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5 Mar 2020

The heart of our Garden is getting an upgrade

To kick off the exciting construction of the new National Herbarium of NSW at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan later this year, the Garden's Nursery will undergo a complete upgrade for the first time in 30 years. 

Building a new Nursery and Herbarium

The new National Herbarium of NSW will be built on the footprint of a large proportion of the Garden’s production Nursery. This month the exciting first stage of the Nursery rebuild will get underway, leading to the rebuild of production spaces to the west of our current nursery, near the Mount Annan Drive entry. ​ 

The new 6,400m2 production space will have new structures that can meet the future needs of our Garden’s horticulture, research and conservation initiatives. Industry best practice irrigation and nursery structures will lead to improved plant growth, plant conservation outcomes and water saving outcomes.

Significantly, the Nursery and the collections at the Australian PlantBank and the new Herbarium will strengthen the organisation‘s collaboration, plant conservation credentials and capacity through the new Australian Institute of Botanical Science.

The heart of Botanic Gardens

Plant nurseries are fundamental to the operation of botanic gardens with the propagation of plants key to growing plants to display, conserve and protect.

John Siemon is the Acting Director of Horticulture at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan and he says maintaining Australia’s largest botanic garden is a huge job. 

"Our Nursery is the heart of the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan, many of our plants are grown from seeds safeguarded inside the Australian PlantBank adjacent to the Nursery," says John. 

Over the years, scientists and horticulturists at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan Nursery have also dramatically increased the number of threatened species they are propagating, growing and returning back into the wild. 

Thousands of plants are planted at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan every year that are grown in the Nursery
John Siemon, A/Director Horticulture Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan

From humble beginnings 

The Australian Botanic Garden’s first collections were initiated at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney around 1985. These were supplemented shortly thereafter by a major plant expedition to Western Australia, which was the beginning of an accumulation of wild-sourced, known-provenanced native diversity.

"Construction of the Garden was just starting, so temporary holding yards were established for the plant stock," says John. 

"The collections were progressively assembled in rather archaic and ad hoc infrastructure, with shade structures built to protect sensitive plants in one of several depots around the site," says John. 

The main construction office was where the Macarthur Centre for Sustainable Living’s Visitor Centre currently stands.

"The nursery headhouse and two propagation greenhouses were ready in 1986, but it wasn’t until electricity and water were connected the following year that onsite propagation began" says John. 

Early in 1987, the main shadehouse, covering 4,500m2 and two tube houses commenced construction. A simple asphalt base was installed six months later, and the plant production spaces really started to take shape.

Nursery construction in the 1980's
Humble operations at the Nursery
Historical photo of the Nursery's operation

Key Nursery upgrade features

The new production area the new Nursery is being built on is 75% of the existing footprint and John says with improved infrastructure and design, the new Nursery will be more productive than ever. 

A key feature of the new Nursery is to replace the current asphalt surfaces with durable concrete surfaces to improve plant hygiene and maintenance outcomes. 

"An accumulation of sand, gravel and moss is hard to remove from asphalt and creates slip hazards and the new concrete surfaces will significantly improve these issues," says John. 

​"Our greatest fear is catastrophic failure of our greenhouse cooling systems in extreme weather conditions, which can perish in minutes on a roasting day," John says. 

"The goal is for this development to provide a diversity of climatic environments – from coastal, desert and rainforest to near-alpine climes – to suit the floristic diversity of plants native to New South Wales and Australia," says John. 

A second stage of redevelopment is being planned, with funding yet to be secured. The new Nursery is due to be relocated and upgraded to the new space by mid-2020 and will make way for the new Herbarium to commence construction.

Current aerial view of the Nursery and Australian PlantBank at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan.

Listen to our Branch Out podcast 

If you're interested in the unique history of the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan, listen to the Garden's Branch Out podcast featuring A/Horticulture Director John Siemon and Better Homes and Gardens star Graham Ross below. 

Category: News
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