Sparrow and Finch Gardening The public past, the climate present, and the possible future of Australia’s botanic Gardens

The public past, the climate present, and the possible future of Australia’s botanic Gardens

The Australian botanic gardens, with their European plants and imperial remnants, are a reminder of British colonization that is becoming increasingly unwelcome.

Gardens and their gardeners are not static. These are constantly changing entities.

Brief History

The majority of Australian botanic gardens were founded in the 19th Century, beginning with the Sydney Domain Garden around 1816.

Early gardens had multiple purposes.

These were food gardens. These were test gardens to determine the suitability and compatibility of new crops and vegetables imported from Europe and colonies.

Sydney Botanic Gardens were founded in 1816. This photo was taken between 1860 and 1879. Trove

Botanic gardens planted trees that were familiar to British visitors because of nostalgia, European beauty ideas, and the desire to test introduced varieties. The botanic gardens were planted with oaks, elms, and conifers, as well as the flowers and shrubs that are naturalized in British public and private gardens.

As part of the acclimatization process, introduced plants and trees were given to the settlers. The introduction of exotic plants was intended to make the Australian landscape more familiar and “productive.”

Botanic gardens reverse this exchange as well by collecting, cultivating, and distributing native Australian plants that are deemed useful or beautiful internationally.

Botanic gardens often sent Australian specimens to Europe. Copyright of Kew Royal Botanic Gardens Board of Trustees

Read more: Friday essay: The Forgotten German Botanist Who Took 200,000 Australian Plants to Europe.

Finally, and most controversially, they were public spaces.

The new ideas of European social reformers and progressive politicians inspired Australian public gardens. The gardens were viewed as a way to provide healthy air for citizens in increasingly crowded cities. These gardens were based on old ideas of commons and the provision of public space shared by the lower classes for recreation.

The botanic gardens of Australia are public spaces. State Library South Australia.

These differing uses often clashed. Ferdinand Mueller, the director of Melbourne Botanic Gardens, was, arguably, displaced because his vision for the garden was an educational botanical nursery. The public’s desire had changed to one for a more usable and aesthetic garden.

Climate emergency: How to cope

These gardens have always struggled to find water for the trees and plants that come from different climates.

Richard Schomburgk, in his capacity as director of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens, told Nature in 1885 about the drought that was affecting the city and its drastic effects on “many of the trees, shrubs, and plants in the Botanic Garden which are natives from cooler countries.”

As early as 1885, the Adelaide Botanic Gardens were affected by drought. State Library South Australia.

As climates have changed, droughts and changes in the water table have brought to the forefront the plight and death of thirsty trees.

The Geelong Botanic Gardens were established in 1851 and are an example of water consumption. They also use wastewater to maintain the historic trees. The garden has also created a “21st-Century Garden”, which is focused on sustainability. It contains hardy natives such as acacias and saltbush.

The botanic gardens of today are still test gardens and are now important sites in global climate change research. The gardens show what to avoid planting, but they also demonstrate that not all plants introduced to Australia are suitable.

Adelaide Botanic Gardens offers a Plant Selection Guide where residents can verify whether a particular plant is suitable for their local conditions.

Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens includes a display of Australian-adapted roses. Shutterstock

The Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens has a “climate ready” rose display. This is a reframing of the decimated rose species collection. It adapts exotic plants to climate change without throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Some European, Mediterranean, and North and South American plant species are perfectly suited to Australian conditions or are resilient enough to adapt to climate changes, including increased heat and drying in many places, as well as the possibility of increased humidity in previously arid areas.

Colonial monuments

Recently, there has been a trend that aims to remove all traces of colonialism.

What are the most important lessons to be learned from colonial monuments? Is it removing them or rewriting their meanings? Remove the exotic gardens and giant trees, or use these to examine and demonstrate the mistakes and assumptions of the past and design the future.

Different garden exhibitions, such as the Garden Variety Photography Exhibition on tour, highlight both the problematic past and the future potential of the space.

Many gardens now also include Indigenous acknowledgment and content: heritage walks and tours by Indigenous owners to demonstrate the long-standing history, naming, and uses of native plants that overturn colonial positions.

Landscapes shifting

Australia’s Botanic Gardens have undergone a number of changes over the last 200 years.

Botanic gardens adapt to climate change by replacing old and dying trees with new and hardier plants, preserving endangered species, and proving climate impact.

Since the 1970s, many state and national gardens, such as the Western Australian Botanic Gardens, and regional gardens, like Mildura’s Inland Botanic Gardens, have been installing indigenous, native, or climate-focused garden styles, in addition to or instead of traditional heritage European styles.

Western Australian Botanic Gardens are increasingly featuring native plants. Shutterstock

Botanic Gardens Australia & New Zealand offer a landscape successor toolkit: a guide to mapping out what’s doomed and what needs the most preservation and adaptation for our future botanic gardens.

We don’t have to remove non-hardy trees introduced by humans; the climate will do it for us.

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