January is pretty much the only time of year anyone working full-time in horticulture or garden design can go on holiday for a reasonable amount of time – well, with a clear conscience at any rate! So this year I took the plunge and headed off to Australia for a few weeks. I’ve been a number of times before so my trip was mainly about catching up with friends in Melbourne, Sydney and northern New South Wales. I thought I’d share some images of plants and design which sum up what I enjoyed this time around.
My abiding memory of Melbourne in terms of the great outdoors was the vast swathes of Agapanthus planted everywhere. What to us in the UK is a highly desirable, almost exotic plant is basically a weed in parts of Australia – growing on roadsides and railway tracks. One of my friends referred to it as a ‘roundabout plant’. Well it beats Cotoneaster hands down in my opinion!
Up towards Queensland on the coast I took a shine to a very pretty plant which was growing in the sand dunes right next to the beach. I have no idea what it is, but it can certainly put up with some pretty strong winds and sea spray. If you can tell me what it is I’d love to know.
In the height of summer bush fires are often a serious concern and this summer was no exception. A beautiful area of bush in the Kuringai-Chase National park just north of Sydney was on fire two weeks after our visit. Eucalyptus trees are a lovely sight but their oil makes them highly flammable in times of drought and high temperature.
Frangipani trees were in full bloom during my stay. They form small umbrella shaped trees and the flowers are beautiful.
And another tree that I have really grown to admire over various visits to Sydney are the majestic Moreton Bay Figs which can be found around the city. I have stayed in Rose Bay on a number of occasions and the Figs there line the streets casting valuable shade – especially when the temperatures get over 40 degrees C!
A grass I always admire but can’t overwinter here is Pennisetum rubrum – it was thriving beautifully in Sydney Botanical Gardens making me very envious.
And the bamboo there is colossal! Another group of plants which we struggle to grow outside in most parts of the UK are succulents. The Botanical Gardens has an area dedicated to succulents and I particularly like the Corten steel sculpture which provides a fantastic backdrop for the plants and sets off their colour perfectly.
On the subject of sculpture, the Museum of Contemporary Art was showing the work of Anish Kapoor and I particularly liked his ‘Sky Mirror 2006’ on the harbour side of the Museum.
I also visited Cockatoo Island which is a relatively new attraction for the city. The island was originally used to house convicts and has since been used primarily for shipbuilding but also as a girls’ reform school. It’s now a tourist attraction and the site has been landscaped to incorporate some of the former shipbuilding machinery which have been positioned as sculptures amongst new planting schemes. It’s a powerful example of blending old and new.
I was also impressed by the blend of old and new at Paddington Reservoir Gardens where the former reservoir (which dates back to the 19th century) has been restored and turned in to a sunken garden for the public to enjoy. Steel, aluminium and concrete have been added to existing wrought iron, timber and brickwork to create a really interesting outdoor space. A Victorian style fern garden and a contemporary pool lend the space a calm atmosphere.
One thing that struck me in a number of public spaces I visited – and which is sadly lacking in the UK I think – is that visitors are invited to pull up a chair (at no cost), hug a tree or have a picnic on the lawn. And let’s face it, outdoor public spaces are meant to be enjoyed after all!