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The Royal Botanic Gardens Cranborne

January 30, 2013

The Royal Botanic Gardens Cranborne is not simply a brand new botanic garden – a rarity in itself – but one with a radical new design.  The design concept is based around water, its absence, its regenerative potential and its use in Australian domestic gardens.

RBG Cranborne: Artwork in the Water Saving Garden

RBG Cranborne: Artwork in the Water Saving Garden

Australian’s are one of the highest water users in the world but the country has one of the driest climates.  Cranborne has been planned for many years but it was particularly poignant that its opening in 2006 coincided with one of the worst droughts in this part of Australia for many years.

The garden is a project of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, who have long wanted to put on display the full diversity of Australian plants but didn’t have the space or optimum growing conditions at their central Melbourne site. Cranborne is a showcase for these native plants, but it is also an educational resource, demonstrating how domestic gardens can be both ornamental and low in water use.

Designed by the landscape architect’s Taylor & Cullity, it could not be more different from its companion garden in Melbourne, with it Victorian heritage of lawns and flower beds.  At its centre is the Red Sand Garden, a vast expanse of red ochre coloured sand that is inspired by the landscapes of central Australia.  It is more like a huge piece of land art than a traditional garden feature (especially as it is not an area that visitors can walk into, only around).

RBG Cranborne: The Red Sand Garden

RBG Cranborne: The Red Sand Garden

Within the sand are planted areas.  There are circles of Hedge Saltbush, which mimic the hummock-forming Spinifex grasses (Trioda) of central Australia, and a line of Xerochrysum bracteatum ‘Dargan Hill Monarch’, which turns an intense yellow when in flower.  An impressive ceramic sculpture completes the aesthetic appeal.  The amoeba-like shapes of Ephemeral Lake, by Mark Stoner and Edwina Kearney, resemble the salt-encrusted residues remaining when water has evaporated from the hot Australian earth.

The route around the garden is like a ‘journey’.  It is a journey that goes from dry to wet areas and from native plantings to exhibition gardens.  This journey takes in the Eucalyptus tree in all its glory, a Dry River Bed, an Arid Garden, a waterway and a huge ‘Hortarsaurus’.

RBG Cranborne:Sculptures

RBG Cranborne: Ephemeral Lake Sculpture

The Eucalypt Walk highlights the diversity of this beautiful and iconic Australian tree.   Adjacent to this is the Dry River Bed, with plants growing on curved bars of sands, as if in the bed of a dried out river in central Australia, including Beauty Heads and Noon-Flower.

The journey continues through the Arid Garden, with many fine examples of Emu Bushes  and the amazing grass trees (Xanthorrhoea).  These amazing and extremely slow-growing trees are protected by law and the larger ones here were dug up under licence from sites intended for development.  A Serpentine Path leads to the Rockpool Waterway, where water enters through stones before tumbling down four waterfalls.  Next are the Exhibition Gardens, where the varied designs show the creative visions of different landscape architects.

Grass Trees (Xanthorrhoea)

Grass Trees (Xanthorrhoea)

The Kid’s Backyard has a giant ‘Hortarsaurus’, a dinosaur-like structure made out of logs, where a ramp leads through the creature to a treehouse and up to a lookout with views across the garden.  The Home Garden shows Australian domestic garden design from different eras – a 1950s garden, a heritage garden, a contemporary backyard – but uses native plants instead of exotics (exotics here means plants like azaleas and roses).

RBG Cranborne: 'Hortarsaurus'

RBG Cranborne: ‘Hortarsaurus’

The route leads back around to the starting point at the superb visitor centre.  The timber building utilises the latest sustainable development principles and blends in well with the surrounding landscape.  It is intended as a threshold between the designed landscape of RBG Cranborne and the surrounding remnant bushland.

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