Bloom­ing beau­ti­ful

Can­berra gets top vote for its gar­dens

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AUSTRALIA - ROBIN POW­ELL

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:

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