And he sees the vision splendid
Of the sunlit plains extended
And at night the wonderous glory
Of the everlasting stars
Most Australians know these lines from Banjo Patterson’s epic poem Clancy of the Overflow and they are very dear to our hearts because they so perfectly encapsulate a land whose beauty is often more subtle than spectacular.
When I visited the Australian Garden at Cranbourne the other day The Banjo’s words came immediately to mind. This garden, incorporated in the Cranbourne division of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, has been a long time in the making. And let me say two things up front – This is not the popular idea of what a “botanic garden” should be. It is the realisation of a vision of the Australian landscape and lifestyle through the medium of design and horticulture. As such, it has perfectly captured the very soul of this big, wide, wonderful and often very challenging continent. My second point is that this garden is very new. The vision is there for all to see and for my part I’m glad to have seen it at this early stage, so I can study the bare bones of each beautifully-realised concept. Others – those looking for something merely “pretty” – may find it all a bit bare and stark. To them, I say come back in a few years when it is more mature, but in the meantime strive to appreciate the textures and the land forms, the horticultural ideas and the in several interpretations of how this land shapes us and how we in turn have shaped it.
Bob and I found visiting this garden an inspiration. And a revelation – for this is more than just exhilaratingly contemporary, it is as new as tomorrow. Interesting to think, therefore, that when enough tomorrows have passed, The Australian Garden at Cranbourne will become as definitively “classical” as the traditional botanical gardens of the 18th and 19th centuries seem to us today.
I’m not going to give you any dry details about this wonderful garden – you can get all that from the excellent website at
Instead, I’ll let my photos tell the story…though they are inadequate to the task they will at least give some idea. Various types of Australian landscape are represented and/or interpeted here: concepts include the dry river bed so common in arid zones and during drought; the seashore and in particular the granite splendour of Wilson’s Promontory (see article on this website); the Aussie backyard in all its aspects; the blue hills; the red centre; the eucalypt forests; the importance of water in the landscape and to the land and to our souls; the many forces of nature. There are wide promenades, giant metal “lily pads”, rocky “streams” in which children are encouraged to paddle, seating shaped like a long wave ripple, open swatches of grassland intercepted by serpentine land forms, imaginative uses for timber and rock and metal – and each has its story to tell. And, of course, there are more standard horticultural and botanical features such as plant collections representing their different habitats. Conservation concepts are expounded too – I was particularly taken with the collections of colourful watering cans in the water-saving garden. (On a more frivolous note, the chocolate brownie served in the cafe at the Australian Garden visitor centre is the best I’ve eaten anywhere in the world!).