Water at heart of botanical gardens' grand design

Water at heart of botanical gardens' grand design

Life & Style
A lily-pad shaped deck built in 2018 to mark Tasmania's Royal Botanical Gardens' bicentenary.

A lily-pad shaped deck built in 2018 to mark Tasmania's Royal Botanical Gardens' bicentenary.

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Tasmania's Royal Botanical Gardens were founded in 1818, only 14 years after the arrival in 1804 of Hobart's First Fleet.

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Tasmania's Royal Botanical Gardens in Hobart are Australia's second oldest botanical gardens.

They were founded in 1818, only 14 years after the arrival in 1804 of Hobart's First Fleet, an impressively early start in the tiny, isolated and impoverished convict settlement.

Together with Mount Tomah they are now one of our main cool climate botanical gardens.

Viewers of ABC's Gardening Australia are happily familiar with Tino Carnevale's Community Food Garden, located on the original Pete's Patch started by former presenter Peter Cundall. This alone makes the gardens worth visiting, but there is much else to enjoy and the beautiful location with views over the River Derwent mean they are a lovely place to visit at any time of year.

Water is the heart of a garden. The gardens' water garden is the original reservoir built in 1848, Hobart's average annual rainfall of 620 millimetres being the second lowest after Adelaide of any Australian capital city.

I admired lush waterside plantings from more or less the middle of the pond, standing on a deck built in the shape of lily pads to mark the garden's bicentenary in 2018.

There are clumps of grasses, reeds and rushes, flowering rodgersias, Japanese anemones and arum lilies, set against a background of tree ferns and magnificent conifers, many well over 100 years old that are an important feature of the gardens.

Tasmania's Royal Botanical Gardens in Hobart are Australia's second oldest botanical gardens. - Fiona Ogilvie

Don't miss the nearby Tasmanian fernery packed with unusual and gorgeous ferns planted beside a small creek, each unobtrusively but clearly labelled.

Shelter is vital in botanical gardens as they need to nurture plants from many alien climates.

The Arthur Wall, named for Governor George Arthur, was built under his supervision in 1829 as a boundary wall and modelled on an English kitchen garden double wall.

One side is made of convict-made bricks and the other of sandstone blocks, with charcoal furnaces placed between them at intervals, though these were soon found to be redundant in Hobart's warmer climate.

A second brick wall was built by Governor Eardley-Wilmott in the 1840s in an effort to keep grasshoppers at bay. (I don't know if it worked, I somehow doubt it.) At four metres in height and 280 metres in length, it is supposedly Tasmania's longest convict-built wall.

Innovation is essential in a good botanical garden. The Tasmanian Gardens' Sub Antarctic Plant House is a purpose-built dome that's home to sub Antarctic flora, including plants from Macquarie Island collected by staff on field trips.

It is a dramatic recreation of the sub Antarctic. Plants merge into a realistic background mural of Macquarie Island and the sounds of elephant seals, penguins, albatrosses, wind and rain add to the illusion.

The temperature felt distinctly Antarctic rather than sub to me. Don't forget your parka.

The Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens (gardens.rtbg.tas.gov.au), Lower Domain Road, Hobart are about five minutes' drive from the CBD or half an hour's walk, mostly along the River Derwent.

Tour options include guided and self-guided walks. Contact the visitor experience coordinator on (03) 6166 0453, email info@rtbg.tas.gov.au

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