Tuesday, 29 June 2010

We are Their Sex Slaves

This weekend (3 & 4 July) the Orchid Society of New South Wales will demonstrate why orchids have enslaved us to pollinate and propagate them. The opulent blooms of orchids will be on display in the Tropical Centre at Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens.

Mid-winter is a surprising time, to many, to have a flower show. Then again we could also be hosting a spectacular camellia show at this time of year.

In addition to the flowers themselves, you can get growing tips from experts and buy a wide range of species and hybrids.

Our Media Release (I wouldn't dare be this florid, would I?) says "Bathe your senses in sweet-smelling sprays of white Coelogyne (Plantain Orchids) and on-the-nose clusters of Bulbophylum (Bulb Orchids) that smell like rotting meat and look like accessories for a Mardi Gras costume.

"Cymbidium (Boat Orchids) will be blooming in hot orange, gorgeous golds and dusky Edwardian pinks. The displays of Phalaenopsis, so named because of their resemblance to swarms of colourful moths (Phalaena), will include the latest in miniature hybrids.

"Befriend a Paphiopedilum (Slipper Orchid) with its curious heeled flowers, mottles and stripes. It’ll be as happy in your home as on the forest floor. Grab a Dendrobium (Tree Orchid) to dangle from a hanging basket or windowsill pot."

What I will do, is gratuitously include a few snaps I've taken recently of orchids. (And for the origin of the line about sex slaves see an earlier post.)

At the top, a bowl of Phalaeonopsis in the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens. Below, a purple Miltonia hybrid in a glasshouse in the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin (Dublin) and a white roadside orchid from out of Killarney, at the other end of Ireland.

If these excite you, wait until you see the real thing?
What: The Orchid Show,
Who: Hosted by the Orchid Society of NSW and the Botanic Gardens Trust.
When: Sat 3 – Sun 4 July, 10 am – 4pm
Where: Sydney Tropical Centre, Royal Botanic Gardens
Entry Cost: Adult $5.50, Conc./Senior $4.40, Family $11
Enquiries: 9231 8125

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Environmentally Unfriendly Organics

The pedantic hemisphere of my brain gets irritated by people saying they ‘don’t use any chemicals’ on their garden. What they mean of course is that they don’t use chemicals produced by human chemists.

Most people who ‘don’t use any chemical’s are happy to slap on a range of substances called ‘organic’ or ‘natural’. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for using chemicals that are not exceedingly toxic when applied and are more likely to break down quickly and not leave toxic residues.

In general, this includes most things we consider organic. So that’s good. But do take care. The best thing is to put up with a few bugs nibbling your leaves but in some cases this will mean no food for you or a particularly unattractive garden. This is when many people resort of potions and lotions.

A study by Professor Rebecca Hallett and PhD student Christine Bahlai from the University of Guelph, in Canada, found that sometimes a quick, sharp attack on a nasty bug with a human-produced chemical can be better than lathering a plant in apparently harmless ‘natural chemicals’.

As their media release puts it “Consumers shouldn't assume that, because a product is organic, it's also environmentally friendly”.

Because we often need to use higher doses of organic products to kill anything, say Hallett and Bahlai, they can have a higher environmental impact than conventional pesticides.

Six different pesticides were tested on soybean aphids, a serious pest of soybean crops in North America. Four of them were ‘synthetic’ – that is, we made them. Two of these were described as conventional, of the kind commonly used by farmers. The other two were new products, designed to reduce environmental impact.

The two organics were a mineral oil-based pesticide and a fungus that infects and kills the aphid.

To assess the impact of each pesticide (and you’ll note that the plant oil and fungus spread are still technically pesticides because they kill pests!) the Guelph researchers measured runoff and leaching rates, toxicity to human skin, toxicity to birds and fish, and so on. They also tested whether the pesticides killed predators of the aphids, like ladybirds, the ‘good bugs’.

Taking all this into account the mineral oil organic pesticide had the biggest net impact on the environment. The oil works by smothering the aphids and this requires a very heavy application.

In addition, the mineral oil and the fungus solution were less effective because they also killed the good bugs, reducing this important regulator of future aphid growth.

