September 1st is considered the first day of spring down here in Australia. In celebration, I wandered over to the Royal Botanic Gardens, where the new season was certainly putting on a show. I’m making an effort to take myself on a field trip each week and write about it here. One of my biggest fears is that our time here will come to a close and we’ll not have really experienced the place.
I chose the gardens this week as I’m trying to connect physically with Australia, and understand the cycle of nature here. I’ve found in the past that I do form a better connection with a locality once I am familiar with the natural environment. I didn’t grow to love Utah until I read Terry Tempest Williams’ Refuge, and made that journey out to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge myself.
I’m curious to learn about the native Australian plants, and what blooms when. At the Gardens, there is a mixture of native and imported plants, and not all of the plants have identifying markers. I did find it curious that I’m so focused on knowing which ones are natives, because most of the plants I’ve always associated with spring, were not native to the U.S., but rather Europe and Asia. I guess it’s part of wanting to understand the natural environment, the real Australia before Europeans showed up.
Prior to 1788 when the First Fleet arrived in Australia, the land where the Royal Botanic Gardens are now, was used as a ceremonial ground by the Cadigal people. They held initiation ceremonies to mark the coming of age of their young men. When the British arrived they cleared the land to make way for their social experiment, killed kangaroos, and by August had almost depleted fish from the harbor. Farm Cove was planted and houses built up around the area.
In 1807, Governor Bligh had the houses removed, and then when Governor Macquarie and his wife came along, they began building walls and making a private English parkland type area, only available to what he referred to as the respectable class of inhabitants of the area. The Botanic Garden was established by 1816,
The botanist Charles Fraser was appointed Government Colonial Botanist in 1821. After Fraser’s death in 1831, it seems that there was a string of short lived Colonial Botanist assignments. Richard Cunningham was clubbed to death in 1835 after serving for two years. Allen Cunningham lasted less than a year, being appointed Colonial Botanist and Superintendent in February and resigning in December, and died soon after. Then came James Anderson as Superintendent in 1838, until he died in 1842. Nasmith Robertson was superintendent from 1842-1844 when he…wait for it!… died. Is it just me, or does this position seem cursed?
Charles Moore came on as director in 1848. He lasted several years. He also introduced regulations prohibiting, according to the RBG website, “all persons of reputed bad character…persons who are not cleanly and decently dressed…. and all young persons not accompanied by some respectable adult.” It sounds an awful lot like Temple Square in Salt Lake City.
Over the years, many varieties of plants were imported from Europe. The gardens saw an herbarium, an aviary, a zoo, and an insectarium all added to the grounds. The zoo and aviary are long gone. Many of these Moreton Bay Figs remain, which are over 100 years old.
I only touched on a portion of the gardens, completely missing the Cadi Jam Ora, or First Encounters garden walk, where I would have learned about those native species I was looking for. I also didn’t have time to view the herb garden. The Royal Botanic Gardens are free to visit and are open year-round. A variety of events take place in the gardens, and there are free and for-a-fee tours that you can join. There is a lovely gift shop where you can buy Australian native seeds. The park boasts a cafe and a restaurant, and the Growing Friends propagate plants for sale. I’ll be going back for sure!