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The Australian Garden at Cranbourne

Diana Snape

It is difficult to know where to start when commenting on the 'Australian Garden' - it is such a huge project. Created on the site of an old sand quarry and surrounded by natural bushland, the newly completed first stage covers 11 hectares out of a final total of 21 ha. There is the overarching, complex design and then all its separate component parts, each worth a description in its own right. So far 100,000 plants (including 2,000 trees), representing 1,000 species and varieties, have been planted. Careful research identified the most suitable organic matter to be added to help the sand retain nutrients. Much of the planting is highly experimental, using many plants that have been trialled but have not been in cultivation before. It will be fascinating to see how they prosper. In contrast, all plants used in the five quarter-acre display gardens (designed by separate designers) must be currently available from nurseries. The aim here is to encourage and enable members of the public to plant these in their own gardens.

I'd just like to comment here on the central theme, which I think is very well chosen - the role of water in the Australian landscape. This is represented in the Garden in a highly stylized way. To the left of the attractive visitors' centre is a vast area of red sand (obtained from just down the road!), with curved sand ridges ('lunettes') along one side and sparsely placed, circular gardens of blue-grey salt-bush. Beside this is the dry river bed leading to a sculpture (flat on the ground) representing a series of ephemeral lakes (or wavy-edged salt pans). This is in front of the visitors' centre. Then to the right, a group of low, bubbling fountains in a shallow pool spring to life erratically. They are designed to produce an intermittent flow of water down the 'rockpool waterway', where slightly raised, sawn stone squares of three different heights create a wonderful rippling effect in the water. Alongside this on the left is the massive 90 metre 'Escarpment Wall' sculpture in red rusted steel. On the right are the five display gardens. Finally (in this stage) the water falls into a body of water called 'The Waterhole'.

A serpentine path climbs up from this water level to the arid garden, with curved, blobby (Leunig-style) beds and fascinating plants. A pathway completes the circuit through five successive gardens, each featuring one type of eucalypt (stringybark, bloodwood, etc), past the dry river bed on the left. The design of the whole Garden is based on landscape rather than botanical classification and I think is the richer for this.

Finally, watering in the Garden depends on a complex, computer-controlled irrigation system. In the arid garden, yet another role of water presented itself, when an impervious clay layer hidden under the sand caused initial drainage problems. Extensive drainage had to be introduced to this area.

Lots in this Garden for members to write about later with respect to both design and plants!

From the newsletter of the Australian Garden Design Study Group, August 2006. Visit the Study Group's website.

For further details see the Australian Garden web site.

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Australian Plants online - 2006
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants