FIONA’S WINTER BLOG, December 2015


Having just returned from a trip to Australia, I am particularly aware of how the seasons and different weather can influence both landscape and gardens. Wandering round botanic gardens and forests in Brisbane, Darwin and Alice Springs was a transition from the sub-tropical to a tropical and then arid climate as summer – or the wet season as far as Darwin is concerned – get under way across eastern Australia. It was quite a novelty (and very draining) to be able to be able to appreciate such vast landscapes and look at bright blue sky through the bare branches wearing summer clothes and to be very thirsty rather than cold or wet!.

Olive Pink Botanic Garden, Alice Springs

At one stage, I overheard an American visitor comment that there was not much to look at when visiting the Olive Pink Botanic Garden on the outskirts of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. While I understand that for many people gardens are synonymous with flowering trees, shrubs and other plants, I hope that one day the gentleman concerned may ponder more on the amazing tenacity and artistic nature of these plants and also the inhospitable rocky desert terrains within which they survive. The picture above is an attempt to capture the delicate textures and shapes of some native trees, amidst which the metallic artwork or plant climber looks somewhat incongruous, grouped together at the same botanic gardens.


During a subsequent visit to the lands of an aborigine family we saw how even more artistic nature can be in its raw state. It was also interesting to be able to see in situ the sorts of plants which sustained the aboriginal, animal and birds populations for thousands of years. The ‘widgety grubs’ (as featured in the reality show I’m a Celebrity, get me out of here!) are found among the roots of one the denser shrubs. Other plants cater for practical needs from baskets and walking sticks to medicines, as well as musical instruments, hunting weapons range from the infamous ‘boomerang’, designed to flush out the prey to more complex weapons and are harvested to create a sustainable balance between nature and mankind.

Aborigine estate south of Alice Springs

Finally, it is worth noting how the botanic collections and garden designs throughout Australia are now evolving. For example, alongside literature encouraging visits to ‘historic gardens’ created by European settlers a hundred or more years ago, ‘native planting’ is being embraced with new gardens being created to celebrate the continent’s rich horticultural heritage and landscapes while recognising the need to maintain a diversity of habits and landscapes which will hopefully also help sustain wildlife and reflect climatic conditions. On this note, I look forward to a New Year seminar at which the English National Trust speaker will be assessing the heritage significance of plants in cultivation in botanic and historic gardens[i].

[i] The  seminar is part of a early evening series on Plant Introductions and perspectives on their importance and survival run by at the Institute of Historical Research the University of London’s School of Advanced Study. More information is available at or email

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