The researchers conclude that we should make our selection based on the total environmental impact ‘rather than if it’s simply natural or synthetic’.
Less elegantly but quite correctly they stress that ‘policy decisions must be based on empirical data and objective risk-benefit analysis, not arbitrary classifications.

If you want to read more about the study, it’s published in the open-access journal PloS One.

Image (by Jaime Plaza): The Palace Rose Garden in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens where we no longer use ‘nasty chemicals’. Although we are using predatory wasps to control aphids, we do apply a ‘low toxicity’ mineral oil to control Black Spot. It’s a complex business!

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Ordinary Plant Growing in Yass Garden

Joseph Maiden - Director of Sydney's Botanic Gardens between 1896 and 1924 - was enthusiastic about Australian plants, particularly eucalypts, but also rather fond of confers generally and anything from the Canary Islands.

You can enjoy the fruit of Maiden's plant passions, so to speak, in the plantings from his time still growing in the Royal Botanic Gardens. If you like conifers, there are plenty of Agathis, Araucaria and Pinus species.

From the Canary Island flora we have the Dragon Tree (Dracaena draco), Mirbeck's Oak (Quercus canariensis) and less well known species, Picconia excelsa.

The Picconia came to my attention recently when botanic garden consultant (and among other things the brain behind the great Alice Springs Desert Park) Mark Richardson wrote to Phil Moors at Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne and myself to ask about our records of this species. Mark was assisting the National Arboretum in Canberra in looking for new additions to their collection.

Mark found Picconia excelsa growing at Hamilton Hume's cottage near Yass, and already knew it from Camden Park. He wondered if Hume had sourced his specimen of Picconia from Camden Park as he had done with other plants.

We looked into our database and found that the older of two specimens in the Royal Botanic Gardens possibly dated back to Maiden's time. It's growing in one of the large rectangular beds near the Wollemi Pine on the 'traffic island'. These beds themselves date back to the start of the botanic garden in 1816 but we don't know if the plant in question came originally from Camden or was sent to Maiden from overseas.

The other specimen is near the gate opposite the State Library (Morshead Fountain Gate) and was planted sometime after the Cahill Expressway separated the Domain and the Royal Botanic Gardens in the 1950s. It was probably propagated from the Maiden tree. You can get more precise information about these locations at our Tree Information site.

So what is Picconia excelsa? It's in the family Oleaceae, along with the olive (Olea), Ash (Fraxinus), Jasmine (Jasminum) and Ligustrum. The flowers are small and white, and the fruit black. In its native habitat in the Canary Islands and Portugal, it is under threat due to destruction of its habitat.

In Australia it is an uncommon planting, but I notice from my web searching there is a century-old specimen in Eastern Park, Geelong. Mark Richardson notes that it is surprsing it isn't grown more widely given its hardiness in Melbourne, Sydney and...Yass.

That said, it's a pretty ordinary looking plant albeit with quite nice glossy leaves. The photo at the top (from our Tree Information site) does justice to this ordinariness.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Kerguelen’s Land Cabbage*

Sir Joseph Hooker
(Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew from 1865 to 1885, President of the Royal Society and recipient of numerous honorary degrees and medals) was so taken as a child by seeing pictures from Captain Cook’s visit to Kerguelen Islands, that he remembered thinking ‘I should be the happiest boy alive is I would see that wonderful arched rock, and knock penguins on the head’.

Luckily Hooker became a botanist and when he finally visited the French-administered Kerguelen Islands he was keener on finding new plants species. Kerguelen Islands, all 300 of them, are about 5,000 km south-east of Africa. The main island is more than 6000 square km but the rest are much, much smaller.

Cook had recorded only 18 species of plant on his 1776 visit. Hooker collected 30 species on his first day ashore and over a few months he made a list of 150 species, although he was also collecting lichens, mosses and the less conspicuous ‘plants’.

Curiously the flora is more similar to that of South America than Africa due to historical connections with Gondwana, but there are a few links to New Zealand.

Hooker was most excited by a plant called Kerguelen’s Land Cabbage, Pringlea antiscorbutica. As the species name suggests this plant was eaten, as a vegetable, to help prevent scurvy.

