Botanica Atlanta | Landscape Design, Construction & Maintenance


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An Arboretum in Australia

Posted by Author on September 25, 2014 at 8:40 PM


Image: Sam Valentine


The last post featured a unique, multivalent sort of landscape: the arboretum. Perhaps best thought of as a "tree zoo," arboretums are tree-rich landscapes that offer visitors comfort, enjoyment, and opportunities for education. As discussed, the basic concept of an arboretum often meshes perfectly with other landscape uses. Programs that cultivate and label tree species can often be found in landscapes created with other primary uses in mind, such as academic campuses and recreational parks.


Earlier this year I was able to visit some landscapes in Australia, including the country's National Arboretum Canberra. Unlike the well established arboretums I had to compare it to, Canberra's arboretum is quite fresh. A decade ago it was a blank slate.


Image: Ben Wriggly


In 2003, destructive, life-threatening wildfires tore through the countryside outside of Canberra, Australia's capital. Damaging an astonishing seventy percent of the city's pastures, woodlands, and parks, the fires reduced the future site of the National Arboretum to a ruin. On this square-mile previously covered by Monterey pine (Pinus radiata) and deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara), there was little left but a blackened hillside.



The territorial government saw this deforested landscape as an opportunity. After a design competition, a creative team was hired to transform the site into a unique regional asset. The overall layout, described as a flexible "tartan" grid, is a truly dynamic pattern when viewed from above, but it also allows for legible plantings of different species at ground level.


Image: Taylor Cullity Lethlean


Few would argue that the Australian landscape is known for towering, majestic canopy trees -- even in my tour of its more fertile southeastern coast, my impression was that the forests there appeared younger, shorter, or otherwise scrubbier than the woodlands I am used to in North America. With this in mind, it is hard to know what to expect as this young arboretum grows up over the next few decades, but some things are already apparent:


The National Arboretum offers unparalleled vistas. The bold terracing provides monumental, amphitheater-style tiers of lawn for visitors both local and foreign to take in dramatic views over Canberra, Lake Burley Griffin, and the valley that contains them. Facilities like Village Centre and the Pavilion host civic and social functions for the surrounding neighborhoods, sculptures and play structures are arranged throughout the site, and a network of trails for walking, biking, and horseback riding make the arboretum easy to navigate.


Images: John Gollings


It is plain to see how well an arboretum can gracefully incorporate and complement multiple land uses, but what I was pleased to learn in Canberra is how an arboretum can serve to heal and renew the land.


Image: John Gollings

Categories: Landscape Design, Art & Inspiration

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