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15 Jun 2018

Part 3: Digging into our history – 2000s

The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney’s history is no ordinary tale, despite the name, it wasn’t until 1959 that it became ‘Royal’. There is much more to the Gardens than just flowers and stunning horticultural displays. This three-part blog series will travel through the 202 years of existence and delve into the exciting history of one of Australia’s most popular tourist attractions.

By the 21st century, Sydney has become an icon on the world map. Within a bustling cosmopolitan landscape, the Gardens are tasked with the challenge of modernising in order to remain one of cities’ most popular attractions.
As a scientific institution, the Gardens in the naughties is filled with brand new discoveries, ground breaking research and embracing the global transition into the digital world.

1990s-2000s: Dinosaurs in a modernising Garden

The discovery of a Wollemi Pine in 1994 by National Parks & Wildlife Service Ranger David Noble kick-started international wonderment. The Garden’s staff and expertise became central to the story and instrumental in the conservation and propagation research that ensured the ancient trees survival.

The first Wollemi Pine grown with human hands was planted at the Garden in 1998, and are now grown across Australia.

During this time, the Gardens continued to expand and develop. The industry leading Cadi Jam Ora: First Encounters interpretive display was opened and the first full-time Aboriginal Education Officer was employed to acknowledge and celebrate the original Cadigal inhabitants of the land.

Citizen science, education and conservation messaging became a key priority for the Garden, and new programs were enabled to share the Garden’s expertise with community groups, local councils and other public landowners who managed threatened species and rehabilitated lands.

The Garden, while the keeper of an old form of science, was also at the leading edge of the new. In 2004 staff played a lead role in the implementation of Australia’s $10M Virtual Herbarium, a database project which makes all of the information held in the major herbariums collections in Australia publicly available.

After decades of planning the Australian PlantBank was opened in 2013 at the sister garden, The Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan, in Sydney’s south west, with scientific research and the seedbank facilities now recognised as above international standard. The connectedness between the science, research and storage of the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney and the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan has grown the Garden’s capacity substantially, and has further entrenched the Garden as a leader in its field.

2010s-2016: A BOP (Big Old Party)

In 2016, the Garden celebrated its 200th Birthday. To commemorate, the Gardens opened its newest attraction - The Calyx. The Calyx is an ever-evolving horticultural and event space to see, share, relax, discover and to be inspired, attracting over 280,000 visitors since it was opened.

Most recently, The Calyx has hosted ' Sweet Addiction: the botanic story of chocolate', 'All About Flowers' and 'Pollination'. Stay tuned for a new exciting exhibit coming in October 2018.
Pollination at The Calyx

It may be over two centuries old but the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney is always evolving to keep pace with the needs of the community. It has been noted that drought and disease are probably less of a threat to the Garden’s future as disinterest. For the Garden to survive and thrive, it must continue to remain relevant to the community it serves.

2018 and beyond: The digital revolution

At its core, the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney is, and always will be, a scientific institution. As the oldest scientific institution in Australia, and one of the most important botanical institutions in the world, it has a responsibility to ensure the future of the plants and this planet.

The Gardens are in fact, a ‘living labs’. Not just as a place of stunning horticultural displays in spectacular locations, but a place where world-leading plant scientists are embracing some of the most critical challenges facing humanity today. Plant sciences are a vital science, as without our plants we would have no food, no wine, no future.
The Gardens are focusing on encouraging the younger generation to reconnect, engage and interact with nature. As part of a digitizing world, the Gardens turned its eye to technology and encouraged visitors from all around the world to connect to the Gardens through new interactive smartphone apps, allowing them to learn more about the Garden through a series of online tours and augmented reality experiences.

In 2018, the ground-breaking technology of Connected Garden saw free Wi-Fi installed throughout the Garden and Domain. This meant that visitors could to stay up-to-date with Garden staff, research, collections, stories, history and heritage no matter how near or far. The Gardens have become a new kind of office-space, with city workers opting to enjoy the outdoor space when having their meetings. As the world began to digitize, the Garden adapted along with it.
Connected Garden allows visitors to connect to the Garden and the rest of the world

To continue along the theme of public engagement, in July 2018, the Botanic Gardens will launch Garden Explorer: an extensive online database of all the plants across all the botanic gardens. The new technology will use GPS to map out the plant life and provide visitors with guided routes through the Gardens to find the plants they are interested in. Pre-set routes will also be available, which will tell the story of the most interesting and iconic plants and allow the visitors to engage with the Garden in a whole new way.

Over the next five years, the Gardens will be undertaking one of the largest and most significant projects for plant sciences of this decade. It was announced in June 2018 that $60 million will be invested into creating one of the most cutting-edge and advanced herbariums in the world at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan and developing the Brown building at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney. The Centre of Innovation in Plant Science will be an ongoing project, which aspires to make Australia the global leader in plant sciences and safeguarding our future. The national herbarium of NSW, currently held in the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, will then be moved to the new location in 2022.
An artists impression of the Centre of Innovation in Plant Sciences
With all this change, interest in the Gardens remains at an all-time high. In 2018 the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney won bronze in the Major Tourist Attraction of the year category in the national Australian Tourism Awards. To win this prestigious award the Garden first had to win gold in the NSW Tourism Award for Major Tourist Attractions.

Demonstrating how the Garden is far more than roses, trees and a pretty harbour backdrop. It is, and always has been, part of the lifeblood of our community dedicated to safeguarding the future of our plants and people.

The Botanic Gardens are positioned in some of the most iconic areas of New South Wales, and have a rich history of pushing boundaries and adapting to a developing world. This is why they remain some of the best gardens in the world, continually producing ground-breaking research. Stay tuned for another two centuries, and you will see the gardens continue to grow, just like the plants they contain.
If you enjoyed our three-part history series, in celebration of the Royal Botanic Garden’s 202nd anniversary, take a look at our Stories page for more blogs. Or go to Part One and Part Two of this series.
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