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PlantBank - creating a unique woodland landscape 

Story: Jim Whyte, Senior Horticulturist (Propagation) & Peter Cuneo, Manager, Natural Heritage, the Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan, August 2012

The project team has worked extensively with architects BVN Architecture and landscape architects 360° to design a landscape that is sympathetic to the adjacent Cumberland Plain Woodland and will ‘frame’ this unique building. The outer area of the landscape uses a combination of local grasses and shrubs, in a naturalistic design to merge with the woodland backdrop. For the internal courtyard area, the approach is more horticultural, with individual woodland plants to be used in defined massed plantings to create a ‘deconstructed woodland’ and unique tapestry of woodland textures.

Led by Senior Horticulturist (Propagation), Jim Whyte, a huge team effort is now well underway to grow over 25,000 plants for this landscape, which is one of the largest plant production projects since the inception of the Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan in the late 1980s. Planning and seed collection from the ABG woodland areas commenced last summer. The natural area management team, including Allison Frith, Horticulturist (Natural Areas) who will be responsible for the establishment of the PlantBank landscape, has already been closely involved with seed collection, germination testing and nursery propagation. Finding the nursery space required is a major challenge, as production has to be staggered to produce plants in a range of pot sizes such as super advanced, advanced, smaller forestry tubes and cell trays for grasses, along with routine production of spring annuals for other garden areas. 

Our woodland flora is surprisingly diverse, which has presented some propagation challenges, particularly when the plant list includes a good selection of local native ferns which have never been grown at the Australian Botanic Garden nursery. Fern spores have been collected, and despite some early trepidation, Jim Whyte and Research Section Horticulturist, Amanda Rollason have succeeded in nurturing the spores into small plantlets. We have all watched with great interest to see the intricate fern early life cycle stages as these fascinating plants reproduce.

The PlantBank landscape also incorporates a lichen ‘garden’ which will be established on old sandstone blocks to be arranged as living sculptures. As efforts to artificially cultivate lichen communities have rarely been attempted, Horticultural Research Manager, Dr Cathy Offord, and her team are experimenting with a range of techniques and formulations trying to find the ideal formula for these lichens to thrive.

With the first ‘wave’ of plants now coming through and thriving in the better than average winter weather conditions, we are gearing up for some major potting on days during spring and summer. Another great result is the amount of propagation data we now hold in our database on Cumberland Plain Woodland species, some of which have never been recorded before including seed formation and collection times, seed viability and cutting results from different seasonal times. Given the ‘critically endangered’ conservation status of Cumberland Plain Woodland, this sort of information is invaluable as we seek to regenerate this woodland following control of the invasive African olive throughout the Australian Botanic Garden. Importantly, the dynamic living landscape of PlantBank will not merely be a green backdrop, but will link directly to the important conservation work happening within the building such as tissue culture, threatened species germplasm storage and restoration ecology.

Collecting-cuttings
Allison Frith and Natalie Karbowiek collecting cuttings of Goodenia hederacea. Photo: P.Cuneo.

Jim-Whyte-native-grasses
Jim Whyte with a new batch of Cumberland Plain grasses Photo: P.Cuneo

Cheilanthes-plants
Cheilanthes - small plantlets of the local fern Cheilanthes sieberi after propagation in vitro. Photo: A. Frith

Jim-Whyte-fern-prop-work
Jim Whyte potting on some native ferns after spore propagation. Photo: A. Frith

Goodenia
Goodenia hederacea, a colourful understorey herb from the woodland that will feature in the PlantBank landscape. Photo: P. Cuneo