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13 Sep 2018

Celebrating a garden great

Nearly 10 years ago, Dr Dale Dixon started working at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney as the Collections Manager at the National Herbarium of New South Wales working his way to the position of the Curator Manager of the Garden. This week Dale is retiring so to say thank you we wanted to pay tribute to the man who has changed the way you see and experience the Garden.

Unlocking the Garden – his greatest feat  

Everyone that knows Dale or comes to meet him knows how passionate he is about plants – living or pressed, dried or drawn, he has no shortage of vigour for flora. As a wee Northern Queensland country lad, he didn’t think that one day he would leave a lasting legacy at NSW’s Major Tourist Attraction or one of the most iconic botanic gardens in Australia for many future generations to enjoy.

Breaking traditions

During his tenure, Dale told us one of his greatest feats has been “unlocking” the Garden. What this means, is opening the Garden’s vistas, gardens beds, displays and buildings, such as the Fernery and Latitude 23, for visitors to come up close and personally connect with our plants and landscape.

“As technology progresses, visitors want to be as close to the plants and displays as possible with their hi-tech cameras and videos, so instead of asking them to essentially stop engaging with our plants and to strictly stay on the walking paths, we invited them to explore. We want our visitors to go behind the scenes in the nursery, have a seat under the Rainforest canopy and get lost in the meadows,” says Dale.

New areas to explore

Dale hasn’t just re-thought the traditional horticulture approach to botanic gardens but also created new thematic gardens such as the Southern Africa Garden, Bicentenary Garden, Dragon Tree Lawn, Pioneer Memorial Garden and redeveloped the area around Victoria Lodge and Woolloomooloo Gates.   

With all those additions something had to go, right? Over 20 years of overgrowth and “green debris” was replaced with vibrant plants, controlled pathways and relaxing spots to take it all in. The gates to the Succulent Garden also had to go – quickly making it one of the most popular spots in the Garden.

Proud memories

Even after the openings, launches, transformations and successes – what is Dale’s favourite memory? Getting the job.

“I’m inspired by plants, I can’t remember a time in my life that I wasn’t. As a North Queenslander, I never thought I’d be here.

I went from being the custodian of the important preserved plants and I’m proud to say that I helped to protect plants that were collected by Banks and Solander.

But then it just got better, I can still remember when Jimmy told me I was the successful candidate to be the Curator Manager for the Garden. I now had the responsibility to protect the Living Collection and create an international destination that Australia could be proud of.

I took both jobs seriously and was proud when visitors would stop to ask the horticulturists questions, tell them about their visit or give them feedback about the Garden.”

Not just plants

But it’s not all plants, there have been people along Dale’s journey at the Garden too. As the Curator Manager his time was shared with visitors, staff, journalists and of course the Director of horticulture Jimmy Turner and Executive Director, Kim Ellis.

“I have learned a lot about people over the past nine years at the Garden. People can transform – just like plants. I support creativity and try to inspire staff to present their work as the great achievements and labours of love that it is.

I try to showcase and promote their work whenever possible; from the stone works, to the arborists, horticulture staff in the nursery – everyone plays a part at making this Garden a truly special and historic botanic garden.

I have had the pleasure of working with a talented team over the past nine years and I will miss them. Most of all, the two best people I have ever worked with – Jimmy and Kim. They have trusted me, allowed me to just get on with work and lead a brilliant team

Next stop: Sunshine Coast

So what is next for Dale and his partner Greg? Well a new garden of course! They are leaving the big smoke and going back to Dale’s home state of Queensland where they will renovate a house and a cozy block of land.

“It will be my first personal garden for years – I’ve only had a balcony garden here and I’m looking forward to planting all the plants I love to grow. But of course, I will be back in Sydney to visit!”

We say farewell to Dale this week but not forever, he is a prolific Twitter-er so we should be able to keep up to date with his renovations. Plus, follow @botanicsydney to keep up to date on our Garden.

From all of us at the Garden, it was a pleasure working with you Dale and we will miss you!
royal botanic garden sydney
It's okay to let go now Jimmy.
Dale's passion for plants, creativity and background as both a horticulturist and botanist will be critically missed at the Garden. In his short tenure in my department over the last four years he has made transformational changes here that will be a legacy for centuries to come.
Jimmy Turner, Director of Horticulture

And here is a final sign off from the man himself

Category: Horticulture
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