Phase 2: Building on the foundations
By 2011 we’d expect to see the success of our Phase 1 fundraising efforts bear fruit and for the tender, design, and construction phases of our major capital projects to be underway. This clears our fundraising agenda to focus on our remaining bicentenary capital projects and to plan for programs that will see our Centre for Plant Conservation and Research fulfil its promise. We’ll also make a start on our plan for close engagement with the artistic community in our bicentenary celebrations.
This project is about significantly boosting resources for our Science program to help us find answers to support plant diversity and give us clues in how to live on a planet with accelerating climate change.
With the construction of our new Centre for Plant Conservation commencing in this phase, we now need to focus on program funding to support our vision for the Centre as a place of scientific innovation. The work of our scientists located at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney will be integrated with the work of our scientists based at the Centre to form a comprehensive and dynamic science program of the Botanic Gardens Trust. Our science program will complement the work of our scientific colleagues at the Department of Environment and Climate Change as well as other scientific institutions with facilities in the region such as the University of Sydney and the University of Western Sydney, who want a research base here.
An urgent focus of our work is a long-term program in New South Wales to record and monitor changes in plant, algal and fungal communities in response to changing environments. Complementing this focus will be the continued development and utilisation of new molecular tools (e.g. DNA barcoding) for identification and diagnosis of species, and for investigating the evolution of the Australian biota.
Setting up formal and informal networks is the first step towards ground-breaking collaborative research. These networks will include natural history institutions, national and international botanic science institutions, Asia-Pacific botanic gardens, and researchers focussing on Indigenous knowledge. At the new Centre we’ll have the facilities to support research partnerships, and the Herbarium and Library at Sydney will need to grow to keep pace with the new science. We have a range of less formalised networks in place at present and by the time we launch Phase 2 of this document, we’ll be in a position to tempt you with a list of collaborative research projects.
Mount Tomah Treasures
For some, Mount Tomah Botanic Garden is our most loved estate. Its location in the heart of the Blue Mountains, away from the pace of the city, is part of its appeal. But this also means it isn’t easily accessible by public transport, and visiting it requires some level of planning.
We have many regular visitors who enjoy the strongly seasonal nature of our plant displays as well as the ambience and vistas. We also have a strong connection with the communities in the Blue Mountains and hold regular events to draw in both old friends and new visitors.
We need to add new dimensions to the Mount Tomah experience in order to encourage other types of visitors and to keep the experience fresh. We’ve put together a box of ‘treasures’ that we think will do the trick.
By 2009, the Blue Mountains World Heritage Information Centre (a joint enterprise with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service) will be completed and operational at Mount Tomah Botanic Garden. This Centre will interpret what it means to be a world heritage listed site and will encourage visitors to the area to learn about plants native to the Blue Mountains World Heritage area before venturing further into the surrounding national park.
To complement the World Heritage Information Centre, we’ve planned for a Wollemi Pine discovery experience. After enjoying the thematic displays of cooler-climate plants in the Garden, visitors can cross a pedestrian bridge into an area of mountainous wilderness, parts of which have ideal growing conditions for the Wollemi Pine. We’ll be planting a grove of Wollemi Pines, replicating the original population growing deep in a remote and secret location not far from Mount Tomah in the Wollemi wilderness. You will be able to walk among the Wollemi Pines, just as dinosaurs did over 90 million years ago.
Our second ‘treasure’ also complements the world heritage focus: a canopy walk through the Gondwana section of the Garden. This will transport visitors through a living Gondwana story and make the link with the plants from the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.
The third component of this project is one that is becoming increasingly important with climate change. Australia’s alpine vegetation is shrinking as the planet warms. We are losing plant species and the animals that depend on this special flora. An Alpine House will accommodate a living collection of alpine plants that need a very carefully controlled climate in order to survive. The conditions in which they grow in their native habitats cannot, or course, be replicated but moisture, shading, air movement and light can all be provided to approximate climatic features such as abrupt seasonal changes and a short growing season. Through optimal energy-efficient design and the use of solar energy, the Alpine House will be energy neutral - as well as an educational, horticultural and scientific resource. Tiny plants will be displayed at eye level to showcase their wonders.
The final component of Mount Tomah Treasures will be a medley of features we collectively call a ‘Garden for Children’. Rather than have one corner of the Garden set aside with attractions for children, we will build on the attractiveness that the whole Garden already holds for children - such as tumbling down its slopes or getting lost (and found again) in the mazes of its rockery and trees. Children’s features, strategically placed at different sites around the Garden, will incorporate surprise and spur the imagination. The focus will be on fun and interactive learning, complemented by more discovery trails and educational activities.
Restoring Mrs Macquaries Point
We’ll be restoring leisurely access to Mrs Macquaries Point and other parts of the eastern Domain without the burden of negotiating with traffic. But we also don’t want to discourage our tightly-scheduled tourists and our less mobile visitors from enjoying the world-famous vistas from these areas. So we’ll green the eastern Domain by redesigning how the roads work, removing regular traffic and car parking, while retaining access for tour buses and our less mobile visitors. At the same time, pedestrians will have right of way.
‘The Point’ will be returned to some of its natural beauty by planting local species, and revealing some of the sandstone bedrock. The area will retain a parkland feel, as it has today, but provide a stronger link with the nearby natural headlands of Sydney Harbour.