Hooker remarked that is almost seemed to have been ‘planted by Nature’s hand for the poor mariner’ – there were not other plants that looked similarly edible on the island.

In correspondence with Charles Darwin, Hooker asked the obvious question – why didn’t this distinctive plant grow on lands older than this one formed by a volcano? Clearly it had become extinct elsewhere, part of the process of natural selection documented by Darwin. It was later found on other subantarctic islands such as Heard Island.

So what is this Land Cabbage? Well, it’s actually a kind of cabbage. At least it is in the cabbage family, the Brassicaceae.

It’s such a windy place that the insect pollination used by most cabbage relatives is too difficult and the plants are self-pollinating. This means there is less variety and less options for adaptation should the environment change, although rabbits are its biggest threat at the moment.

Surprisingly for a plant that grows naturally at 50 degrees south, an article on the Australian National Botanic Gardens website suggests we could probably grow Kerguelen’s Land Cabbage in much of Australia.

The botanic gardens in Hobart struggles to grow it in subantarctic conditions so I think it would be tough one to grow here, but perhaps Mount Tomah would be worth a try. We do of course have plenty of other cabbage family relatives in our Herb Garden at Sydney, and some in our ornamental gardens like the Rock Garden at Mount Tomah.

For further reading on Hooker and his travels, see Imperial Nature by Jim Endersby (The University of Chicago Press; Chicago).

*This Passion for Plants posting will also appear on the ABC Sydney website (under 'Weekends' or search 'gardening'), and is the gist of my 702AM radio interview with Simon Marnie on Saturday morning, between 9-10 am.

Image: The Rock Garden at Mount Tomah with plenty of cabbage family plants but no Kerguelen's Land Cabbage

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Blooming Bloomsday

A gentleman watering the garden at the Forty Foot Bathing Place in Sandycove, near the Martello tower in which James Joyce stayed, and Ulysses begins.

"Under the upswelling tide he saw the writhing weeds lift languidly and sway reluctant arms, hissing up their petticoats, in whispering water swaying and upturning coy silver fronds."

Joyce is of course talking about seaweeds rather than garden weeds. Amongst the seaweeds today were a few hardy locals.

And these people. No, I don't know who they are or what they are doing.

The Mortello, built to defend Ireland from Napolean, is today the home of the James Joyce Museum. Today (16 June, Dublin time), particularly, home to many people making the pilgrimage to Dublin to celebrate Bloomsday.

And finally, a bust of the man himself. It's a cast taken from the bronze sculpture by Milton Heband on Joyce's grave in Zurich. These are just a few images to celebrate 16 June 2010, beginning with a garden so that I can post them to Talkingplants...

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Fotos from Fota and Other Irish Gardens

Don't blame me, this is botanical humour from the National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin. Actually I think it's funny.

Before and during the 4th Global Botanic Gardens Congress I've been able to visit a few gardens in Ireland, all of them with large collections of species from around the world as well as a few local gems. Warning, botanical names and brief travelogue follows...

Muckross House, part of Killarney National Park, was built in 1843 and is now looked after by the local National Parks and Wildlife Service. It has plenty of interesting gardens and trees, including early Lawson Cypress, Rhododendrons and large Pinus radiata (which all might sound mundane in Australia but which looked good here in southern Ireland).

Nearby to the house are largely intact, very old forests, with Irish Strawberry Trees (Arbutus) dating back 1000 years. Also oaks (most oaks in Ireland are hybrids but only in these more natural areas do you get the pure species), Yews and lots of introduced Chinese plants -Rhododendron ponticum is a bad weed throughout southern Ireland but very pretty!

This is a tract of old more or less natural forest.

We stopped by the road on the way to Glengarriff and looked for wildflowers, finding Drosera and Pinguicula, also heaths, Sedum and a white orchid.

This picture is of the insect-eating Pinguicula in flower.

At Glengarriff we caught a ferry to Garinish Island (Ilnaculllin). This 15 hecatre island was bought and turned into a garden by Annan and Violet Bryce in 1910. They got Harold Peto to design the garden and brought in all the soil and plants, as well as water supply. The sheltered location and warmth from Gulf Stream means that a wider range of plants can be grown here than elsewhere in Ireland – including Huon Pine, Tree Ferns and lots of other plants from around the world. George Bernard Shaw spent time in the cottage writing in 1923. Other than the cottage there are the remains of a Martello Tower built after the 1796 French invasion. The landscape is Italianate with some 'Robinsonian' influences of the time.

