A walk in the Botanic Garden

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Woven flower installation at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney

Saturday was a glorious autumn day and I spent it at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, which is looking very colourful at the moment. There is always a lot going on at the Garden. I attended a most informative talk on Plectranthus at the Maiden Theatre then visited Lion Gate Lodge to see the exhibition of winning entries in the Friends of the Gardens' photography competition, which was held to showcase Australian botanic gardens - well worth seeing (running till 17 April 10 am to 4 pm daily). Grabbing a bite to eat at the cafeteria, I admired an amazing installation nearby of hundreds of 'flowers' (pictured above) that have been made from recycled garbage and bamboo: each hand-woven by a group of women from Dasmariņas in Manila, Philippines. These women have been making bags and purses from recycled garbage for many years as a way of helping to support their families. The installation will remain in place until 2 May, and as well as recognising the skills of these artisans, is designed to raise awareness of sustainable living practices to eradicate urban pollution.

Alocasia macrorrhiza in the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney

I strolled on and was inspired - as always - by the array of colour and interest on display in the Garden. I always enjoy looking at the bold foliage plants grown in the garden, and today I was struck by some huge leaves of Alocasia macrorrhiza, backlit by the sun, and some towering banana trees, with red-veined leaves. Agave, Aloe, Ctenanthe species, many types of bromeliads and some striking Kalanchoe thyrsiflora abounded, giving strong form in the garden beds. The separate Succulent Garden area holds an astonishing variety of strange and wonderful plant shapes.

Salvia leucantha and Pennisetum setaceum Rubrum in the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney

Flowers are also to be found in abundance. The sections of the Garden that I visited today were mainly areas with subtropical plantings, and the Begonia Beds were at their peak, with many of the cane and shrub Begonia smothered in bloom, underplanted by an incredible variety of rhizomatous types. These beds are meticulously kept, with the help of several volunteers, and I was pleased to see a sign today acknowledging these hardworking people. There are a number of Plectranthus and Salvia growing in the area nearby, in full bloom, and a mass planting of purple Salvia leucantha with Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum' was a triumphant display.

Megaskepasma erythrochlamys in the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney

The Garden contains an excellent selection of one of my favourite plant families, the Acanthaceae: which grow so brilliantly in our Sydney climate and provide wonderful colour for shaded areas of our gardens. Many of these are in bloom now and I admired the eye-catching cerise plumes of Megaskepasma erythrochlamys (ht 2-3 m); the dainty pink trumpet flowers of Strobilanthes flaccidifolius (ht 1.5-2 m), just starting to open up; the striking yellow 'candles' of Pachystachys lutea (ht 1-1.5m); the quirky shrimp flower (Justicia brandegeeana, ht 1-1.2 m ) in its chartreuse green and rusty red forms; and the very unusual orange-flowered Ruspolia hypercrateriformis (ht 1-1.5 m), which I hope to grow for myself one day.

A sprig of Ruspolia hypercraterformis placed on a statue in the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney

I noted that today a sprig of the Ruspolia had been placed on the 'I wish' statue (pictured) - which comrises the concrete head and hands of a girl by Arthur Fleischman, dating from 1946. Legend has it that some mysterious, unknown person places a fresh flower in the hands of the girl every day. There are self-guided 'sculpture walks' available that can take visitors around to view many of the fascinating sculptures in the Garden, and there is even a moonlight walk on 18 April!

I broke my vow of not buying any plants this year when I visited the nursery run by the Friends of the Botanic Garden - this stocks a comprehensive and reasonably priced range of many of the plants grown in the Garden and has been the source of a number of plants in my own borders over the years. It is open 11.30 am to 2 pm Monday to Friday and some Saturdays during the year. I was able to acquire two new members of the Acanthaceae family to add to my collection, so my day was complete.