Desert Drama at Cranbourne Botanic Gardens

The Australian Garden in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Cranbourne Victoria, turned my ideas of native gardens upside down, with its dazzling evocation of the Australian landscape and plants. Its 360 hectares include heathlands, wetlands and woodlands, providing habitat for native birds, mammals and reptiles, including rare and endangered species. I visited one winter afternoon, as the waning the sunlight silvered the edges of the mass plantings and highlighted the shapes of the sculptural elements of the garden.

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The moment you enter the Australian Garden your eyes must adjust to a remarkable vista: an undulating expanse of vibrant red sand, dotted with grey-green-silver plants in rhythmic geometric shapes, circles of saltbush and crescent shaped mounds with the occasional rambling Sturt’s Desert Pea. Wildflowers, trimmed into waves beside the desert, provide seasonal flushes of colour.

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This garden was designed by Taylor Cullity Lethlean Landscape Architects with Paul Thompson. Kate Cullity looked at botanical patterning and rhythms, and the relationship between landscape and culture. Perry Lethlean used “abstract thinking, then picturing”, to plan a way for people to move through the space and experience it to the full. Paul Thompson interpreted the Culllity and Lethlean’s vision, identifying and placing plants to suit the conditions and the story.

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“In Australia there are more rivers of stones and rocks than of water” says Cullity.

The Diversity Garden presents a variety of native plants from various climatic zones in Australia. The Water Saving Garden shows how to group plants with similar water needs and choose plants which require minimum watering.

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The Future Garden features unusual plants and novel mulches.

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The Home Garden shows several gardens featuring native plants for some common types of homes found in Australia.

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The Kid’s Backyard uses natural plant materials recycled into a children’s play area.

The Eucalypt Walk features well known eucalypt species, the Ironbark Garden, the Box Garden, the Peppermint Garden, the Bloodwood Garden, and the Stringybark Garden. Huge flat rocks invite exploration.

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The Rockpool Waterway and Escarpment Wall are inspired by the waterways and escarpments of central Australia, such as Uluru and Kings Canyon.

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In a stone-paved channel, water sparkles and splashes down a slope.

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On one side, towering walls hold back the desert.

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Crossing lakes, climbing up hills and down valleys, leads you to a secluded place of weird and wonderful plants scattered among massive rocks.

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You step across water on artfully designed lily pads and arrive at the “coast” with clipped melaleucas set on spits at the edge.

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I love the strength and resilient power of the natural landscaping materials- great sheets of weathered steel, slabs of lustrous metamorphic rocks and craggy sandstone, dry “rivers” of waterworn pebbles and cobbles, concrete in blocks and organic shapes, which perfectly complement the subtle beauty of the native plants.

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This is a truly remarkable garden.

To read more about the team that created this outstanding garden, get hold of a copy of “Garden Voices – Australian Designers, Their Stories” by Anne Latreille,published by Bloomings Books. Available through Diggers Seeds.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Its great to see more photos of this garden. I’ve admired it in books but the number of photos are always very limited.

  2. janesmudgeegarden says:

    I was sorry to miss this garden when we were last in Melbourne, so thanks for your wonderful informative post.

  3. tonytomeo says:

    Australia, as well as New Zealand and South Africa, seem to take their natives more seriously than we do in our native gardens. Although we do have some nice native gardens and arboretums, they tend to portray the same sorts of plants that happen to be trendy at the time while ignoring other natives that are more practical for home gardening. It is always the same grungy looking coyote brush, ceanothus, and chaparral plants that I do not recognize. None of the trees are featured. There is so much more to show off that what we see.

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