Fota Aboretum and Garden is near the coastal town of Cobh (the place the Titanic last touched land before sinking). Fota homestead and garden was built in 1840s by the Smyth Barry family but like yesterday’s island, is now in State hands. There is an extensive collection of trees from around the world but also very pretty formal gardens.

Mount Congreve
on the River Suir in County Waterford is a 280 ha estate which has been in the Congreve family for three centuries. The current owner is 102 and when he dies it will come to the State – without money to run it I gather. About 14 horticultural staff are employed to look after the 32 ha formal gardens with huge collections of Rhododendron (3,500 species!), Magnolia, Camellia (650 named varieties) and Japanese Maples. Also a very pretty Peony border. Most of the Rhodos were finished but you got a sense of how spectacular it would be in spring.

Finally, the National Botanic Gardens at Glasnevin, in Dublin. This is where the congress is being held. It was established in 1795 by the Royal Dublin Society but not opened to the public until 1878 (i.e. well after the Botanic Gardens in Sydney was open to visitors, albeit the better class of people in Macquarie’s time). There are 17,000 species displayed, about the same as in our three botanic gardens. Lovely collections of conifers and local rare species, but also some quirky bits such as step Wittgenstein sat on.
This selection of photos (including one at top of post) is a bit obscure and most of the garden is drop dead gorgeous and...botanic gardeny...

Friday, 11 June 2010

London Squared

Before I leave London physically, and interwebly, a couple more images of odd and charming gardens I encountered.

I picked up a brochure called 'Open Garden Squares Weekend', which clearly and unfortunately for me refers to the weekend (12-13 June). London Parks & Gardens Trust opens up more than 200 gardens on 12 and 13 June.

The Trust has a particular interest in 'squares' and communal gardens but some of these are private gardens open for the first time. Anyway, as I said, I can't see them. Instead I took in a couple of similar styled, little gardens.

The picture at the top of the posting is St Dunstan in the East, not far from Tower Hill. St Dustan's doesn't exist any more as a church - it was destroyed during the second world war I think - but the remains form a lovely backdrop for a small garden among your typical city blocks.

Bunhill Fields Burial Ground is a cemetry of course. It houses famous people such as William Blake, but it also has one of the prettiest settings of a cemetry with the gravestones set among some wonderful London Planes and other trees.

The final one is far newer. Barbicon is a housing estate and arts precinct not far from these two other gardens, with some fascinating garden settings between the buidings. This is just one of them. Notice too the flowers in pots along the sides of the buildings.

And finally, not a garden but a quote I'm going to use in my talk on...seasons!...at the Global Botanic Gardens Congress in Dublin. This is from a copy of Dr Samuel Johnson's dictionary displayed in his home in Gough Square, where most of the dictionary was compiled. I had the opportunity to visit here again on my way to other places so of course I dropped in and looked up 'spring'. Actually I knew already what is said from the interweb...

Thursday, 10 June 2010

London Calling...Gardeners

First of the garden stops was Holland Park in Kensington. Sports ovals, avenues, wild areas and formal gardens, all higgledy piggledy. Wonderfully relaxing and great local parkland.

However the pictures I've provided here are of Chelsea Physic Garden and The Garden Museum.

I've visited Chelsea Physic Garden before, but not for many years. As you can see from the sign, Chelsea is the second oldest 'botanic garden' in England.

It was as I remembered it - small, prim and charming. The picture at the top of the posting and the ones below are those that appealed to me.

There is certainly a love of order.

They are also fond of Carl Linneaus, and why shouldn't they be. Something old, and something new...

And I liked the lichen on a board display - very cute!

The Garden Museum is a little odd.

Again, charming (perhaps that's true of every English garden). The spade wall is a small part of a small exhibit of gardening memorabilia.

