In 1911, American Architect, Walter Burley Griffin and his new wife, Marion Lucy Mahony, an MIT graduate, designed what he called his “ideal city of the future.” That city was Canberra, the capital of Australia.
The Griffins had plans for an international arboretum. The area where the Arboretum now stands had cork trees and Himalayan cedars and many other trees. In 2003 devastating bushfires destroyed much of the area, especially the extensive pine plantations.
After the bushfires, the Australian Capital Territory government resolved to replant the land as a “National Arboretum.” After a competition, the winning design by Taylor Cullity Lethlean (landscape architects) and Tonkin Zalaikha Greer (architects) was chosen in May 2005. The winning design, called “100 Forests 100 Gardens,” planned to display forests of rare, threatened or iconic tree species.
“I have planned a city that is not like any other in the world. I have planned it not in a way that I expected any government authorities in the world would accept. I have planned an ideal city – a city that meets my ideal of the city of the future.”
According to The Friends of the National Arboretum Canberra, dedicated volunteers who support the Arboretum, more than 70 forests have been planted already, chosen for their likely survival on the site.
Part of the Arboretum is The Canberra Discovery Garden, a waterwise garden built by ACTEW, the company that supplies energy and water, promotes and manages the use of energy and water to the ACT and surrounding region.
On Sunday, Don Burke, Australia’s favorite gardener, and long-time host of Burke’s Backyard, spoke at the opening of the Discovery Garden in Canberra, on a beautiful summer day.
Speaking to the audience, Burke said “When I look around Australia, I don’t see much that anybody is doing, to restore our joy and happiness in the simple things in life, except this [Arboretum and Discovery Garden].”
Don Burke said the Arboretum and The Canberra Discovery Garden are an enormous credit to the people of the ACT, the government, and the Friends of The Arboretum.
He said we have to water gardens and we have to do it smarter than we used to. We spent 200 years shunting water off our farms and off our land, creating disasters. We need to turn around and master water in Australia.
The first room teaches us about soil preparation, how to collect and conserve water, how to propagate plants. Free talks and workshops explore different irrigation methods, composting, care of soils, garden design and other general garden advice.
The second room showcases plant varieties that can survive in the Canberra region’s climate and conditions.
The third room contains various varieties of turf, and shows methods of water use, given the region’s boom and bust water cycle.
The Canberra Discovery Garden has printed an educational brochure, called “The blueprint for the perfect Canberra garden.” The brochure includes information on how to make your own rain gauge, and how to test for soil moisture. The fold-out back section shows the plan of the garden and provides tips on pots, soil, mulch, how and when to water, irrigation, lawns, compost and feeding.
ACTEW has an excellent section on its website, about The Canberra Discovery Garden.
Fact sheets are available as downloads from the website and at the Canberra Discovery Garden. Plenty of parking is available. In 2012, note that opening times are limited, so please check the ACTEW website.