Canberra gets top vote for its gardens
TULIP TOP GARDENS: On cold winter mornings Bill and Pat Rhodin can linger a little over breakfast. They have to wait for the soil to thaw before they can continue planting the half a million tulip bulbs that must be in the ground between mid-May and the end of June. The tight deadline ensures the tulips will bloom in unison with hundreds of thousands of annuals and thousands of blossom trees to create dazzling spring images. Their garden, Tulip Top, 20 minutes north of Canberra, is designed for maximum impact for just one month in spring. Building the show is hard work, but for the Rhodins the pay-off is the awestruck marvelling of visitors whose field of vision is suddenly filled with curtains of pink and white blossom, swirls of glowing tulips and pointillist fringes of violas and English daisies. GO: September 16-October 15, 9am-5pm. 20 Old Federal Highway, Sutton; entry $16, children free; tuliptopgardens.com.au.
THE NATIONAL BONSAI AND PENJING COLLECTION: A forest of paperbark, just a metre high and wide, grows out of a mound of intricately detailed moss varieties on a rough-edged clay tray. It movingly captures the essence of landscape metaphor that is at the heart of bonsai, reminding me of other paperbark forests, of walks through Sydney’s Centennial Park and the wetlands of the Sunshine Coast. It’s just one of the treasures at the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection, housed in an open-air gallery next to the Village Centre at the National Arboretum. Australia’s leading bonsai and penjing artists have lent or donated the works in the collection and about 80 are on show at any one time. As well as the intriguing natives, there are examples of modern and classic bonsai using traditional plant species, and several examples of penjing. This ancient Chinese art is about the creation of miniature landscapes. These might reference literary works, paintings or famous sites of natural beauty, and often include tiny model animals or people. Volunteers from the various bonsai societies of the ACT are always on hand to offer explanations about the works on display. GO: All year; open every day except Christmas, 9am-4pm. National Arboretum, Forest Drive, Weston Creek; nationalarboretum.act.gov.au.
COMMONWEALTH PARK: Each spring Floriade sets up its marquees and tulip beds in Commonwealth Park, but to stop exploring where the tulips end would be a big mistake. The park was designed by eminent 20th-century English landscape architect Sylvia Crowe in 1964, the year Walter Burley Griffin’s centrepiece lake was finally filled with water. Crowe believed the mark of a welldesigned public garden was the invisibility of the designer, and by that standard her work in Canberra is exemplary. Commonwealth Park looks so natural it’s often taken for granted. To appreciate its various subtleties and beautifully framed views, take a walk around Nerang Pool. Clinging to the edge of the pond are elegantly swaying willows and wonderful swamp cypress, Taxodium distichum, which send up knobbly “snorkels’’ to allow their roots to breathe in the boggy conditions. As well as the now-mature trees encircling the pond, there are banks of flowering and fragrant shrubs, intimate garden rooms, a mysterious maze of whispering bamboo, a watercourse lined with iris and pontoons of waterlilies. GO: All year; Floriade September 16-October 15. Lake Burley Griffin; visitcanberra.com.au; floriadeaustralia.com.
THE ENGLISH GARDEN: Visitors to Canberra fall in love with its trees — the poplar-lined avenues turning golden in the autumn, the deeply shaded streets of the old suburbs, the canopy of evergreen and deciduous leaves in the parks, the tree-lined pathways of the lake. A century ago, though, Canberra was a dusty plain, its hills shaved clear of tree cover to provide better grazing for sheep. One of the people behind the re-treeing of Canberra was horticulturist Charles Weston, who between 1914 and 1926 was responsible for planting two million trees and shrubs, while also instituting the wonderful free-trees-to-homeowners policy that is still greening Canberra. Weston set up a nursery and arboretum at Yarralumla to trial species suited to Canberra’s conditions. In the 60s one of Weston’s successors established The English Garden between the nursery and the arboretum. Though the garden itself is charming rather than inspiring, the walks to the lake are wonderful and the sense of wandering under the parent trees of some of Canberra’s best plantings is worth the visit. Plus, there’s coffee and cake on offer in the Yarralumla Gallery and Oaks Brasserie housed in the former nursery manager’s cottage. GO: Spring is best. Weston Park Road; visitcanberra.com.au; ygob.com.au. cognata GO: