Down Under: An Australian Summer Adventure

Posted by Natasha Graham on 15/10/2018

Our talented gardening team is always seeking professional development, even when they go off on their travels and holidays.

One of our intrepid gardeners holidayed in Costa Rica, using the opportunity to help at a nursery that is growing wild avocado trees to create a corridor for the 3 wattled bell bird. Another of our gardeners went to visit family in Australia and combined it with opportunities to learn more about native Australian animals and plants, as well as spreading the conservation work that Beale Park is involved with.

Bertie, the Beale Park peacock mascot came along too. Bertie loved the attention on the flight over, quickly making friends with the Qantas staff, who joined in writing postcards back to Beale Park. Bertie took lots of Beale Park postcards to share.

Setting sail

On arrival, it was straight to the tall ship, the ‘James Craig’ docked at Darling Harbour, Sydney for an event with Junior girl guides. The girls asked questions about Beale Park and wanted to know all about our peacocks, much to Bertie’s pleasure. Bertie took the wheel and soon won the hearts of the girls, who swabbed the decks, sang sea shanties, slept in hammocks and invited Bertie for breakfast.

After a hearty breakfast, it was on to the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney to learn about the plants they have in their collection. At Beale Park, we are introducing more tropical planting into the gardens. One of the major new beds is dedicated to this style of planting, so it was a marvelous opportunity to learn first hand about many of the plants we are using. Although this was the main day to gather as much knowledge and experience about some truly amazing plants, a few more visits to the Botanic Gardens were squeezed in throughout the stay.

Australia’s botanical history

The Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney is a major botanical garden located in the heart of Sydney. Opened in 1816, the garden is the oldest scientific institution in Australia and one of the most important historic botanical institutions in the world. The staff are very generous with their time and knowledge and clearly share our passion for plants.  Its stunning position on Sydney Harbour makes it an enviable place to work, but then again Beale Park is nestled against the River Thames, and we don’t have poisonous insects and arachnids to deal with. The spiders are huge out there!

Our gardener soaked up as much information as possible (information overload, certainly), but plenty of time to unpack it all in the coming months. Some of the aboriginal folklore around the plants was fascinating. For example, Gillie can be seen in the centre photo below, with a type of Dasylirion, sometimes known as Australian Grass Tree in New South Wales (these ones are young plants). The Gadigal people, the original Sydney Cove Aboriginals, call it Gul-gad-ya. After a bushfire, globules of resin ooze from the trunks of old grass-trees and harden into lumps. The Cadigal mix these resin lumps with a little warm water and hot ash from crushed, burnt mussel shells to produce a soft glue that sets like concrete. Gillie learned how to care for these amazing plants and Beale Park have now invested in two young Dasilirions which can be found in our Dry Garden.

As well as many other plants, such as various bananas and the golden barrel cacti – Echinocactus grusonii ( a particular interest of Gillie’s) – she learned about the Strelitzia, better known as ‘the Bird of Paradise plant’, which grows readily throughout this region. We have some flowering specimens at Beale, which were divided this year, so haven’t gained the stature of the ones shown here, which are over 20 years old and can continually grow outdoors in the Sydney climate. In Britain, these plants need to be kept frost free, so at Beale Park we move ours indoors for the winter. This year, after the advice from the Botanic Gardens, we planted our Strelitzia into the new station tropical bed, after dividing them, to get the maximum growth from them, before they will need overwintering. There were many other plants, too many to list here, along with their amazing plant clinic and laboratories. Gillie could have spent an entire year here and still only scratched the surface.

Stay tuned for more updates of Gillie’s summer adventure Down Under…