Tag Archives: dogwood trees

Parliament House Courtyard Gardens in spring…

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.











Spring courtyard gardens at Parliament House

A magpie warbling is such a wonderful spring call, and I know the warble is supposed to be territorial, but I choose to believe this little magpie is warbling away out of the sheer joy of being alive….IMG_0233 (640x480)and because he had hit the jackpot in places to live…he has found the inner courtyard gardens of Parliament House in Canberra.

New Parliament House has 17 hidden courtyards, only open to the public during spring celebrations.

IMG_4740 (640x450)In 1988, Joan Child (the Speaker of the House) suggested some gardens be made in these courtyards, to create peaceful areas for Parliamentarians and staff to take time out and rest during busy sitting sessions of Parliament. Many of the courtyard gardens reflect Joan Child’s love of azaleas, rhododendrons, and camellias.

IMG_0214 (640x480)

The courtyards, in spring, are an explosion of colour against the white walls. Garden beds of azaleas and Canterbury bells, backed by rhododendrons, behind weeping cherry trees and silver birches.

IMG_0220 (640x480) (640x480)

The dogwood blossoms are a stunning view from the corridors of Parliament House, and the Mt Fuji flowering cherry blossoms are a gift from Japan.


IMG_4753 (640x480)IMG_4757 (640x480)

Despite the severe frosts in Canberra, the courtyards provide a micro-climate enabling black birch trees, a golden rain tree, and Jacarandas to survive.

It would be a treat to see all the trees during the changing sessions.There are Coral Bark Japanese Maples, a scented Magnolia, two Linden trees, some Chinese Elms, a Honey Locust trees, some Red Maples from Canada…


Most of the gardens are designed for simplicity and functionality. For example, when the division bells rings, members can move through the courtyards quickly without having to go around too many garden beds.

IMG_4779 (640x480)

Japanese box hedge and sea scape grass

IMG_4775 (640x480)

IMG_4774 (640x480)

gum trees on the outer edges of Parliament House, being trimmed.

Birds and moths love the abundance of food the courtyard gardens create. As I have mentioned in my post ”The Bogong moths bring down the lights at Parliament House” these moths arrive in huge groups in the spring time, and are very attractive food for the bete noir of all birds…the currawong!

A few years ago the gardeners planted Heuchera ”Chocolate Ruffles” as ground covers in various parts of the gardens. They are known to be low maintenance and suitable for Canberra’s harsh climate.

Unfortunately the Bogong moths love to settle in the plants and were soon spotted by the cunning and ever present currawongs. One currawong would fly down onto the Heuchera bushes, and the disturbed moths then fly up as a squadron of currawongs fly down to feast on the Bogong moths…..the plants in the process, are badly damaged.

This gives me a chance to end with my favourite photo, care of William Betts (c) 2015Birdlife Australia….. the boys are back in town…… and they are at Parliament House.

Grey Currawong (C) William Betts 2015 www.birdlife.org.au