In a former sand quarry, a new botanic garden has been completed, one that allows visitors to follow a metaphorical journey of water through the Australian landscape, from the desert to the coastal fringe.
Via the artistry of landscape architecture, this integrated landscape brings together horticulture, architecture, ecology, and art to create the largest botanic garden devoted to Australian flora. It seeks, through the design of themed experiences, to inspire visitors to see our plants in new ways.
The completion of the Australian Garden comes at a time when Botanic Gardens world-wide are questioning existing research and recreational paradigms and refocussing new on messages of landscape conservation and a renewed interest in meaningful visitor engagement.
The Australian Garden engages visitors by expressing the love – hate relationship Australian’s have with their landscape. It is embraced or shunned by its people, loved for its sublime beauty or loathed as the cause of hardship. Artists and writers have often been inspired to design or write in response to subtle rhythms, flowing forms and tenacious flora of our landscape, whilst others have attempted to order the landscape, and conceive of it as humanly designed form.
At the Australian Garden, these tensions are the creative genesis of the design, expressing our reverence and sense of awe, the natural landscape, and our innate impulse to change it, to make it into a humanly contrived form of beautiful, yet our own, work.
On the east side of the garden, exhibition gardens, display landscapes, research plots and forestry arrays that illustrate our propensity to frame and order our landscapes in more formal manners, whilst on the west, visitors are subsumed by gardens that are inspired by natural cycles, immersive landscapes and irregular floristic forms. Water plays a mediating role between these two conditions, taking visitors from rockpool escarpments, meandering river bends, melaleuca spits and coastal edges.
Gardens in Australia have traditionally been modeled on European precedents or more recently attempted to recreate the seductive qualities of the Australian landscape. The Australian Garden by contrast uses the Australian landscape as its inspiration to create a sequence of powerful sculptural and artistic landscape experiences that recognize its diversity, breadth of scale and wonderful contrasts. Via these creative landscape compositions, the project seeks to stimulate and educate visitors into the potential use and diversity of Australian flora.
Visitors engage with the botanical collections via an intrinsically interpretive experience. Didactic signage is shunned in favour of a landscape design approach that communicates narratives via experience and immersion. Here design is a catalyst to evoke qualities of the Australian landscape,via abstraction, distillation and sculpted experiences. This design approach captures a heightened experience that does not rely on mimicry, or simulacra.
Designed experiences such as walking across the tangle of a Eucalypt forest floor, or the passage through wind pruned coastal heath, is juxtaposed amongst the order reminiscent of forestry plantations and gardens that evoke the patterns of urbanisation on our coastal fringe. The botanical collection plays a fundamental supporting role in accentuating the interpretive experience.
Here the narrative has informed the composition and the experience reinforces the message. It aims to strike a balance,between abstraction, metaphor and poetry. Not every visitor will take home the same message, as each will have their own experience. It allows many layers of emotional and intellectual discovery.
Walking through the Australian landscape is a journey of constant weaves, shifts and jumps. One never travels in a straight line - the flora gets in the way! This choreography of movement is captured in the Australian Garden, where visitors are taken on a distinctly unconventional journey. Visitors are invited into the landscape via a pathway system that constantly morphs according to the landscape narrative and garden experience. Crusty paths in the Gondwana Garden shift to become over water circular grated plate which connects to a field of stones where the actual path is no longer apparent.
Equally as there is not one linear narrative to describe the Australian landscape, paths in the Australian landscape lead visitors on many journeys and many experiences. This is a garden of discovery, of multiple experiences and of cumulative knowledge.
The New Public
As is the largest botanic garden devoted to the display of Australian flora, the Australian Garden is now host to a vast collection of plants for scientific, educative, and conservation purposes. It plays a vital role in helping scientists and the public understand the history, present day uses and what the future may hold for plants in natural and urban environments. It embraces the importance of biodiversity and our increased understanding of the need to protect species and ecosystems to safeguard the world’s biological heritage.
The Australian Garden however performs another role, one as the new public realm for an ever expanding city. Messages of biodiversity and sustainability are integrated into its role as a new major visitor destination where not only do visitors come to explore the plant collections but to also be entertained, through interactive workshops, music, cinema, markets, cafes and play.
A Rehabilitation Strategy
The Australian Garden is located in a former sand quarry that had denuded the vegetation and exhumed all traces of soil. Rather than importing new soil media, the design team, working with horticulturalist and designer, Paul Thompson, asked how could the design and selection of florarespond creatively to this challenging site condition. The outcome utilizes 170,000 plants across 1700 species all adapted to this challenging site condition, with species selected not only for their suitability to low organic media, but also their adaptation to low water utilization and drought tolerance.