A Hobart gem

Sunday, 01 April 2018

Lily pond at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, Hobart

Whenever I am in a different city, I feel magnetically drawn to the local botanic gardens. For me, they give such a powerful sense of the place that I am visiting. Recently I was in Hobart, my first time back there for 40 years, and on the very day of our arrival, we found ourselves in the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens.

Mature golden elm in the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, Hobart

This is the second oldest botanic garden in Australia, and this year it is celebrating its bicentenary. I found it to be an utter delight. It is situated on a gentle slope leading down to the Derwent River, of which there are many glimpses throughout the garden. The overall impression at first glance is of paths meandering between lush, rolling lawns and enormous majestic trees creating a serene landscape. Cleverly nestled within this broad landscape, however, are the many highlights of the garden, encapsulating aspects of the history of Tasmania, its botany and the sociocultural dimensions of gardening in this part of Australia. The mature cool-climate trees are simply awe-inspiring, enough to make a Sydneysider want to weep. They provide such a sense of age and history, as well as giving structure and a sense of protection to the garden. Some date from the very early days of the establishment of the gardens. Some of those I stopped to admire were a 150-year-old Sequoiadendron giganteum, a cork oak (Quercus suber), and some stunning golden ashes and golden elms.

Fernery at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, Hobart

There is a great display of endemic Tasmanian plants, including the famed Huon pine tree (Lagarostrobus franklinii), one of the world's longest-living organisms, with a potential life span of more than 3,000 years; local tree ferns (Dicksonia Antarctica) feature in an enchanting fernery. The plants illustrate the diversity and beauty of the local native flora from regions varying from the alpine to the coast, and so different to our own.

Macquarie Island cabbage, Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens, Hobart

Of particular interest to me was a special subantarctic plant house, containing some of the plants found on Macquarie Island, a Tasmanian territory 1500 km south of Hobart. This chilly, windswept island has some unique flora - not only the mosses, lichens, liverworts and low tussocky grasses one would expect from its climate but also some interesting 'mega-herbs', such as the Macquarie Island cabbage (Stilbocarpa polaris, ht 1 m, pictured at left), which was used as a source of vitamin C by sealers who lived on the island in the 19th century; nowadays it provides habitat for nesting seabirds. There are several major vegetation communities on Macquarie Island, each of which is represented in the display. The plant house is kept at 7 degrees, blowing moist, cold air to keep the plants happy - though I have it on good authority that it is neither as cold nor as windy as the actual island! Audio recordings of the local wildlife (such as penguins, skuas, albatrosses and elephant seals) and the ever-present wind add to the ambience!

Display of begonias in the conservatory, Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens, Hobart

Features of other eras of the garden's history, such as the floral clock and conservatory housing 'tender' plants such as begonias and bromeliads, are always fun to visit. The plants in the conservatory are grown to a high standard, as are all the other plants in the garden. All the garden areas are pristine and every plant - every single one - is labelled. What a joy in a botanic garden, making one's visit educational as well as enjoyable, as one finds the name of a hitherto mystery plant (or in my case, many of them!).

Climbing roses growing on arches in the mixed border, Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens, Hobart

At the lower end of the garden near the river, a lovely mixed border is planted alongside one of the historic brick walls that run through the site, including shrubs, roses, perennials, annuals, bulbs and foliage plants - and a sign explains the principles of creating such a border in the home garden! Colour, shape and texture were all cleverly balanced to produce a pleasing display. Many plants in the border are cool-climate beauties that do not thrive in the Sydney climate, poignantly reminding me of my early attempts at garden-making when I thought I could grow anything I liked regardless of my climate: all doomed to end in tears.

Lavatera assurgentiflora in the mixed border, Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens, Hobart

However, I found I was simply able to enjoy the border and admire the gorgeous plants for their own sakes, rather than gnashing my teeth in bitter envy. The principles of border-making are the same - we just have to use the plants that suit our own climate. Roses in particular flourish in Tasmania, and here they scramble over arches, on trellises and tripods, sporting scarlet hips at this time of year. Mediterranean plants such as lavender and Phlomis, and pretty Californian specimens such as Lavatera assurgentiflora (pictured) thrive; in Sydney, they generally die. I was interested, though, to see plants that cross the climate spectrum, such as many salvias, Japanese windflowers, Daphne, Hydrangea and Camellia varieties, which all do well in Sydney gardens.

Tasmanian Community Food Garden, Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens, Hobart

The Tasmanian Community Food Garden is another highlight of the botanic garden, having long been the site of 'Pete's Patch' on ABC TV's Gardening Australia. It is a large area divided into neat sections (and includes the six-bed crop rotation system from the TV show which still films their vegetable stories at the site) and features espaliered fruit trees, herbs and many flourishing vegetables. Plots are available to interested community organisations to tend, and the garden area provides an educational resource for school groups and horticulture students. The garden is run along sustainable, organic lines. Around 4 tonnes of food is produced annually and this is distributed through a charity to the community.

