If only politicians looked as far ahead as the planners of the National Arboretum! It’s early days yet, and I won’t be around to see groves of mature gingkos, or tulip trees, or Wollemi pines, or Californian palms. But I can see the beginnings: from the groves of Himalayan cedars and cork oaks planted in the 1920s which escaped the brutal bushfires of 2003, to more recent plantings, nearly a hundred forests of rare, endangered and symbolic species. The vision for this 250 hectares overlooking Canberra is 100 gardens and 100 groves of trees. While you wait to see the full vision realised there’s plenty to do. You can test your muscles mountain biking, walk your dog, ride your horse (and corral it while you have a coffee), get married (if you don’t mind a long engagement – bookings are two years in advance), listen to music in the amphitheatre, eat a classy lunch, see 360° views of Canberra nestled in its hills with the alps in the background, and of course enjoy horticultural and sculptural pleasures.
As you approach the shallow-domed building, you pass panels tracing the history of plant life on earth and I nod knowingly at Silurian, Carboniferous, Devonian, Pliocene. Inside, rafters of native timbers, prefabricated in Melbourne and transported to the site for assembly, overarch a cafe, a restaurant, exhibition space, a shop and numerous panels and trays about all things tree.
My favourite spot was a very attractive garden, amongst the first of 100 gardens, showcasing plants that don’t need much water, sponsored ironically (or responsibly) by the provider of Canberra’s water.
Some of the plants are under the cover of these attractive circular stencils-on-a-pole.
Two hilltops are home to dramatic sculptures.
“Wide brown land” actually sits on its hilltop sequentially, but I couldn’t get it all in one photo. The script is that of Dorothea Mackellar who wrote the iconic poem celebrating Australia which begins its paean of praise with I love a sunburnt country.
Just down the hill from the wide brown land is the grove of mature Himalayan cedars. This photo shows part of the grove, companioned with a bonsaied version of the same tree.
Which brings me to …
I’m not a big fan of bonsai, and even less of penjing with its kitschy little creatures. Why interfere with the perfection of a full-grown tree? Enthusiasts spend a lot of time manicuring and trimming, and the creators are designated “artists”. The shaping are always pleasing, and I suppose the art does enable you to see the tops of trees that are usually frustratingly invisible.
I celebrate a pleasant morning with a somewhat classier lunch than usual, avoiding kalamata olives and tomato soil, and feasting on goats cheese and puffed grain, followed by braised kangaroo and native plums. This is a fitting prelude to my first encounter with my 6-week-old great nephew, Samuel Victor.