Monday, August 1, 2011

A botanical discovery

Playing the chimes

We went to Brisbane yesterday for a few appointments, and by the end of the day, found ourselves at the Brisbane Botanical Gardens in Mount Cootha. Dave and I, have a special affiliation to this place as when we lived in Brisbane previously, we'd often visit for some serious garden oggling.

Even some of the Brisbane suburbs we'd walk up and down for our morning stroll, had glorious gardens - especially those with Heritage Listed Queenslanders on stilts. The Botanical Gardens were like a shrine to all gardens throughout Brisbane. It just said "Zen". It was peace, harmony and balance, all wrapped up in one.

As we walked through the Botanical Gardens this time however, something was distinctly different. Part of the garden was missing due to the new Brisbane tunnel project, but there was also something else. As we ambled through the different gardens, something crossed my mind. It was so subtle I almost missed it.

The Fernhouse

The gardens are so terribly contrived: there are no natural spaces at all. They attempt to blend living plants with rigid architecture. Some of it can look quite wonderful, but as we continued our journey through the gardens, other things came to light.

We saw some water birds near the bamboo. This is an Ibis I believe, and we also snapped some ducks wadding through the constructed lake.

The water seemed devoid of life. I wondered why birds were there at all. There was a great expanse of water, without much life to it. I guess it looked very functional like all public places are expected to be. Not far from the water however, we soon snapped a large lizard basking in the sunlight.

There was also yellow bamboo canes, contrasted against bright red canna lilly flowers. Wasn't this the picture perfect garden, we had often admired with great want in the past?

The people amassed around the gardens too. In fact, they were rushing here and there, up and down paths which were often far too narrow for more than single file. Something was out of place, and I guess this last picture captured it quite perfectly.

A rare moment we weren't mobbed by other pedestrians

It felt like a rat maze! There's actually a light-hearted story to this picture, but I laughed when I first saw it, as it said exactly what I was thinking: watch me bolt down this neatly clipped path, back to reality!

I think I've become a bush convert. I don't like contrived gardens much any more. It looks like a garden, but doesn't have the entangled charm of mystery which natural gardens do. Maybe it was the tunnel project, or maybe it was the fact most of the botanical gardens are surrounded by major highways - but there wasn't much wildlife in the gardens at all.

The only dominating species was humans, coming to oggle the shrine of gardens in a major city. I couldn't believe Dave and I have changed so much. Or maybe it has more to do with our changed surroundings? We don't live in the suburbs any more. We see all manner of wildlife on our doorstep, in our bushland garden. It's not that we're lucky to have what we do, but rather fortunate we didn't have the money to rip it all out and replace it with the kind of contrived "garden" we always wanted. Ninety-five percent of our five-acres remains natural bushland.

I'm ever so grateful the birds still call this place home. It's winter here too, and the parrots are still feasting on the grevilleas. The wallabies still munching on the grass and the sweet potato shoots! I'm so glad their lives still paint the colour of our world here. It's so confusing for me to think, I could miss their presence in our State Capital Botanical Gardens. All manner of plants are there to showcase botany, but it lives in a cement castle - there are people corridors instead of wildlife corridors.

It seems like a contradiction of terms - what are plants for, if not to co-exist with wildlife?



  1. We didn't visit the gardens when in Brisbane but it almost looks like a work in progress from your photos. I think that after being surrounded by nature and having an eye towards permaculture, I expect all gardens to look like that too. The contrived has its place. I can't think of where:) But it must serve some purpose?

  2. It's an old cliche but true. The best things in life are free.
    We took some visitors from overseas to see the gardens before the tunnel work started.
    I don't know if they appreciated it but they did like some of our birdlife at least.
    Maybe you are just noticing how Brisbane in general is changing for the worst.

  3. Hi Linda, I think the contrived has a place for people, mostly.

    I guess if I'm honest, not everyone can live close to nature as we do. As I'm typing this on the computer, I hear all manner of birds chattering outside my window.

    That's why I noticed the absence of animals through the botanical gardens. I'm surrounded by birdsong on most days, with the occassional local car driving past.

    I was expecting the botanical gardens to be my breath of fresh air, after driving around the winding ashphalt highways most of the day.

    I wish the contrived spaces designed for humans, would invite the animals back in to complete the picture. We always seem to be chasing them away with human development. :(

  4. Hi gullygunyah, nice to see you again.

    Brisbane does seem to be developing a worse case of concrete cancer. It's the price of development.

    I'm glad we left when it still had a bad case of rainbow lorikeets. ;)

    One of my favourite memories of visiting Brisbane, was the lorikeets. They use to be everywhere. We didn't see any at the botanical gardens though. It was late afternoon too, their favourite time to fight over the nectar flowers.

  5. You need to read George Orwells essay on the importance of nature to humanity. Those of us who experience nature fully understand things instinctively. Those who are isolated from it have no clue what they are missing.

  6. I'll have to look that up, Linda. Orwell seemed to hit the controversial topics of the day, on the head. He had a very interesting way of looking at things. :)


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