At the moment they have a special display on Christopher Lloyd: a Life at Great Dixter but due to the complexity of the building (a church) and the large number of people eating lunch almost everywhere in it, I somehow left withouth seeing it.

Although the Church and its garden were saved in 1977 after the tombs of the plant collectors Tradescants were found there, for Australians it holds other noteworthy bones, those of Governor Bligh.

The gardens around the tombstones are both charming and odd, but I liked them.

And so to Dublin...

London Calling...Scientists

I'm out of Sydney for short while and on my way to the Global Botanic Gardens Congress in Dublin. This congress is held every three years and we hope to hold it in Sydney in 2016, the bicentenary of the Botanic Gardens Trust.

After landing in London this morning I've tried to stay active (and awake) by visiting a few gardens and natural history museums. I won't bore you with all the details but thought a few images relevant to plants and science would be appropriate.

In this posting I'll including some pictures from the latest addition to the Darwin Centre wing of the Natural History Museum, including 'The Cocoon'.

Our new PlantBank will borrow a few ideas from this Centre, such as putting scientists out on display - unfortunately you can't feed them through the glass.

The exhibits were fascinating and most of them worked well. I liked the scientist talking about publishing scientific papers and peer-review. The voice over said yes she had had papers rejected and it didn't make her very happy. But on a brighter note, acceptances are 'really exciting'.

Next post will be the gardening side of the day...

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

$15 Million Investment in Mount Annan Botanic Garden PlantBank

Today's NSW State Government budget included $15.5 million for the construction of a new seedbank and scientific facility at Mount Annan Botanic Garden. You may not hear about it today but we'll promote it more widely tomorrow. This is exciting news.

PlantBank is the first of our Botanic Gardens Bicentenary projects, a selection of scientific, conservation and landscape improvements to the Botanic Gardens Trust's three botanic gardens and Domain leading up to 2016.

The total cost of PlantBank will be $19.8 million, with $4.3 million to be raised by the Botanic Gardens Trust and Royal Botanic Gardens Foundation over the next few years.

Here is some background information gathered for our media release, to be issued tomorrow morning:

"PlantBank at Mount Annan Botanic Garden will safeguard the future of our precious plant species through ‘seed-banking’, research and information-sharing. It will bring together the best science and the best scientists to recover degraded landscapes, generating new knowledge for better conservation planning and responding to climate change.

The 2800 square metre PlantBank building constructed over the next three years at a total cost of $19.8 million will be a model of sustainable design, including thermal-efficient underground vaults where millions of seeds will be deep-frozen as the ultimate insurance policy against loss of biodiversity. It will be one of the largest seed banks in the world, and the biggest native seed bank in Australia.

Under carefully controlled conditions most Australian seeds can be preserved for decades and in many cases centuries. For those that can’t, like many rainforest species, we need research urgently to find ways to preserve seeds for future restoration projects.

Up to half the world’s plant species may be under threat of extinction. In Australia over ten per cent are already listed as endangered due to land clearance, introduced weeds, feral animals and diseases. Climate change is likely to increase this number substantially as plants are unable to adapt to increased temperatures as well as intensifying drought, flood and fire patterns.

PlantBank’s stored seeds will not only provide a insurance policy for our flora, they will provide the raw material for research in its state-of-the-art laboratories and glasshouses.

Knowledge of how, when and why seeds germinate, and the conditions under which plants will or will not grow and disseminate seed, is critical in developing effective strategies to protect our State’s biodiversity.

We still have a long way to go in understanding the extraordinary, sometimes bizarre, mechanisms that Australian plant species have evolved to survive this harsh land.

When disaster does strike and it is necessary to revegetate degraded land or reintroduce species that have become rare or extinct in the wild, the stored seeds and knowledge of their survival strategies offer the most immediate and cost-effective protection against species extinction and the resultant collapse of ecosystems.

The facility will be a hub for a broad range of conservation and other plant research from Botanic Gardens staff as well as collaborators from local and international universties. It will draw together experts in many disciplines
to study our rich and valuable native flora.

PlantBank will also usher in a new generation of research facilities in Sydney where visitors can interact directly with scientists. Viewing glass into labs, indoor and outdoor classrooms, and interactive displays will allow locals and tourists to Western Sydney to become our next generation of scientists, conservationists and environmentally responsible citizens.

