I had an interesting garden day last weekend. I had been on a flying trip to Melbourne to assist a company developing a new computer system for the Wairarapa Archive. It had been a very hectic couple of days with long hours and concentrated effort, and I was looking forward to a day off before flying home. My hosts told me I would like the new botanical garden in the suburb of Cranbourne which I could easily reach by a short train ride and a quick walk.
I should have looked at the maps before I left, but I jumped on a suburban train and we took off south – for over 45 kms before reaching Cranbourne railway station. I had not anticipated the train ride taking over an hour, but I was more flummoxed by the complete lack of signage telling me where the garden was. To make things worse, Cranbourne is a pretty little town - about the size of Carterton I would say – with a six lane highway running through the town, and the first two people I asked had no idea where the garden was.
I eventually found a kind lady who pointed me in the right direction – through the town, past the racecourse, and a few country blocks further on you’ll find the gateway – from there it is another couple of kms! Luckily I had put my walking shoes on so I set off, walking through a lovely crisp late winter afternoon – for about an hour and a half.
It was worth it though. After wandering along a road through bush land, and hearing and seeing all sorts of bird life and the odd bandicoot, I arrived at the heart of the 363 hectare area, the recently planted Australia gardens, with its marvellous concentration on the many indigenous species that make the island continent’s flora such an interesting one.
The centre of the garden is a huge red sand garden, designed to replicate the red interior, planted with circles of saltbush. In spring there are flushes of bloom from wildflowers. Arranged around the central feature are a number of themed gardens, with a dry riverbed garden, an arid garden, and a variety of Eucalyptus gardens, each reflecting a different aspect of the Australian environment. There are at least five different Eucalyptus areas, with trees that have only been planted in the past few years, but it is already starting to assume a mature aspect.
I was interested to have a look through the various exhibition gardens, most of which are designed to educate local gardeners to use more plants that are suited to Australian conditions.
There are some extraordinary plants on show, as well as a few interesting sculptures. I particularly liked the electric blue sculpture designed to encourage people to think about how much water they are using in their gardens, and about ways to use water better.
Among the gardens I particularly liked where those that featured plants I knew we could grow in New Zealand. Among those that were in flower (bearing in mind that this is not the best time of the year to go garden visiting!) was the rosy pink Grevillea ‘Sylvia’, a quick growing hybrid form that will grow to nearly three metres if left to its own devices. These large flowered Grevillias have huge flowers that look like large racemes of stamen, quite unlike the spidery flowers of the smaller flowered types.
I had not seen ‘Honey Gem’ before, but was very taken with its large golden flowers, and its nice ferny foliage. It is apparently not so hardy as ‘Sylvia’ and it also grows quite a bit taller, so it might be best left for the back of the border.
It pays to give all Grevilleas a bit of a trim before you plant them, especially these taller forms which have a more open growth habit, as it tends to make the plant develop a thicker way of growing.
I was taken with a couple of Banksias too, especially the startling B. menziesii, which I hesitate to write about as I know it is hard to grow. Like all the best Banskias, it grows wild in Western austrlia, and demands very particular growing conditions – perfect drainage for a start, dry summers and the warmest place you can find to grow it. It bears lots of fabulous pink and yellow cones through autumn and into winter. It is a very popular plant for the cut flower trade, and you will see it in lots of overseas television programmes. We used to sell a few of this plant to discerning Wairarapa gardeners, and I have seen some that have established well in stony places, and if you have the right conditions, this would ,make a spectacular addition to the garden. I noticed that it attracted lots of honeyeaters too, so I guess the tui would like it.