From mangroves to mountains, without either (yet)

The staff, Friends and many supporters of the Gold Coast Regional Botanic Gardens will, in time, establish a mangrove grove in Lake Rosser as part of their grand plan to express every kind of vegetation from the Gold Coast to the green hills nearby. The lagoon at the other end of the gardens, pictured here, is already showing off some distinctive local plants, as well as an unwanted fern in the form of a Salvinia carpeting the water surface.

Lake Rosser, on the other hand, is an area 'ripe' for botanical improvement. You can see it this next picture, with some typical Gold Coast housing at the back. What you can't see is the 1.5 kilometre pathway behind me, already showing off a colourful butterfly garden and whispering she-oak forest (featured in the photographs at the end of this post).

For a botanic garden built on a coastal plain, creating a mountain is a tall order. Still, the gardens have a couple of vantage points, one with a demountable housing the Friends' offices and shop, plus a new coffee cart that I can recommend for a cup of Mexican, fair-trade beans turned into a very nice double ristretto (with a dash of hot milk…).

I was on the Gold Coast for the weekend as keynote speaker for the national conference of the Australian Friends of Botanic Gardens. There were about 100 of us there, from botanic gardens all over the country (although interestingly only two representatives from New South Wales, my friends the Fletchers from Orange).

The conference was a lovely mix of the practical (e.g. how to build a herbarium), the new (e.g. apps) and the whimsical (ah, that must be my talk on a new set of seasons for Australia). You can see the full program here.

The Gold Coast Regional Botanic Gardens is plonk in the middle of the extensive Gold Coast city, about six kilometres from the surf. It was opened in 2003 and I (first and) last visited in 2008, to plant a tree in what is now called the Curator’s Walk. I couldn’t remember which was my tree so got photographed next to a healthy looking Syzygium moorei which, as luck would have it (as confirmed by a photograph sent to me last night by Alan Donaldson; that's me with the shovel, and Lesley Kirby and Steve Forbes enjoying the incongruity of the situation) seems to have been the species and perhaps specimen I planted. Although I should add that other pictures show a bit of shared responsibility in the planting...


Kate Heffernan (prominent at the conference) and fellow plant enthusiasts formed the Friends of the Gold Coast Regional Botanic Gardens in 1989. This group is very much the driving force behind the garden, although they now have the support of a part-time curator funded by the Council, Liz Caddock (with a PhD from the Jodrell Laboratory at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew no less). Together they are bringing to life the landscape plan of Lawrie Smith, creative mind behind nearly all the regional botanic gardens as well as a couple in New South Wales (and even some later additions to the Singapore Botanic Gardens).

Only 11 years since their first community planting day the garden already contains plenty of fascinating species and interesting collections. The plans include an expansion of the local flora collections and an even greater emphasis on plants used by local Aboriginal communities. On the day I arrived there were a few hundred school students participating in the Drumley Walk, a project linked to fostering the local Yugambeh language, sure to feature strongly in the next Commonwealth Games (our conference started with the national anthem sung in Yugambeh and then English).

There are some trees they don’t want, like these Camphor Laurels, remnants of the farmland hedges (that’s why they are multi-stemmed from low down – lots of heavy pruning) and an environmental weed up this way. But mostly it’s about planting. Every Arbor Day, in particular, community groups gather to create yet another botanic display.

At 31 hectares and with such an enthusiastic Friends group - although the conference proves, if proof was needed, that similarly passionate groups exist all over Australia (and I know from experience that the lack of Friends from Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens doesn’t reflect any lack of passion or enthusiasm there) – there is the potential to do some great things here. Already it’s a must-see on the Queensland Botanic Trail.

Here a few pictures from the Mangrove to Mountains trail - the butterfly garden and the she-oak forest - and two snaps of a Brachychiton in flower and fruit. And no, I don't know whether this species is from coast or the mountains, or somewhere entirely different. I haven't even tried to identify it...too busy enjoying the botanic gardens.