorities. Later, Griffin, faced with continual opposition from bureaucrats, resigned from his government position in December 1920.
However, Arboreta, as part of Griffin’s design was gradually developed, beginning with the early plantings at Westbourne Woods and Weston Park. In the mid 1950s a substantial arboretum at the western end of the lake was established, and in 2001 was named Lindsay Pryor National Arboretum. However, the 2003 bushfires stripped the neighbouring hills of pine plantations and, the ACT government, took this opportunity to develop what has become the National Arboretum Canberra. This was a centenary gift to the city by the ACT government. We now have an Arboretum from the lake to the hills, with urban forests, woodlands, open grassland and formal parks.
More than 48 000 trees have been planted in the 100 forests on the 250 hectare site, many rare and endangered. The Arboretum was offically opened in 2013…10 years after the bushfires. Now we have a mosiac of fledgling forests, a venue for outdoor performances, an education and research centre..not to mention an amazing playground. In the words of Katy Gallagher, the chief minister officially opening the Arboretum..
”this site has emerged from the ashes of the catastrophic bushfires to be transformed into a place of beauty, tranquility, recreation, research and learning.”