During its construction, PlantBank will create 123 jobs for the Macarthur region. The forecast economic benefits over the next two decades are four times ($64.8 million) the capital investment.

Although PlantBank will be built from new, the science of PlantBank will build on the impressive collections and research of the NSW Seedbank at Mount Annan Botanic Garden and the preserved and living collections held on in the Royal Botanic Gardens and Mount Tomah Botanic Garden.

Working out of sub-standard and aging temporary facilities the NSW Seedbank has collected seeds from almost 40 per cent of the 5800 seed-bearing plant species native to NSW. It is a partner of the Millennium Seed Bank Project, a global effort to collect, research and store all the world’s seed-bearing flora, based at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew UK

PlantBank will allow an expansion of innovative conservation research on the rainforest species of New South Wales and Queensland. Occupying only 0.3% of Australia’s land mass, rainforests are treasure troves of 50% of its plant diversity.

Most rainforest species cannot be seedbanked using traditional methods of drying. PlantBank facilities will include technologies such as cryo-preservation, where material is stored in in liquid nitrogen at temperatures of minus 196 degrees celsius. Popular with American billionaires hoping to be revived after death, cryo-preservation may be the only hope for many Australian rainforest species."

Image: An artist's impression - what PlantBank will look like in 2013.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Mao's Botanical Contradiction

I don’t know what to make of this. I don’t really understand it and I don’t think it is science. But it does involve plants, so I can a talk about it here.

Last year my son Jerome completed an honours thesis in the Arts Faculty of University of Sydney titled Hong Kong, the Final Struggle: Marxism, Imperialism and the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front 1982-1997. Not much to do with botany I’ll grant you.

But…Chapter One is about Mao Zedong (Tse-tung)’s Law of Contradiction(s) and his belief in ‘materialistic dialectics’. Now, as I said, I don’t really get this but here is how Jerome explained it to me (and why it has something to do with plants).

“It is probably offensive to your scientific sensibilities, but Mao believes that all motion (in nature, society or even thought) is the result of the struggle between two halves of a contradiction” says Jerome.

He quotes Mao as saying that “Simple growth in plants and animals, their quantitative development, is likewise chiefly the result of their internal contradictions.” According to Jerome, Mao doesn't say what exactly is in contradiction within plants – my son suggests that scientists should deal with that – but he (Mao) holds a strong conviction that things external to the plant, such as climate and geography, are not the primary reason for growth. In Jerome’s interpretation of Mao, these external factors are the 'condition' whereas contradictions are the 'cause'.

I still didn’t get it and made disparaging remarks about Mao’s botany. Jerome said it wasn’t just Mao, but all Marxists of a certain vintage that held these views. Apparently Lenin, though, was quite confused by it all.

In a final attempt to explain this theory to me, Jerome quotes from Fredrick Engels’ 1877 Anti-Dühring, which he says he oddly and fortuitously found on his home bookshelf.

Engels says, according to Jerome: “Let us take a grain of barley. Millions of such grains of barley are milled, boiled and brewed and then consumed. But if such grains of barley meet with conditions which for it are normal, if it falls on suitable soil, then under the influence of heat and moisture a specific change takes place, it germinates; the grain as such ceases to exist, it is negated, and in its place appears the plant which has arisen from it, the negation of the grain.

But what is the normal life-process of this plant? It grows, flowers, is fertilised and finally once more produces grains of barley, and as soon as these have ripened the stalk dies, is in its turn negated. As a result of the negation of the negation we have once again the original grain of barley, but not as a single unit, but ten, twenty or thirty fold.”

The ‘negation of the negation’ is the key concept for materialist dialectics, according again to Jerome. And Jerome believes this is what Mao was referring to when he said plants develop according to contradiction. Jerome does say that it is unclear whether Engels sees the main 'cause' of development as contradiction as Mao does, but in both cases progress results from contradiction or two processes cancelling one another out.

So now you know. This may explain lots of things, but not, I suspect, how plants grow.

Image: Pictures of communist leaders on the wall of a home in southern China - Mao Zedong is at the far right...