New landscaping will be a part of the redesign and will improve the aesthetics for increased pedestrian access as well as increasing the opportunity to make the most of some of the distinctive rock formations.
Mrs Macquaries Point is very popular with visitors and we see this as an opportunity to introduce visitors to the world of underwater plants, helping them to understand better the continuity between the land and the sea - connecting the Gardens to the sea by devising an ‘Underwater Window’ to the marine life of Sydney Harbour. Consider how it might be to take some stairs below sea-level or look through glass into the secret world under Sydney Harbour.
Orchid Fever at Mount Annan
Imagine, as a visitor to Mount Annan Botanic Garden during the warm spring months, leaving the bright sunlight and arid sculptural feel of the nearby grass trees of the Connections Garden and descending into the lush and cool Orchid Display House, to be greeted by the sound of trickling water and the heady sweet fragrance of rainforest orchids such as the Lily of the Valley orchid, the Beech Orchid and the Sweet Cymbidium.
For a long time, we’ve been looking to display Mount Annan Botanic Garden’s fabulous orchid collection which is way too good to keep just to ourselves. The Orchid Display House will be located at the base of the Connections Garden with good views across Lakeside. The orchids at Mount Annan have been growing in a shadehouse structure under existing climatic conditions. An Orchid Display House will provide similar conditions for these orchids but will also feature a secure display section (to discourage those overcome with orchid fever) as well as a glassedin solar heated section to simulate the growing conditions for tropical orchids such as the Cooktown Orchid and the Blue Orchid.
The Orchid Display House will have a lush forest feel created by including a variety of rainforest plants that normally occur with orchids. These include mosses, lichens and filmy ferns that thrive in the humid moist environment. To show the fascinating growth forms and ecological niches of orchids, there will be a major display of orchids in their high-rise style of living - densely packed and growing on their favourite trees such as the River Oak or Swamp Oak. Plantings of the Sydney Rock Orchid, with its arching brilliant yellow flower spikes, will frame the vistas at the end of the Orchid Display House. The visitor experience will be complete with a mass planting of ground orchids outside that will remind visitors that this amazing and diverse group of plants extends well outside rainforest habitats and into the dappled shade of open eucalypt forests.
Importantly, the Orchid Display House will also focus on the intense horticultural interest and breeding that has taken place with Australian orchids, a story that will be interpreted through displays of colourful orchid cultivars. It will also demonstrate the wonderful plant and insect interdependence that is so apparent in orchid pollination and will allow Mount Annan to highlight its role in orchid conservation and research.
A visit to the Orchid Display House will be a remarkable sensory and educative experience.
Art in the Gardens
Gardens have always been associated with art, particularly sculpture. In the Royal Botanic Gardens we’ve been privileged to host a succession of temporary sculptural displays. In addition, our Palm House is booked out well in advance as an exhibition space for New South Wales artists.
Our Red Box Gallery hosts an annual international botanical illustration competition, as well as featuring exhibitions of botanical art and the works of our artists-in-residence.
Our bicentenary project, Art in the Gardens, will do a number of things. We’d like to place our artists-in-residence program on a more secure and regular footing and to see an artist-in-residence at each of our botanic gardens. We’ll also think about broadening what we mean by ‘art’ - shouldn’t we include writers, poets, or photographers too?
The second strand to this project is a regular (annual or biennial) sculpture exhibition. We all know what an outstanding success Sculpture by the Sea has proved to be on Bondi’s coastline. We’d love to have some of the buzz, inspiration, controversy and pure pleasure that sculpture can engender. We also appreciate how sculpture highlights its context in new ways, helping us to ‘see with new eyes’. The exhibition can rotate between the botanic garden estates, encouraging aficionados to make acquaintance with those of our estates they have not yet visited.
The final strand of Art in the Gardens is something more permanent. We didn’t mention above the sculptures that have called the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain home for decades or more. We haven’t forgotten them - they’re part of the pleasure and history of the Gardens - something that is easy to take for granted but that still helps to define the Gardens. When Henry Lawson went for a holiday from the eastern Domain last year and was replaced by a Maori bouncer, everyone was struck by the change and took a second and third look. Like Lawson, other sculptures will be cleaned and repaired for 2016.
As much as we love our existing permanent sculptures, we’d like to draw in new visitors and make a contribution to future generations of visitors by commissioning for each of our Gardens a new signature sculpture installation to mark our bicentenary. We intend these installations to link to our landscapes and our mission to inspire the appreciation and conservation of plants.
Leading Sustainability - Mount Annan
By this stage, we expect our water sustainability project at the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain to be into its construction phase and with Mount Tomah Botanic Garden still meeting all its own water needs, we turn now to Mount Annan Botanic Garden.
Self-sufficiency in water supply for Mount Annan Botanic Garden may be the greatest of the three major sustainability challenges we have set ourselves. Mount Annan receives less than half of the annual rain that coastal Sydney receives. That rain may be sufficient for plants that evolved locally or in other areas with equivalent rainfall. In Mount Annan, though, we showcase plants from all around New South Wales and other parts of Australia, many of which require more regular water. We also need water to maintain our fine lawn areas as inviting places for our visitors.
There is greater scope at Mount Annan for capturing and storing rainfall, although this project may need a significant amount of underground infrastructure. We can also look to other options similar to those being considered for Sydney such as recycling water from nearby businesses. A comprehensive study of available options will be the first step to get this project off the ground.