A Japanese Garden celebrates the relationship with Hobart's sister city Yaizu in Japan, and the French Explorers Garden showcases the role of French explorers and botanists in the early exploration of Tasmania, with a display of plants collected by them, including Jacques Labillardiere. The lily pond (pictured at the start of the blog) is a tranquil oasis, featuring many beautiful water plants, and there are platforms allowing visitors to observe these at close quarters. There are other areas that I did not explore, due to time constraints!

I recommend a trip to these gardens for anyone visiting Hobart!


Plant of the week
Flowers in April, May, June.
See everything that's out this month »

My previous blogs at this time of year:
2009
09 Apr
2010
04 Apr
2011
03 Apr
2013
07 Apr
2014
06 Apr
2016
03 Apr
2017
16 Apr

Reader Comments

  • By Kerrie - 2104 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 02 April 2018

    Thanks for sharing this informative blog. With Sydney"s summers getting hotter & longer ever year making gardening more challenging I"ve come to hate the relentless heat of summer now & have often fantasised about moving to Tasmania. I might have to have a big conservatory to house my beloved bee hive ginger & other sub tropicals i love & manage to grow here on the northern beaches. I do love an English style garden though! If we could just find a place where everything grows! Thanks, Kerrie. I agree that the hot summers here in recent years make Tasmania seem enticing! Deirdre

  • By Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 02 April 2018

    Really enjoyed your "Hobart" blog. I visited Tasmania many years ago,but did not see the Botanic Gardens. Your description of them is a reason, apart from any other consideration, to visit the state. I always enjoyed Peter"s presentations from there, but you have really brought the whole place alive. Can"t wait to make a return visit! I do hope you will get there some time. I loved Hobart, and especially the Botanic Gardens. Deirdre

  • By Peta - 2758 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Monday, 02 April 2018

    Well your story hit the spot with me. I was born in Tasmania and left to live in NSW when I was 22. Going "home" is definitely on the cards. I was back there only a week ago and for the first time ever didn"t make the gardens. Thank you for such a thorough description. I was always follow the same path, down to the lake....love the ducks, along to the Eucalypt section where often well behaved prisoners are working and so on......Living here in the mountains is as close as I can get to Tasmania. Can well understand thoughts of moving there. Hobart is a lovely city -- just the right size! Deirdre

  • By Sue t. - 2566 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 02 April 2018

    I enjoyed a visit to the gardens 20 years ago when the Macquarie Island House was a sign stuck in the ground and have always wanted to go back and see it. Now that I find that every plant is labelled I definitely have to go back and admire the labels. I find that any unfamiliar plant that catches my eye in Sydney or Mount Annan invariably has no label!!! Hope you can get back there one day. You would find the subantarctic house interesting! The labels were truly amazing throughout the gardens. Deirdre

  • By Helen - 7256 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 02 April 2018

    Lived in Hobart til I was 22 also. Always loved the Botanic gardens & still visit often, has been a fave place for family catchups for generations. Still live in Tassie but in a frost free area so some of the cold climate treasures dont do as well for me either. On last visit was captivated by Siberian Iris & are trying them out even tho they really do need frost to flower well. Need to revist Sydney BG as my only visit was in my pre gardening years. Hope you have success with those irises; they are lovely. Glad you enjoy going to the Botanic Gardens. Deirdre

  • By Gillian - 2119 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 03 April 2018

    We arrived in Hobart in time to see the first yacht cross the line in the Sydney to Hobart race which was so exciting. We also visited the Botanic Gardens and thoroughly enjoyed it. The lily pond was in full bloom with myriads of waterlilies which looked amazing. I thought it was very special to be in "Pete"s Patch". Your beautiful description of your visit has brought it all back to me. Thanks Deirdre for transporting me back to Tasmania, we hope to get back there again. What a lovely visit you had! I hope you will get to return some day. Deirdre

  • By Shaun - 2075 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 09 April 2018

    Deidre, Thanks your recent blog about Clerodendrum walliichii. I have a bush of the palest blue one, a cutting from a daughter"s. It"s a prolific grower and I have just pruned back a third. We call it our Blue Butterfly plant so now I know its Clerodendrum..something

  • By Shaun - 2075 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 09 April 2018

    Helen 7256 If you visit the East again/soon,try to visit Mt Tomah in the Blue Mts and also another one near Campbelltown, both very different and part of RBG Sydney, which I visit often. The wonderful exhibition at present in the Calyx is a stunning array of vertical plants spelling out "Pollination". I believe it"s on for another 4-5 months.

Add your comment

* Only previously registered iGarden members can post comments on Blogs. If you are already registered please go to the Home page and login first. If you are not an iGarden member please click here to register now.