Garden Visits

Canberra Botanic Garden

a walking tour

November 16, 2009

I haven’t met a Banksia I couldn’t kill in my Portland garden. Looks nice in Canberra, though. This is Banksia spinulosa var collina.

Australia is a vast country – the sixth largest country in the world – and – depending on whom you ask – is home to an estimated 15,600 – 20,000 species of vascular plants (a category which excludes fungi and lichen).

Go to visit almost any native garden in Australia, then, and you will have an encounter with an immense number of plants that totally confound your ability to memorize them. That has been my experience so far, anyway. I thought I had a fair grasp on a good number of Southeastern Australian native plants. But, as is often the case, the more you learn, the more you realize how little you actually know.

For one, many plants are amazingly similar in both foliage and flower. There are rafts of medium sized shrubs with flaky brown bark, tiny needle-like leaves and sprays of boxy little white flowers. Also, squidzillions of bushy shrubs with thick, waxy, blade-like, olive green leaves. I cannot count all the shrubs with spidery red or orange flowers (this includes many Grevillea and Telopea.) And let’s not even start on the complexities of distinguishing between the hundreds of Eucalyptus species!

So while this trip the other day to the Canberra Botanic Garden was ecstasy-inducing – with the heat, the heady scent of resinous-leafed Eucalyptus and minty Prostanthera and the surreal, mellifluous calls of wattle birds, magpies, and bellbirds filling the air – it was also intellectually humbling. Australia is an immense continent with a richly complex geologic and botanical history and no matter how often I visit and how much I think I know, I still find I have much to learn about Australia’s native plants.

Here are some photographic highlights from a scintillating four-hour ramble around the Canberra Botanic Garden. Picture yourself walking through the shimmering heat and bright, all-enveloping light and drinking in the sounds and the scents of the Southeastern Australian bush – and maybe you’ll forget that it’s raining – again – in Portland.


Melaleuca decora – a magnificent tree to look up into from below


I spent a lot of time on these groovy benches, admiring the silky gum tree (Eucalyptus) trunks.


Eucalyptus grove


Grevillea trifida


It practically took threats to extract me from this part of the garden. So much to see!


Red bottlebrush (Callistemon), species unknown, but looks like C. citrina


The grass tree is something of an icon of Australia, as the genus (Xanthorrhoea) is endemic (only grows here) and has, um, a rather distinctive form. This fascinating, primitive-looking plant usually flowers – and therefore reproduces – after a bush fire.

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