Last weekend we were in Canberra visiting friends and seeing the sights that small boys like: Questacon, Telstra Tower, the National Botanic Gardens, Cockington Green. The Geek has remained behind in Canberra with the camera, so you will have to wait for photos!
As we drove in to the Botanic Gardens, we discovered that the Australian Native Plant Society was having its Spring Sale. Being realistic about my growing conditions, I refrained from looking, but as we started looking around we met a member straight away. This lovely lady told the boys where to find water dragons in the gardens, and sure enough we did! We met her again in the cafe (which I heartily recommend) and talked plants. The locals told me what the beautiful gums were on the Federal Highway just inside the border -- the dominant Eucalyptus mannifera subsp. maculosa -- but we weren't entirely sure as the gums are somewhat stunted. I think it must be rather dry there as it is grassy woodland, which makes the beautiful trunks stand out. They are a slightly pinkish-grey with mahogany streaks -- stunning!
I had thought something seemed "different" about the Northbourne Avenue plantings, and indeed there is, said my fellow native plant enthusiasts. The avenue used to have green lawn grass with big gum trees in rows down the middle, but the original gums languished because this area was irrigated. They were replaced with a species that likes more water. Now Canberra is on water restrictions, so the new gums are languishing for lack of water. The lawns are brown too, of course. Canberra receives very little summer rain, so they will be brown for a long while yet.
Design highlights from the Gardens include the borders around the Visitor's Centre, and the Woodland/Grassland in the parking area. I wish I had their eye for composition! Another kind of highlight was spotting a brown snake basking on a drain-cover right next to the path. It was only a metre long but we were very cautious going past. They are both venomous and aggressive.
We enjoyed Cockington Green, but I have mixed feelings about the gardens there. The "scenery" plantings around the miniatures were lovely. They do not bonsai the plants but use naturally small types. I particularly admired an assembly of mixed thymes, and all the little conifers (note that I generally don't like conifers much). On the other hand, the paths are all lined with a single row of really loud annuals. Two gardeners at war?
It was quite disturbing not to see Lake George at all. In the 1980s it lapped the Federal Highway, but my Canberran friends tell me the lake has been receding for the past ten years. Is it drought or is it climate change?
A Cautionary Tale
I was admiring Liz and Paul's garden, with its cottagey feel. One sunny herb-bed had a few big gaps in it, which I had assumed were in preparation for tomatoes. Alas, no -- they had had house-sitters recently, who assumed that the luxuriant growth was weeds...
Canberra is Not a Country Town
We know this because you can't get a good cup of tea. We stayed at Rydges Lakeside, where an order of tea at breakfast brings you two Harris teabags tucked underneath a jug of hot (not boiling) water. At Cockington Green you pay $2.20 just to hold a mug -- it's self-serve Dilmah, and I wonder when some kid will overturn that hot water urn on himself? I pay $2.20 for a good cafe latte at work. Oh, Rydges has some kid charging extra for amateur cafe lattes at breakfast. The best coffee was at Zeffirelli's, a family pizza restaurant, like Pizza Hut circa 1982. A really rich, malty coffee, better than I've had for a while in Sydney. I think I had better put the kettle on.