Friday, 4 June 2010

Botanical Window to the Blue Mountains*

The Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Exhibition Centre, aka GBMWHEC, is about to open and we expect it to draw in thousands of new visitors to Mount Tomah Botanic Garden each year. This Centre will be a door, and a window, to the nature of the Blue Mountains.

It’s a joint partnership between the Botanic Gardens Trust and NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service to provide an information and exhibition centre for natural wonders of the Blue Mountains World Heritage area. A complementary Centre focussing on the cultural aspects of the World Heritage area is being built at Katoomba.

The building extends out from the existing Visitor Centre at Mount Tomah Botanic Garden, taking full advantage of the views across the Blue Mountains back to Sydney.

Inside, a company called Mother’s Art have worked with Trust and Parks staff to create an innovative exhibition all about the plants, animals and geology of the mountains.

As Mother’s Art put it, they have created a “simplified interpretation of the natural form”. So you get a sense of the heights of the trees, the intimacy of a slot canyon, as well as the wonder to be found in nature up close and personal.

There are five themes in the exhibition: World Heritage, the lives of trees, nature’s stars (rare plants and conservation), Work of Aeons (the land and its history), and tread lightly (the future).

In walking through you should get a sense of the hazy Blue Mountains, the lush green after a rain, the warm striated colours found within the walls and stone, and rich textured layering of eucalypt bark. All this and when the video screen withdraws you look out over a spectacular view of the Mount Tomah Botanic Garden and the Blue Mountains natural forests.

A bonus in having this Centre in a botanic garden is that we can create a landscape outside to add to the experience. The building has a ‘green roof’, and is surrounded by plantings evoking the feel of vegetation in the Blue Mountains.

You’ll also be able to learn a little about the plants species themselves, arming yourself for a bushwalk in the 1 million hectare Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area with its 100 eucalypt species and hosts of other fascinating plants and animals.

*This Passion for Plants posting will also appear on the ABC Sydney website (see 'Weekends' or search under 'gardening'), and is the gist of my 702AM radio interview with Simon Marnie on Saturday morning, between 9-10 am.

Images: Simon Marnie peering into the Centre through a skylight and planting out the roof with local species.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Growing Young Talent

Back in November 2008, not long after I started this blog, I was invited to the New Zealand Young Horticulturalist of the Year competition in Auckland. My report back then was brief, and picture-less - not really doing justice to a fun competition with a big impact on the horticultural industry.

(And I didn't even mention that my after dinner talk in Auckland was all about how we removed and replaced ten Moreton Bay Figs in Sydney's Domain in 2004, amid a barrage of misplaced abuse and criticism. I took the opportunity while on the other side of the Tasman to set things straight. But that's another story.)

Today I want to promote the second year of Australia's answer to the New Zealand Young Horticuturalist of the Year, the...New South Wales Young Horticulturalist of the Year. The inaugural winner, Matt Donaldson, was announced in October last year at the Gardens Restaurant here in Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens.

The Australian Insitute of Horticulture, in conjunction with the former Ryde School of Horticulture Student Fund, has again organised and funded the competition, offering a winning prize valued at $10,000.

You can enter if you are a 'young horticulturalist' (under 35 years old) and about to graduate or have graduated recently (in the last two years) from the TAFE system. I think you need to be based in New South Wales and/or have studied in New South Wales (if unsure about your State of Origin category contact Tim Jackson at email below...).

Your study can be in any kind of amenity horticulture, including 'nursery production, retail nursery, landscape constructio and mangement, arboriculture, natural area restoration, turf management, landscape design, and parks and gardens'.

The idea is that you present a project to the judging panel that will be of benefit to the horticultural industry, is achievable in 18 months and is a little bit different (technically 'important, unique or different').

Not only do you get the chance to bring this project to life but you get public recognition as the Young Horticulturalist of the Year, training in marketing and presentation and some pretty good contacts in the horticultural industry.

Applications are now open, closing on 31 August 2010. If you want more information see the Australian Institute of Horticutlure website or contact Ms Tim Jackson at glasshouse10@gmail.com.

Image: Some of the New Zealand finalists preparing for Hortisport, the finale of the 2008 competition, including laying concrete and laying out a fruit platter.