IN THE 19th century, Melbourne got a picturesque botanic garden full of exotics collected from around the world, now about 150 years on we get a botanic garden devoted to native flora.
After more than 20 years of planning, the Royal Botanic Gardens in Cranbourne are completed. While the first stage of the Australian Garden opened in 2006, the final stage - to be opened to the public tomorrow - sees it almost double in size.
Beyond the dry red crater and display gardens of the celebrated stage one, another 11 areas have been landscaped. And landscaped is the word. For there is no attempt to suggest that these are not cultivated spaces. Plants are arranged, sculpted and trained as surely as in any designer garden.
While the 363-hectare Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne do contain area of remnant bushland, the Australian Garden is all about contemporary interpretations.
Landscape architects Taylor Cullity Lethlean and plant designer Paul Thompson have created an exotic environment out of native plants. Continuing from where they left off at the completion of stage one, this time around they have represented estuarine coastal topography with serpentine land-forms cut into a large, flat water body. They have created forests, lakesides and river walks and used plants as a form of sculpture. Melaleucas, for instance, are pruned to look as if they have been sheared by the wind.
Now 15 hectares in size, a central theme of the Australian Garden is the story of water and its passage through (and sometimes absence from) the Australian landscape. There are lush scenes and desert ones, and this being an educative as well as ornamental space, the suggestion of small, inner-city courtyards that show how we might try this at home.
Dr Philip Moors, director and chief executive of the Royal Botanic Gardens, describes it as a garden for the community and a means of inspiring visitors to develop their own spaces. Alternatively, you can just bask in this one.